What it’s like to fall victim to a world flu pandemic, without even knowing it.
About two weeks ago, I was reading [an article](http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/national/swine-flu-hits-young-healthy-adults-hard/article1203826/) in *The Globe and Mail* over breakfast, when a question crossed my mind: “Have I been kissed by the gloom of Swine?”
You might think it’s a shocking or silly question, but I’d been sick on and off for a month. It turns out that, somewhere between a video shoot in Vermont, a heavy metal concert in London, and my own musical showcase in Toronto, I had indeed fallen victim to a world pandemic. I am now officially on the mend – [thanks to a combination of naturopathic treatments and heavy-duty antibiotics, among other survival tools](http://www.themarknews.com/articles/363?page=3#tools) – and I’ve gathered enough energy to type out this, my swine flu chronicle.
**A Strange Illness**
*”The young and healthy who feel invincible from the H1N1 ‘swine flu’ influenza pandemic may not be as bulletproof as they think, warn public health experts.”* – *The Globe and Mail*, July 2, 2009.
In late May, I was flattened by the strangest flu. I had the traditional symptoms – stuffy nose and ears, a sore throat, and body aches – but they came all at once, and were far more intense than I had ever experienced. For a person who only gets ill once or twice a decade, it was scary. So I went to my local hospital. It was at the height of the swine flu scare, and at the reception desk there was a warning sign that said, “Please Advise Nurse if You Have Any Flu Symptoms.” So I did, and they gave me a face mask to wear while I waited to see the doctor.
The doctor diagnosed me with a sinus infection, and said my fever was too low for swine flu. She warned the liquid in my ears could lead to infection and prescribed antibiotics. I was reluctant to take them because I hadn’t taken any in years and avoid them in general, but I had a trip to the UK coming up, and as a seasoned traveler, I know about the deadly blocked-ears-and-cabin-pressure combo. The last thing I’d want to do is blow out my precious eardrums! So I went to fill the prescription.
Right off the bat there were two suspicious things that happened when I took the medication. First, the antibiotics did not seem to kick in until the seventh day. I wondered if I was on the wrong medication.
Moreover, I had a strange dream. The first night I took one of the chubby white pills, I had a nightmare about the relationship between the virus running through my body and the pill I took to kill it. It was explained to me, as only in a wordless dream, that the virus was a clever mutated strain, and that the antibiotics had been tricked and sent off to fight the wrong war inside me. The virus was able to shape shift and start fires to draw attention away from the real problem, leading to scattered armies chasing the wrong enemies, and essentially spreading themselves too thin. It was a true anxiety dream, and when I awoke I instantly regretted taking the antibiotics, for fear of wasting my resources on “fake” wars inside me.
My symptoms had barely subsided a week into my treatment, but at that point there was no turning back, because there was a business trip to London and rock shows to play. [xMAdMx](http://xmadmx.com/)
*”The other troubling characteristic of the swine pandemic is that, unlike other flus, it is not tapering off in the summer months. Instead, Canada is experiencing five times the rate of flu activity it normally does at this time of year, all of it H1N1. ‘The other flu bugs have vanished. But not H1N1,’ Dr. Gardam says.”*
By the time I’d started to feel better after 10 long days, it was supposedly summer. Since contracting the worst flu of my life in late May, I’d gone to London for various meetings with music companies and potential partners for the release of my upcoming project, *OUT OF OUR MINDS*, a multimedia concept album featuring a CD, a fantasy film, and a comic.
It’s a very fertile climate in the music industry now, despite the fact that record sales are down and the traditional business models are becoming irrelevant. Artists and business people alike are up for taking creative risks and experimenting. As always, the Brits are ahead of the game. The real highlight of my trip to London was when I got to see my favourite album of 2009, *Crack the Skye*, played from top to bottom in a small rock club by the world’s premiere new metal band, Mastadon. (For those not yet familiar with them, I’ll just say: Black Sabbath, Metallica, Slayer, Thin Lizzy, and the other heroes of heavy metal, hard rock, and prog rock, have met their modern day match.) The fiery gates opened to the clan of mystic pagan shredders from Atlanta and the applause was universal. I left London, a satisfied heavy music lover!
Immediately after my trip, I prepared for Toronto’s NXNE music and film festival in mid-June. It was my Toronto début-slash-sneek-preview for my new project. I was showcasing the new songs, as well as the film.
