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How flu almost ripped one family from Port Talbot apart

A mum has recalled how her husband was preparing to tell their children she would never be coming home after she was hospitalised with flu shortly before Christmas.

Anna Spencer, was hallucinating and so desperately unwell that before Swine Flu was formally diagnosed clinicians suspected she had taken a drug overdose or contracted meningitis.

The NHS worker was admitted to Neath Port Talbot Hospital in Port Talbot and later quarantined.

Only her husband Tim was allowed to visit while dressed in protective clothing and a face mask.

She said: “He told me later, ‘I was preparing for Christmas without you. I was preparing to tell the children that mum’s not coming back’.

“He said, ‘I really did not think you were coming home. Ever.’.

“He felt awful for the children because they wouldn’t have had the chance to come and say goodbye due to the quarantine.”

Anna recalls how she too feared it was the end.

“When people are on their death bed they say they know and I really did feel, ‘This is it’.”

The 41-year-old from Cwmafan near Port Talbot has spoken of her ordeal as part of Swansea Bay University Health Board’s flu vaccination campaign.

She is encouraging everyone to have the vaccination following her ordeal nine years ago when her son Brandon was 11 and daughter Keavy, six.

Anna, Individual Patient Care Commissioning Manager for Swansea Bay UHB, recalled: “It was around this time of year. I remember that we’d had some snow fall.

“On one particular day I went to check to see if the school was open so I could take my daughter to school.

“Where I live is on the top of a hill. I walked down the hill and thought I was going to pass out. I was feeling really rough, really run down, really rotten.

“I managed to get back up the hill, back to the house and from then I was just bed bound.

“I was stuck in the bed. I couldn’t get myself motivated to do anything. I struggled breathing and all my limbs were aching.

“It’s got to have been the worst illness I have ever experienced in my life.”

After five days of taking over-the-counter medications containing paracetamol and ibuprofen, Anna’s husband went back to the pharmacy to ask if there was anything stronger.

“I hadn’t taken anything that morning because he was going to go to the pharmacy to find something else. I didn’t want to take anything in case there was a better, more productive medicine he could get,” said Anna.

“Maybe as a result of not having had anything that morning, the flu bug went rampant.

“By the time he came back he ended up phoning 999 because I was hallucinating.”

Tim later told her that the paramedics repeatedly questioned him about what his wife had taken.

“He just told them I had taken a hot drink for colds last night. But they kept saying, ‘Yes, but what has she taken today?’

“All he could say was, ‘Nothing. She might have put some vapour rub under her nose’.

“But they were convinced. I probably didn’t look the best anyway. They probably thought I had been taking drugs or something.

“They also queried meningitis when I arrived at the hospital.”

Anna was formally diagnosed with Swine Flu (H1N1) and treated at Neath Port Talbot Hospital for four days.

Following her discharge on December 20th, she went to Tesco to do the big Christmas shop with her family. But she was still too unwell to walk around.

“I had to go and sit in the cafeteria because I had no energy. Even sitting in the cafeteria was hard work because all I wanted to do was lie down,” said Anna.

“I was floored then for the rest of the day and into the next day.

“I was lying on the sofa thinking, ‘Why do I feel so ill again?’

“I phoned the GP surgery and the GP called me back and said, ‘While our records show that your immune system was fighting it back brilliantly, you imagine all your energy levels, your fitness, everything, who you were before you had the flu has gone. It’s going to take at least six months for you to build up anywhere near to the energy and fitness levels you had prior to that’.

“I had taken it for granted that I would come out (of hospital) and just go back to my old life.”

Anna eventually returned to health, although she has been left with exercise-induced asthma.

She has had the flu vaccination every year since and her message to all those who don’t is a clear one.

“People say they don’t want the flu injection because they’re fine. I say ‘Well you won’t be saying that if you have the flu’.”

Patients in at-risk groups – including those who are pregnant, obese, with a long-term heart condition or asthma – can get the flu vaccination for free from their GP surgery or pharmacy. See our website for the full list of those who are eligible and more details about the vaccination sbuhb.nhs.wales/latest-health-advice/winter-is-coming-so-is-the-flu/

Many pharmacies and supermarkets also offer flu vaccinations for those not eligible for free immunisation.