Expat Focus: Vinterkräks …What?

My column is late. Actually, it’s more than late but I have an excellent excuse. No, my dog didn’t eat the column (I don’t have a dog) and my column didn’t get lost in the mail. Instead, I was struck down by one of the most vile experiences known to woman or man: Sweden’s dreaded ‘winter vomiting disease’ (yep, that’s a literal translation).

Before moving to Sweden I, like pretty much everyone else, had suffered through my fair share flu attacks. Never fun and certainly filled with a few days of misery but before you know it you’re right as rain and carrying on as usual.

And then I moved to Sweden and discovered – or rather, I should say I was forcefully introduced – something the Swedes like to call vinterkräksjuka.

My first introduction to this charmingly named and oh-so-special strain of flu came a couple of years after moving here. I was on the train home from work and feeling fresh as a daisy. Then, between stops Slussen and Medborgarplatsen, on the south side of the city, where I was living at the time, suddenly something came over me: A cold sweat, a flush of warmth, beads of moisture running down my neck. I honestly thought I had been hit with a poison dart because this strange feeling hit me in the space of a minute or two and I went from looking forward to the evening ahead to wondering if I was going to be able to remain upright and ambulatory.

I did manage to remain upright and ambulatory but only by sheer dint of will. The walk from the tube to my flat, which was normally a brisk three and a half minute walk, turned into a nearly fifteen minute walk as I stopped every few seconds to cling to a tree or a light pole or anything else that would support me as I waited for the waves of agony washing over me to pass.

I won’t go into details but I will say (with absolutely no exaggeration) that the next few days left me ragged, pale, ten kilos lighter, and hoping hourly that the earth would simply swallow me up and end things once and for all.

Once I recovered enough to drag my frail, beaten, hallow-eyed self back into the world I mentioned to a few people that I had been more ill than at any other time in my life. They all had the same reaction: ‘Vinterkräksjukan,’ they intoned with a sympathetic look. And then they smirked and said, ‘Welcome to Sweden.’

I suffered a few bouts of normal flu in the passing years but hadn’t met my old friend vinterkräksjukan in many years. Until 2015 rolled around and one day a vaguely familiar feeling crept up on me (again on the tube!) and before I could pinpoint the symptoms I was laid flat for days, praying for mercy and grumpily snapping at my kids when they snickered when I moaned (ok, let’s be fair: I complained …and complained and complained and complained. And when I was done I complained some more).

The first time I had the dreaded disease the Internet was not a daily part of our lives so I had to rely on hearsay as to what this thing was all about. This time around I was stuck in the flat for days but with my trusty laptop at my disposal so seeing as I was trapped on the sofa or in bed for the long haul I decided to find out just what this vinterkräksblahblahblah really was. Off to Google I went.

Turns out that, contrary to popular belief around these parts, vinterkräksjukan is NOT a uniquely Swedish phenomenon designed to keep the population slim. No, it turns out that this is simply a norovirus (I’d like to now rename that the ‘nogovirus’), which originally called the Norwalk virus after the town of Norwalk, Ohio, where the first outbreak was confirmed in 1972.

So how did this travel to Sweden and mutate into hell on earth? I have no idea, although it’s highly contagious and has left whole cruise ships full of passengers left writhing in their berths, so I’m going to take an educated guess and say it came by boat or plane. Or train.

Either way, if you haven’t experienced this, count your blessings. If you have you know the only silver lining is that you’re bikini ready in less time than it takes to finish a slim novel. And if you come upon someone whom is battling their way through a bout, be kind to them – those of us who have survived are like grizzled old war veterans. We have battle scars and tales so terrible we cover the ears of children before speaking of what we’ve seen in hushed tones.

Next month I suspect I’ll have something more cheerful to say so until then, enjoy the warmer weather if you’re north of the Equator, and good luck with winter if you’re south.

Expat Focus Columnist

Categories humor

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