Performing at NXNE was important to me. Over the last few years I have been in a profound creative cocoon, in the process of reinventing my connection to the outside world. I have not been playing many shows, and after having spent the better part of my adult life touring and feasting off the adrenaline that live shows bring, I missed it tremendously. Those familiar anxious questions ran through my mind: “Will I remember my lyrics?” “Will the sound be terrible?” “Will the audience get it, or stare back blankly?” As always, the joy of connecting with the songs, the band members on the stage, and the audience’s open ears made me ecstatic … and the rush masked the fact that my flu had not quite yet departed. [xMAdMx](http://xmadmx.com/)
*See Melissa Auf der Maur’s* [Swine Flu Survival Tools](http://www.themarknews.com/articles/363?page=3#tools). *For more information on Ms. Auf der Maur’s latest project,* OUT OF OUR MINDS*, visit her [webpage](http://www.xmadmx.com).*
*For a look at the objects (and beings) that Melissa Auf der Maur relied on to survive her ordeal, see the photo essay* [Swine Flu Survival Tools](http://www.themarknews.com/articles/363?page=3#tools). *For more information on Ms. Auf der Maur’s latest project,* OUT OF OUR MINDS*, visit her [webpage](http://www.xmadmx.com).*
**A Cough Lingers**
*”In recent weeks, as swine flu has faded from the world’s radar, infectious disease specialists worry that people have become complacent about the pandemic, which is expected to infect one third of the population, or about 10 million Canadians.”*
Saint-Jean-Baptiste Day, Canada Day, and the Fourth of July came and went without a hitch. As a border hugger, I respect the spirit of all three national holidays, and despite a bit of a cough, I indulged in fun times with friends, BBQed goat burgers, and wine by the train tracks. A team from Urban Outfitters had taken over our house for a day in the last week of June to shoot part of their new catalog, and ever since then, I had experienced a subtle but persistent smoker’s cough. The problem is, I don’t smoke. I wondered if it was just my imagination, a new allergy to my beloved cats, or worst of all, a mysterious mycoplasmatic infection!
It was about mid-week when I read *The Globe and Mail* article. My sturdy Swiss immigrant farmer genes had served me so well until then that I couldn’t imagine I had swine flu. I read up on natural remedies for bronchial issues, and I began to treat the minor cough with a witches’ brew of cherry bark, cayenne, and tablets of magic oregano from remote Turkish mountains. Then suddenly, a week into my shortness of breath, it really hit: a roller coaster of fever spikes. Over the course of 48 hours, my temperature went from 95 degrees Fahrenheit to 101, and back again. It was a very strange feeling, being pulled back and forth between severe illness and feeling fine. [xMAdMx](http://xmadmx.com/)
**The Truth Revealed!**
*”Dr. Butler-Jones reiterated his message that … People with a fever and cough who develop shortness of breath or difficulty breathing should get medical attention right away.”*
First thing the following morning, I went to the doctor. This time, swine flu was the verdict. It seems my symptoms, and the trajectory of events, all pointed to this feared pandemic; one of the common traits of H1N1 is a messy aftermath and re-occurrence. Indeed, my previous illness turned out to have been swine flu; I’d been sick with it for over a month.
So I retraced my steps back to late May, when the flu first knocked me off my feet. Where had I been when I contracted it? That hectic week had begun with an intense five-day music video shoot deep in the woods of Vermont. It was for the title track of my album. (The film portion of the project had been shot in the same woods a year earlier, but that’s a story on its own.) This video shoot involved a car crash and a bleeding forest, and there were epic late-night scenes. As the star, producer, caterer, and self-appointed mother hen, I was fully immersed in everything: the schedule, the kitchen, and the make-up, not to mention also the romantic pagan-style accommodations for the army of 13 people working with me – two off-the-grid log cabins with one outhouse. There were lots of professional lights, camera equipment, and heavy machinery. It rained for five days straight. We were running behind schedule and it was incredibly stressful. I was exhausted.
Immediately after the video shoot, I had a couple of days of meetings in Montreal. Rufus Wainwright was in town finalizing his opera and visiting his mother, Kate McGariggle, so the three of us had a lovely dinner together and caught up at their place. We talked a lot about health and alternative forms of healing and healers. After that, I trekked down to NYC for the screening of the film portion of *OUT OF OUR MINDS* at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. Many delicious catered cocktail parties were attended. Upon returning home, the flu began to rear its creepy head.
That’s how it began; and after *another* round of antibiotics to treat the mycoplasma bacteria, it’s finally coming to an end. I look back on my experience and can see at least one good thing about getting the swine flu. My friend Vanessa Allen, a medical microbiologist and infectious diseases specialist at the Ontario Agency for Health Protection and Promotion told me that unless the clever virus mutates beyond recognition, I will be immune if it comes back around, as it’s expected to do, in the fall. When many other Swine virgins will be falling ill, I’ll be good to go! However, have no fear friends: it’s a terrible flu, but it is manageable, and we Swine veterans will be here to help you through it. Here’s to good health. [xMAdMx](http://xmadmx.com/)
Swine Flu Survival Tools
All photos by Melissa Auf de Maur
(back to “Swine Flu Diary”)
My sick bed, survival tools, cat (Witchlet) and me