Paula at home with her daughter Eden

Flu case study Paula Burns

Paramedic supports the NEAS flu campaign

Qualified paramedic Paula Burns is encouraging her colleagues to ensure they protect themselves against flu, having contracted it last year.

The Sandyford based paramedic is asthmatic and has had the flu jab every year since it was introduced.

But last year was an exception.

A keen advocate for the vaccine, when it came to the start of winter last year, Paula had cold type symptoms and was advised to wait to be clear of them before having the jab.  Following a sunny holiday in October, she fully intended to have the jab, but she returned with a persistent cough, which continued to stand in the way.

She was still coughing in December.

Her symptoms continued to worsen until she suffered an asthma attack during a nightshift, when she was treated by a Clinical Care Manager.  Sent home and following a GP assessment, Paula was admitted to hospital showing signs of sepsis.  Finally diagnosed with Flu B, she was treated for asthma and discharged with Tamiflu and steroids.  She was so contagious she even had to wear a face mask at home to prevent spreading the infection. 

She explains, “At my worst I couldn’t even get out of bed – I had no energy at all. My husband had to wash my hair as I couldn’t lift my arms above my head! Everything hurt; my limbs felt like lead.  I couldn’t look after my daughter and I suffered with terrible night sweats.  It was really debilitating and painful and stopped me doing anything I would normally do.

“Our Christmas and New Year were lost to illness.  I couldn’t see friends or family or do the things I enjoyed.  And if that wasn’t enough, my 9 year old daughter Eden also contracted flu and had to be treated with Tamiflu and my husband was ill too.

“I came back to work at one point thinking I felt better, but my symptoms returned. It lasted between eight to ten weeks in total, with about five weeks off work during a period at which demand on the service and my team mates was extremely high. 

“During winter on the frontline we are more likely to be in contact with people who are contagious.  I quite possibly contracted flu from a patient.

I feel awful knowing that I could’ve infected other people before I was diagnosed, not only the patients but my crew mate, colleagues and other family and friends. If we aren’t vaccinated then we are more likely to pass it to others when they might already vulnerable or even at risk. A lot of people don’t realised that you can carry the flu strain without being symptomatic.  We are not immune from disease and whilst we’re there to protect and look after the public, we need to look after ourselves too.  We can’t care for others if we are ill ourselves.

“I’ll be first in line to have the jab this year! Having flu was a hundred times worse than having the jab! The minor symptoms I had following the jab were nothing compared with the symptoms of flu.  I wouldn’t wish flu on anyone. It was awful.”

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Copyright 2011 North East Ambulance Service Trust

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