It’s quiet out there. Too quiet. This is the time of year on the Vineyard when the Island shuts down and it can be hard to find even a cup of coffee on the morning rounds. But this winter it feels even quieter as the flu and its various cousin illnesses deplete schools and offices and whole families take to their beds.
At the Chilmark School this week over half the entire school was out sick. For those still standing upright the talk is all flu, all the time. Did you have the flu, what were your symptoms, who in your family is sick, did you get a shot, just how bad was it?
The reports of the severity range. There seem to be a few strains of sickness taking root. The sniffles. The hacking cough. The gauzy head. The persistent sinus infection. The flu itself comes with a blinding headache and high fever, most say. Aches and pains, throwing up, or a general malaise where just getting up off the couch feels Herculean are common too.
“I haven’t felt this bad since I had amoebic dysentery in India,” one sufferer noted.
A story makes the rounds of a young boy who woke in the middle of the night yelling, “I don’t want to die. Take me to the hospital.” His parents listened and sure enough he was severely dehydrated.
Especially for the young and the old, the dangers of influenza are very real, and all due credit goes to Island health officials for taking this year’s early outbreak seriously. A week ago, local boards of health peppered residents with text, phone and email messages directing them to a special free clinic at the Martha’s Vineyard Hospital.
Hundreds of adults and children answered the call. Last Sunday morning, the hospital was the most popular place on the Island. An orderly line of people — directed by a team of clipboard-wielding volunteers — snaked through hallways and out the door to get vaccinated against the flu. The process was friendly and efficient, and a Bruce Springsteen concert couldn’t have sold out quicker — 813 doses in less than three hours. That represents a full five per cent of the Island’s year-round population to receive vaccinations in a single morning.
It’s easy to report bad things when they happen. It’s harder to report on bad things that don’t happen because of good advance planning and effort.
Vineyard health officials are seeking additional vaccine, but the well-organized steps they have already taken to forestall a bigger health crisis on the Island is impressive. The vaccination, we’re told, can take up to two weeks to become effective, so it may be another week before we begin to see the Island wake up again.
In the meantime, where does a person go when sick? To the doctor or the bed when talking physical location. But mentally, when lying back in a feverish state, it is often to the past. Memories of a parent’s hand on the forehead checking for a fever or placing a cold washcloth on the chest return with a sweet vividness. So, too, does that first successful nose blow when blowing out finally seemed possible and everyone cheered.
Being sick is never pleasant but being cared for registers deeply. Hang in there, patients; hang in there, caregivers.
Thank you, health officials.