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One survivor’s tale of swine flu at ground zero wants to spread lifesaving message

(The following article is by Mexico City-based freelance journalist Mariana Llamas-Cendon who has been providing Latina Lista, along with other news clients, reports and articles of the current situation in Mexico.
In this article, the subject of the story, Miguel T. asked our reporter not to identify him. As he explained, “I don’t want to be the face of death.”)

By Mariana Llamas-Cendon
MEXICO CITY —  The swine flu pandemic has already taken more than 20 lives just in Mexico City, and more than 200 cases of infection have been confirmed by the Mexican Department of Health, but thankfully there are residents, like Miguel T., who were lucky enough to tell their story with the virus H1N1.
Miguel’s lifestyle was quite common: he went to work; used public transportation and cabs regularly, ate out everyday, gathered with friends, and spent time with his girlfriend… until one day, around April 22nd, he started not to feel so well.
“I came home late. I noticed I had all the symptoms; even so I went to bed. Then, I got a message on my cell phone from (Mexico’s) Health Department saying that if the symptoms were present one should go to any public health center. So I decided to look for help,” said Miguel.
Miguel noticed that his body aches were stronger than he ever experienced before with any regular flu.
“The pain was quite acute, especially in the joints and muscles. My knees and legs felt as if I had tripped or fell down the stairs,” said Miguel T.
On April 25th, Miguel’s journey in search for medical attention was a tough one. After visiting two hospitals (Hospital de Traumatologia of Lomas Verdes and Hospital San Jose) — both located in the State of Mexico — he was finally redirected to a third one, where he finally received the assistance he needed.
“First, I went to a public hospital specialized in traumatology but I was denied medical attention,” said Miguel, who was well aware that by official declaration from the Department of Health, any public hospital must give prompt medical attention to anyone suspected of being infected with the human influenza.

At the second one he visited, doctors were not prepared to provide him with the attention he needed, with the exception of lowering his high fever.
“They did not know what to do with me due to the lack of resources (regarding the swine flu.) They shut down the ER room just for me. For a bit, I felt important,” Miguel said.
Finally, after talking to some people he knew who helped him to get medical attention in a better prepared hospital; Miguel was redirected to the RDNI (Respiratory Diseases National Institute in Mexico City). He was seen by a doctor right outside the hospital, on the street.
“I was not allowed inside so I could not infect anybody else or get infected since my immune system was very weak and the people hospitalized were more ill than I,” he said.
By the time Miguel T. was seen by a doctor, he already experienced an intense pain in the chest. He had blood tests and X-rays done, and afterwards, doctors diagnosed swine flu.
“The doctor pointed out that the difference between my case and the deceased ones is that I searched for help in the first 48 hours; the others took up to five days”, he said.
The news shocked Miguel.
“I was so scared. What I knew that no other doctor had told me is that I came at the right time and nothing was going to happen to me. Once I got that in my head, everything turned out well,” he said.
Miguel believes that his old unhealthy habits contributed greatly to his predisposition of getting infected with the H1N1 virus.
“Before, I did not eat well, smoked, did not sleep enough or took vitamins,” he said.
Besides being prescribed Tamiflu, Miguel was also asked to remain home and avoid contact with others until the symptoms disappeared completely. Though he didn’t realize it, from the first time Miguel felt the symptoms, he was spreading the virus.
“The Tamiflu only helps you to survive the week; it does not diminish the symptoms. I started feeling better by the third dose. From now on my favorite drink will be Tamiflu on the rocks,” he said.
Although Miguel did not experience side effects from the medication, he did suffer certain discrimination from people around him.
“Not only my coworkers, but even from friends of mine that had seen me that day. They believe since they had seen me for sure they are now infected,” he said.
So far, nobody he was in touch with presented any symptoms. Not even Miguel’s girlfriend. But his isolated stage is about to come to an end.
“Once you stop feeling the last symptom, it means your body has expelled the virus and you stop being contagious for everyone else. I am now immune,” he said.
He also added: “Now I want to tell as many people as I can that the disease is serious but if they get prompt attention, they will not become a statistic,” he said.

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  • Hissy
    May 5, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    See how stupid Obama is? Of course we should stop travel across the borders until we get control of this flu. The more you MOVE AROUND…the more people can get the virus. If the airborne virus is so called HARMLESS after it dries…why close the schools for TWO WEEKS then? I don’t think they have any answers. I hope the folks in Mexico heal quickly but PLEASE stay home! Same on the U.S. side…stop MOVING around if you are ill.

  • Evelyn
    May 6, 2009 at 2:34 pm

    Obama listens to people who are experts in their field when making decisions unlike Bush.
    The Center for Disease Control advised President Obama NOT to close the borders, they also advised against closing schools.
    At the local level schools can do whatever they want.
    Presidents need to follow the advise of experts when making decisions.
    Bush didnt, that is why we are in the predicament we are in. Bush broke laws or made new ones up as he went along.
    You might want to think about that before you call our president stupid for doing what is expected of a good leader.

  • Daniela Ganoza
    May 6, 2009 at 3:47 pm

    The message we get from this article is clear: Information is the key to prevent the disease. Information about the symptoms, about seeking medical help ON TIME and information on how the disease is spread.
    It is really easy to point fingers at Mexico or President Obama, but it is definitely not the solution. Getting informed about this epidemic and thus, prevent it, is.

  • MaryElizabeth
    May 6, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    Hissy why do you not give President Obama credit for addressing a national crisis on the flu??? Unlike the way Bush handled problems in the whitehouse on issues (his favorite response to a crisis was not address it at all). Do you remember how brillant Bush was with handling Katrina???

  • Hissy
    May 8, 2009 at 5:56 am

    Point taken….How could I forget Katrina?!? But…it is stupid to just toss up your hands and say oh well. Just because you came in contact with the flu bug…doesn’t mean you caught it…the first time that is. That is why we have isolation rooms at hospitals.

  • Horace
    May 8, 2009 at 6:37 pm

    Because he hasn’t taken any measure that there wasn’t already in place a boilerplate procedure for. Saying that Obama showed special incite and had good judgment on this subject is like saying that we should congratulate our president for declaring war on Russia should they attack Washington, D.C. Duh!

  • elena romine
    May 10, 2009 at 6:42 pm

    There is nothing better than first-hand personal stories that inform us about major developments in the world, especially when they can become reality for each and every one of us.
    Good responsible journalism that brings us up to date and dispels speculations and myths so abundant in today’s media!!!

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