To date, my experience with H1N1 has been entirely superficial. Reading about it in the papers, online, and in infectious disease journals, hearing about it in conferences, and seeing its manifestations in patients. As doctors, we are trained to have a certain disconnect from illness, so that we can be objective about decision making. That is all well and good, but when your own family is sick, things are different.
I’m worried that my wife has the flu (she has all the classic symptoms; if she were my patient, that would be my diagnosis). So, she is getting “supportive care” at home (TLC and hot chicken soup with rice and matzo balls). I hope she gets better soon, and that the kids stay healthy (though she might have caught it from our daughter, who knows). Still, having seen some of the complications firsthand, I wish both a speedy recovery!
Recently, I have been involved in the care of two married couples where both the man and woman were simultaneously diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Both couples were middle-aged, affluent, and not surprisingly, shocked. In both cases, the male partner was very sick with an AIDS associated illness. Doctor-patient confidentiality prevented me from discussing their situation with anyone other than the couple, so it felt extremely awkward to explain the critical nature of their respective medical conditions to the patient’s families without divulging the underlying problem. This kind of scenario happens every day in Africa, where in some countries the prevalence is equal to or greater than 20%. Despite seeing patients with HIV-AIDS for >15 years, I remain surprised, saddened and humbled every time I have to tell someone they have HIV. The fear and shock as well as the stigma can be overwhelming.