Canada·First Person

After my near-death experience, I'm never neglecting to get the flu shot

I will never delay getting the flu vaccine again. Four years ago, I found myself in a coma and nearly died because of my self-neglect, writes Lise Watson.

Even though I knew the importance of vaccines, I didn’t used to make them a priority

This year, experts warn that the flu season will make a comeback with a vengeance as COVID-19 restrictions ease across Canada. (John Fraser/CBC)

This First Person column is the experience of Lise Watson who lives in Toronto. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ

I remember the holiday season in Toronto in December 2017 was brutally cold. I had taken my then nine-year-old son skating outdoors despite the chill. We froze as we made our way slowly around the rink, and he'd cried all the way home. I was full of remorse. 

I can't be certain this freezing skate was the trigger for what came next. But a few days later, I was knocking on my neighbour's door and begging her to take me to the hospital because I could barely hold myself up. 

After several hours waiting to be seen in the waiting room, I was finally admitted to the hospital and diagnosed with influenza complicated by pneumonia. My organs began to fail and I screamed in pain. 

At 4 a.m., I called my husband who was at home caring for our son, with a doctor at my side and told him they were inducing a coma and I would not be able to speak to him for a while. I later learned that the doctor had told him that this, along with 24-hour dialysis, were the only ways to save my life. I was in a coma for more than a month. My family and friends say it was a living nightmare.

When I came out of the coma, I was in a daze for several days and didn't really comprehend the full scope of what I had lived through. I remember one of the doctors asked me if I'd had my flu shot. I said no, but I didn't understand the significance of his question at the time. I was focused on my recovery — things like lifting my arms and building up my strength to walk again.

Lise Watson writes she will never delay getting the flu vaccine again. (Lise Watson)

It wasn't until I was at home several months later that I connected the dots and realized the impact of skipping my vaccine.

Of course, I was aware of the importance of vaccines even before I was hospitalized. But I hadn't realized something like the ordinary flu could result in complications, like pneumonia — some of which can be life-threatening or result in death, or that the flu shot could prevent these serious outcomes.

I had been given a second chance at life and I was not taking that lightly. I swore to never skip or delay getting vaccinated against the flu.

When the pandemic hit, COVID triggered the trauma of my near-death experience. Today, thousands of people and families worldwide have undergone the same ICU intubation horror as me. I feel an odd kinship with the victims of COVID-19 who I saw in newspapers and TV struggling for their lives, and their tearful families and friends.

When news of vaccines to prevent COVID-19, I didn't hesitate to get my shots. 

This year, experts warn that the flu season will make a comeback with a vengeance as COVID-19 restrictions ease across the country. 

Doctors are urging Canadians to get flu shots as soon as possible because the flu season is expected to be much worse than last year when restrictions were in place. They want to avoid further strain on the health-care system already struggling with COVID-19.

Learn from my mistake and get the flu shot. Both COVID and the flu are dangerous.

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Lise Watson is a Toronto-based writer and publisher of the community arts magazine TWAS – Toronto World Arts Scene and a contributor to CIUT 89.5 FM.


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