| 3.4°C Dublin

Mary Feely: So glad I had swine flu jab -- even though it KO'd me

It never crossed my mind to get the swine flu jab until I showed up at an HSE clinic with my five-year-old daughter.

I knew she should get the jab. Her age puts her at high risk and she's prone to lingering coughs. Next time she caught a cold and started wheezing, I didn't want to be worrying that it could be swine flu.

I never did get a letter inviting me to get her vaccinated. So I rang around the HSE until an incredibly helpful assistant administrator in community care rang back, telling me where and when the nearest clinics were running.

When we called into a clinic, I'd thought of everything: a selection of favourite books to read out loud while we were waiting, a drawing pad and pencils, and of course the promise of a juice box and doughnut in a nearby hotel if she cooperated.

But I hadn't prepared for the question that greeted me: "And how about yourself, mum? Will you be getting the jab today?"

They laughed at my flustered reaction. "That's because you're a mother! Mothers never think of themselves." So I thought, why not? I'm here anyway, so I may as well.

A very nice woman explained that we might experience "flu-like symptoms" and a sore arm afterward. Grand, I said, signing the release. After the jab we were offered a drink of water and told to sit down for 15 minutes. Then it was off for doughnuts.

It was at breakfast the next morning that I noticed I was shaky on my feet. Even though my stomach was growling, I couldn't bring myself to eat. (This alone was highly unusual. Unheard of, actually.)

I got weaker as the day went on. Somehow, I got my three school runs done. As soon as all three of my children were safe at home, I did the unthinkable for a mother: I went off duty.

I had to get into bed. I've never felt such exhaustion, not even after giving birth. I simply could not stand a moment longer.

So I locked all the doors, ordered the kids to stay indoors and switched on the telly. The 13-year-old was temporarily promoted to head of the family until his father got home.

I was in my bed for all that evening and most of the next two days. I was roasting one minute, freezing the next. I ached all over, but especially in my poor arm. I was parched with thirst, but getting up for a glass of water was beyond me.

Gradually, I pulled out of it. Luckily, the full force of it hit me on a Friday, so I was able to rest over the weekend. Even so, it was the best part of a week before I had my full strength back. Today I'm profoundly glad that I got that jab. Weird or what, you might ask. But I can't stop thinking: if this is how my immune system reacted to the vaccine, how would I have coped with actual swine flu?

My guess is that the full-blown illness could have flattened me for three weeks. How on earth could we have kept the show on the road -- kids cared for, meals served, clothes laundered, rooms cleaned, dog walked, on and on -- with me laid up? With extreme difficulty, is the answer.

Yet, as the people at the HSE clinic suggested, I'd never really thought of protecting MYSELF against the illness. I was too busy looking after everyone else.

If, like me, you're a mum who takes her own good health for granted, stop a minute and think. If you were suddenly out of action, how well could your family function? If the answer is "not at all", maybe you should consider getting the jab.

Preferably when you have a few down days coming up. Just in case of "flu-like symptoms".