Allison Miller didn’t see the big deal with skipping her flu shot.
Miller, who was 33 at the time, figured that her age and health would be enough to keep her safe from any serious complications if she ever got the flu. But she was wrong.
“I thought the flu shot was only for the elderly, medical professionals or those with compromised immune systems, like cancer patients,” Miller said in an email to A Plus. “I missed the message somewhere along the way that the shot was recommended for everyone. I hadn’t had the flu in more than a dozen years and so getting the shot didn’t really cross my mind.”
Now, five years later, Miller sincerely wishes she had.
As her symptoms arrived, Miller began feeling run down. That feeling of exhaustion turned into cold symptoms, and before Miller knew it, her condition worsened and she called 911. During a 2014 interview with a Wisconsin news station about what happened next, Miller said the last thing she remembers from that day is showing up at the hospital and giving her basic information. Then her body began to shut down.
She was diagnosed with bilateral bacterial pneumonia, the most common complication from the flu. The pneumonia turned to sepsis, a result of the body releasing chemicals into the bloodstream to fight an infection and essentially turning on itself. Then she went into septic shock and, one by one, her organs began to fail.
Miller was put on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a form of life support. Because of a common complication from ECMO, her limbs weren’t getting enough blood, forcing surgeons to amputate her left leg above the knee. She was in a medically-induced coma for three weeks. And just like that, the flu had completely upended her life.
“My thoughts throughout the entire hospital stay was simply that I wanted to get out,” Miller said. “I was so weak I couldn’t even move my hand to itch my face or raise my head or do anything other than barely nod. As I continued to recover I turned to thinking about what my life would be like as an amputee — something you can’t really fathom until you or someone you know goes through it.”
Miller isn’t alone in experiencing serious or life-threatening complications as a result of the flu. 80,000 Americans died of the flu or flu-related symptoms last year, NPR reported, making 2017’s flu season the deadliest since the 1970s. Why was last year so deadly? Per The Washington Post, the deadly season correlates with the number of adults getting flu shots. Fewer than 4 in every 10 received the immunization.
“While most of my life has settled into a new ‘normal,’ the challenges are real,” Miller told A Plus of her experience post-skipping the shot. “The physical is obviously a day-to-day struggle, but so is the emotional and the financial. I’d prefer not to spend thousands of dollars each year on just being able to walk — and I have insurance!”
Miller is now 38 and living in Washington D.C., and she’s doing her part to try and prevent what happened to her from happening to others. She’s joining a number of flu survivors who are encouraging all Americans to get their flu shot, which decreases your chances of getting the flu and also reduces the severity of the flu in the event you contract it. Despite that, 53 percent of Americans skip their flu shot, according to the CDC.
“Is your day-to-day mobility worth 10 mins of your time and a simple vaccine?” she said. “Is your life worth that much? I understand the vaccine in its current form is not perfect, but it’s proven to help. It lessens your odds of getting the flu and lessens its effects if you do get sick. Moreover, it’s not just about you. It’s about all those in the community who don’t have great immune systems, for the old and the young. It helps curb the spread of a virus that kills tens of thousands each year. It’s about your family, so they don’t ever have to witness what mine had to.”
You read more about Allison’s story on her blog.
Cover photo: Allison Miller