This will be my most self-absorbed post yet. If you’re not fascinated by people telling you about their current medical conditions, you might want to skip this one.
Swine Flu Statistics
In the UK, they’re trying to prevent spread of swine flu by telling everyone with flu symptoms to stay away from the doctor’s office. Instead they give out a number for the national flu center and they diagnose you over the phone. Based on my fever, cough, headache, and diarrhea I was considered a swine flu risk. I have no problem with such a cautious approach, but don’t take any “number of swine flu cases” statistics seriously—they’re labeling every case of flu swine flu these days.
The antiviral drug oseltamivir, marketed as Tamiflu, is nasty stuff. The only high-quality study I’ve found indicates only slight benefit from taking it (around 1 day less of illness), and in my case it caused vomiting. Repeatedly. If I had read the study first I might not have taken it at all, but once I started my five-day course I was obliged to finish it.
I have seldom felt more miserable than the couple of days I was suffering both severe diarrhea and enough nausea and vomiting that I had trouble getting any liquids. A couple of days of this just means discomfort; more than that and good medical care would put you on an IV; in regions without well-equipped facilities the combination is deadly.
I estimate that I saved around $10 on food for each day I was ill. I donated that savings to a project that provides clean water to communities that don’t have it. Beyond my latest little reminder, I consider charities like this much better use of money than carbon offsets or care for stray dogs in rich countries.
The most interesting part of this experience for me was that after a few days without any significant caloric intake, I developed a bitter taste in my mouth. The taste was even more concentrated on my lips, and my skin also tasted bitter. Showering, rinsing my mouth, and brushing my teeth couldn’t get rid of this.
I now suspect that this was a result of a “ketonic metabolism”: my body was burning its own tissue for energy, which results in acetone as a waste product. The acetone gets into your sweat and saliva, causing bad breath and a bitter taste.
I’ve been undernourished for a few days many times in the past (i.e. consuming at least 1000 kCal/day less than I was burning), either because I was too lazy to get food while working on a project or because I didn’t make the effort to replace all the calories I lost to exercise. I’m certain I’ve had a ketonic metabolism many times before, but I’ve never noticed such an acute taste. I assume that the difference this time is that I’ve spent most of the last year trying to gain weight, which has meant both eating constantly and eliminating the long runs I used to do—i.e. avoiding any chance for my body to break down its own tissue. I guess my body isn’t as efficient as when it was burning fat for energy on a more regular basis.
I am in no place to complain about my health. I have no serious chronic conditions, no disabilities, and have never had any serious accidents or health problems. My immune system, however, has been poor since the day I was born, so I probably spend a month of every year incapacitated by “minor” colds and flus. I spend another month of every year suffering from allergies that make me too much of a mess to interact with others face-to-face. 2009 has been a particularly bad year—I’ve spent most of the time since April with one malady or another.
I think this may be a major reason why fitness has been such a big part of my adult life. If you’re going to be weak and enervated so much of the time, you’ve got to make up for it on the days you’re at 100%.