Influenza’s Grasp

This is a story of Influenza infection from almost a decade ago.

She was just three years old when I met her. Sophia was evaluated Friday night for a viral illness in the ER. She was discharged home and spent the entire day sleeping. She woke up once around noon, but was so lethargic, her mom took her back to the ER the following day. Fortunately, the same physician was there both times. As the on-call pediatrician, he called me to consult. “She is a completely different child than she was yesterday.”

She needed a spinal tap due to her fever and lethargy, but the family was hesitant (completely understandable), which is why I drove to the hospital that night. Sophia has called me her “squishy doctor” ever since; you see I was 28 years old and wearing scrubs. Talk about first impressions from a 3 year old perspective. It was honesty all the way. I met this family for the first time and explained reasons the spinal tap was necessary. Sophie did very well and the results came back “normal.”

I admitted her for the night, gave her intravenous fluids, started antibiotics, and let her rest. The next day, I had a whole new kid on my hands! She was so darn cute, with her blonde hair and energetic, bright eyed demeanor. I sent her home after her flu test came back positive. The best diagnosis I could come up with was influenza encephalitis. But that complication did not actually exist yet; I had to “wing it” and practice medicine. Nothing else seemed to make sense. She had influenza and she was lethargic, as if it attacked her brain. Two years later, researchers reported the emergence of a new complication of influenza, encephalitis. Go figure. When a virus is always one step ahead of you, it makes it difficult to know the answers all the time.

The advice I gave this family was to make sure they received their flu vaccinations annually. Sophia clearly had a vulnerability to influenza and could be harmed in the future if she was infected with a different strain. About nine years ago, this family and their four darling children moved to California and I have not seen them since that time, but have thought of them every year during influenza season.

About three weeks ago, “someone” had a present for me at the front desk. I came into the waiting room and instantly knew these girls except Sophia and her sister are now beautiful young women. Sophia brought an African violet with a card attached. “Thank you for saving my life all those years ago. You are my hero. I am starting college in the fall and would like to be a doctor just like you. You will always be my squishy doctor.”

My dear, you made my day. Thank you for letting me share your story. I know you will make an outstanding physician. I want you to be my doctor someday, even if you become a pediatrician.

 

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