H1N1 victim worried about his ‘ribcage breaking'

Dal student was sick for eight days, couldn't continue studies.

Dalhousie student Ben Smith survived the swine flu. Photo by James Whitehead

It started with a cough that wouldn't go away. Then it was vomiting, a fever, pain in his joints, and pain in his muscles. Through it all was the fatigue so debilitating he could not get up for almost a week. That was Ben Smith's encounter with the H1N1 virus, also known as Swine Flu. 

"The coughing was so bad that the doctor was concerned about my ribcage breaking," Smith said.

Smith contracted the virus three weeks ago, just as he was getting into his second year of a chemistry degree at Dalhousie University. His doctor gave him strict instructions to stay away from public places, including classes. At home around his family, Smith wore a mask to keep a lid on the germs.

"The doctor said I was contagious for a day before I was symptomatic and seven days after symptoms," Smith said.

Smith's professors agreed with his doctor.

"I spoke with professors and the associate dean, and they said to stay home for as long as the doctor told me," he said. "They didn't want me there essentially and I don't blame them."

By the time Smith was able to go back to school eight days later, he found himself so far behind that he decided to drop out of the semester and try to make up the lost time later.

"There's not much I can do about this," he said, "but that's alright, I've come to terms with it, it's just an extra semester at the end."

The associate vice-president of academic programs at Dalhousie University said when it comes to Dalhousie's academic policy, "health trumps everything." A close second though, said Susan Spence Wach, is trying to minimize the negative impact this pandemic has on the students' academic progress.

Wach said the university has instructed faculty members to prepare students for the impact of the H1N1 virus.

"On the syllabi at the beginning of the year there was a warning saying there were lots of unknowns regarding the possible increase in illness numbers and we may have to be flexible," she said.

That flexibility was demonstrated at the end of September when Dalhousie changed its "sick note policy." According Dalhousie's flu website, students who are absent from class due to flu-like symptoms do not have to provide a doctor's note to be excused. But it is not a free pass. Students are required to immediately inform their instructor that they will be absent. Professors will then try to accommodate each student on a case-by-case basis.

"The H1N1 has prompted what we as an academic community can do to ensure academic continuity,' Wach said.

Dalhousie Health Services says that its doctors are busier than usual due to the increase of students displaying flu-like symptoms. However, it is too early to say what the specific numbers are as yet.

For those who have survived the H1N1 virus, there is no guarantee that they will not contract it again. Ben Smith isn't taking any chances.

"I don't know for sure if I would be immune or not, my doctor just said get the flu shot, better safe than sorry," Smith said, "all I know is I'm definitely getting it."


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