A Few Words About Panic and the Swine Flu

My recent posts on the swine flu have racked up higher traffic numbers than anything else I’ve posted lately, and as a result, I’ve been getting an awful lot of emails and comments questioning whether I’m panicked now even if I wasn’t before, whether I should be if I’m still not, and whether all the other asthma parents out there should panic, too.

Here’s the thing.

When I write that I’m not panicking about the swine flu, that doesn’t mean I’m not worrying about it. And that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t practice a little constructive worrying yourself.

Of course we should. Our kids work harder to breathe on any given day, anyway, so it’s scary to parent a child with respiratory problems during flu outbreaks (of any kind) and in the middle of possible pandemics. But panicking over the swine flu will not help me take care of my asthma kid, will not protect her during an outbreak or a pandemic, and will affect the way I think and react during a time when I most need to do both.

I’m worried about the swine flu, yes, but there is a vast difference between worry and panic.

True panic takes several largish steps beyond worry. Here’s the MedicineNet.com definition of panic:

A sudden strong feeling of fear that prevents reasonable thought or action.

That word “reasonable,” that’s important. Panic is sudden terror to an inhibiting degree, the kind of terror that keeps you from making sound, rational choices or taking helpful, positive steps. You don’t want to be doing this during a health scare for your child.

Let me tell you a little story about panic.

When AG was younger and her asthma was both more severe and poorly controlled, for years – years – I couldn’t count on her sleeping through the night without needing a nebulizer treatment or two and/or a trip to the ER, whenever she was flaring. The lack of sleep and the devastating knowledge that any night had the potential to end up the same way – she and I on the couch, trying to force her breathing into normal patterns – took a toll on my ability to think rationally about her asthma. Because, as you may well know yourself, when your firstborn child has never breathed dependably, it starts to feel like she never will. And in my case, that hopeless view of AG’s future health was the first sign of how I’d start reacting to the very worst of her flares: by panicking.

Panic explains the way that, for no reason I can explain, I couldn’t bring myself to drive our daughter to the hospital or acute care clinic in the middle of those nights. Lacking the control I desperately wanted of her bronchial passages, I would reach that crucial moment of powerlessness, where her asthma flares spiraled beyond any therapy I could give at home. The point where I could not help my child, no matter how much I wanted to. Every time, the terror of that knowledge turned into a debilitating panic.

It was unspoken between Mr. Asthma Mom and I that if our kid needed to see a doctor in the middle of the night, he’d be the one taking her. I Just.Couldn’t.Do.It. Logically, the hospital should have been the one place I did want to go, a safe haven full of the meds and equipment and therapists she needed. Instead, once AG started up with the intense coughing and rapid, shallow breathing, panic over my lack of control turned me into a quivering pile of mom jelly, helpless and terrified.

It didn’t make sense. I had health insurance. I lived near good hospitals. I owned a car and knew how to drive it. There is no good reason why taking her to the ER should have loomed so fearfully in my mind, but panic doesn’t make sense. That’s why it’s so destructive.

So, please:

Don’t misinterpret my writings on the swine flu. I am worried. I’m right to be, and so are you. Because this outbreak will hopefully fade away quietly, but other influenza outbreaks are inevitable. Even the normal seasonal flu that pops up every year is worth our worry, since influenza carries the very real danger of pneumonia for asthma kids. Worrying is helpful.

However, I’ve made the very conscious choice not to panic, being more than familiar with its outcome: emotional and motivational paralysis. The inability to take action will not help during the swine flu outbreak, a possible pandemic, or any other future pandemics or health-threatening situations.

Should you worry about the swine flu if you have a child with asthma?
Absolutely.

Should you panic about it?
Absolutely not.

To that end, I’m saved this post as a static swine flu page in the left sidebar. Below, you’ll find my own posts on the swine flu as well as links to good information on other sites. One of the best advantages of a blog is that commenters often offer valuable insight and information themselves, so don’t miss the suggestions some Asthma Mom readers have made, either.

My Posts

My Original Swine Flu Article: On Not Freaking Out, 1918 vs. 2009, and Good Resources
What I’m Doing for Prevention/Preparation

Swine Flu Links

Washington Post: The Vaccine
The New York Times: Predictions, Protection and Prevention
Time: 5 Burning Questions About Swine Flu

Click here for all posts on the H1N1 pandemic.

8 responses to “A Few Words About Panic and the Swine Flu”

  1. wendy says:

    This post makes perfect sense. It takes courage to write so honestly about your own experience with panic.

    You’ve also helped me to set things straight in my own mind. Worried, yes, but I didn’t want to admit it. Panic? No not yet. Hopefully not at all.

    Let’s hope this swine flu just fades away.

  2. Danielle says:

    It’s really interesting to hear about those scary, surreal middle-of-the-night attacks from a mom’s point of view. Very well written. I’m sure I can’t appreciate what it’s like to be a caregiver and to be the one watching/helping.

    About the swine flu: vigilance is important for asthma patients and moms no matter what flu is going around. Panicking is just plain counterproductive, nice post!

  3. EclecticBird says:

    Great point about the difference between worry and panic. I’m not panicked about the flu outbreak (even if the numbers are going up) because it will do no good. I do plan for different outcomes and try to make sure I get up to date information.

  4. Amy says:

    Wendy–My hope exactly.

    Danielle–In the same way, I can never truly appreciate or understand what you guys and my kid experience.

    EclecticBird–What else can we do? And what’s funny is that writing about not panicking actually reminds me not to panic.

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