Only the good die young; Kelly’s story of influenza

The death of a parent is a major turning point in ones life, but being told that I was present at the time of my mother’s death is especially hard.

I’m Kelly, and on the day my mother Leslie passed away, aged 22 in her sleep, I was just a baby, one year and ten months old, in a cot and sharing the same room as her.

My grandma (who ended up raising me) told Leslie that she “needed to have that nasty cough seen to”. Mum replied “I’ll be fine, the big G will look after me.” Four days later she died from the effects of influenza, having not seen a doctor. I suspect it was because she had me to care for.

Today, I have some photos that I cherish to bits, but I never knew my mum. I’ve heard stories told by others; including about how as a child she had an ability to attract stray dogs that would follow her home, and later about her love for horses and roadster cars, but mostly that the amount of friends she had would put most Facebook friend lists to shame.

Me, at the age of forty, decided to begin a new life chapter and career, and thus enrolled as a mature age student in a Bachelor of Nursing degree.

To be a registered nurse was a dream that I had always wanted, and now that my own children were school age I embarked on achieving this goal.

Three days after finishing my end of semester nursing exam as a first year nursing student, I collapsed on my kitchen floor and was taken by paramedics to be treated in the cardiac ward for a week. I was diagnosed with Influenza, and that it had affected my heart.

After I left the hospital it was clear I was not myself, or back to normal. I was left with six months of exhaustion, fatigue, and breathlessness, and sharp stabbing pains around my heart, neck and back became my everyday.

It took a while to sort out why I had not fully recovered; but finally inflammation of the heart sac with some fluid was the cause (known as pericarditis). Medication made a huge difference over the next few months, but even now I tire easily and have to avoid any idea of any type of exercise because of the after effects I feel, and I still get flare ups of pericarditis a few times a year. Actually, I’m sitting in the doctor’s waiting room typing up my story, while I wait for a script to be filled.

The thing with influenza is that it has a rapid onset, short duration, and can kill you quickly.

I feel that communicable diseases are unlike non-communicable diseases because often family, friends and colleagues lose their battle to sustain life without much warning or time to prepare, thus leaving loved ones with a broken heart.

The influenza vaccination can reduce the severity of influenza, and the chance of catching it, and because of that, since my experience with catching it in 2012, I have mine every year.

My passion to become a registered nurse has had to be paused, as any trivial illness like catching a cold may cause my pericarditis to rear its ugly head, and thus I cannot afford to risk exposure in clinical settings.

This series of events has paved way for a few changes, and I’m now studying Environmental Health, with future plans to work as an Environmental Health Officer. I naturally have a particular interest with infectious outbreaks that I wish to link with epidemiological studies in the future.

To end on a funny note, while I was hospitalised my husband decided to spring clean the house, in doing so he tossed out my rubber duck collection from places far and wide. I tried to replace them, without any luck, so starting my own online store that sells everything rubber duck was the only answer. Three years old and thrilled to sell my amazing duckies worldwide and charity fundraising for community events. So yes, although life certainly dishes out some speed humps, resilience is how one drives over them. Life is short!

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