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The hidden impact of flu | Allison’s story

December 12, 2019


My name is Allison Miller, I’m originally from Minnesota. I live now in Washington DC. About five years ago I had an experience with the flu that forever changed my life. I was working at the time in Madison, Wisconsin, and was living my life as you do, day to day. I started to feel a bit run down and your typical symptoms as far as a headache, sore throat, just not feeling great. I eventually went into urgent care, because it was a Saturday. They gave me a nebulizer treatment. I was a little bit congested, but everything else looked fine. They gave me a prescription for some cough syrup and sent me home, and said if it gets worse, then come in again. That night I felt awful. I had a ton of back pain. I am fairly sure I blacked out a couple of times. I had never felt so sick in my life. And so I called a friend. And by the time she got there, she came in and took one look at me and said, I think I need to call 911. And the ambulance came, and that was the start of everything. I had had bilateral bacterial pneumonia that had led to sepsis and then septic shock. And so all of my organs had begun to shut down. I was basically put into a medically induced coma. And as a last ditch effort I was put on a form of life support known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. So it’s essentially a heart lung bypass machine, and it takes your blood out and recirculates it. I was on that for five days. During the course of that treatment circulation was lost to my left leg, which is a common side effect of that form of life support, and they had to amputate my left leg above the knee. I remained in the intensive care unit for a month, in intermediate care for another month, and then I had essentially a month in in-patient hospital rehab. It was just a gradual recognition that even when all of this was done, as far as the hospital, my life was never going to be the same again. And that’s something that you never fully get over. The fact that I’d gotten from what people assume is just the flu to something so critical that I was at the edge of death, that’s a tough connection for people to make, and it’s something that I’ve reconciled, but that I’ve really want to make clear to others. I will forever have a very immediate, day-to-day, permanent disability. If there’s anything people can do to mitigate or to reduce the chance that something that happened to me happens to them they should do so. I also really want to make sure people don’t dismiss the flu as just the flu. It can be so much more serious, and the complications that arise can be life threatening. Influenza is a serious public health problem, and I really would hope that public awareness prompts people to do what they can to stop the spread of the flu.

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