'Tamiflu turned my children into hallucinating, sobbing wrecks'
By Richard Price
This week, it was with no small measure of satisfaction that I watched Andy Burnham, our implausibly youthful Health Secretary, squirm on the GMTV sofa.
Andrew Castle, it must be said, is no Jeremy Paxman. So when Mr Burnham agreed to take part in the show to discuss the alleged merits of Tamiflu (how it sticks in my craw even to write those words) he was doubtless looking forward to putting across the Government's point of view in the gentlest of surroundings.
What ensued was an ambush, as the visibly irate presenter revealed that his daughter Georgina had collapsed and nearly died after taking the supposedly harmless drug.
Mr Burnham, for his part, burbled some platitudes about Tamiflu being 'our main line of defence' against swine flu, and how it was a 'different phase of the illness' when Georgina was prescribed the drug.
Oh really? Perhaps Mr Burnham would have liked to come round to my house and explain the merits of Tamiflu to my three-year-old daughter as she sobbed and retched in my arms night after night.
While he was at it, perhaps he could take the time to scrub our sitting room floor, once James, our exhausted 15-month-old boy, had vomited so many times that his tiny stomach could heave up nothing but bright orange phlegm.
This is to say nothing of the raging fevers, nightmares and hallucinations which plagued both our children until we decided they could take no more.
The effects of swine flu? Not a bit of it. My wife and I are utterly convinced that all these symptoms were, quite simply, the vicious side effects of Tamiflu.
Full disclosure: my wife, Jennie, was instrumental in making sure Mr Burnham appeared in public to discuss the issue. The previous night, she had appeared in the lead item on ITV's News At Ten to exhort all parents that they should think long and hard before giving Tamiflu to their children.
Having witnessed the damage wreaked by the drug at close quarters, we would never make the same mistake again.
It is difficult to explain the gutwrenching feeling of seeing your children suffer, when their pain is a result of your decision. And yet, like any responsible parents, all we wanted was to protect them.
In following the Government's advice, we thought we were taking the cautious route. How wrong we were.
Looking back, it started out in innocuous fashion.
When James's and Jessica's noses started running during a family day out in the Cotswolds late last month, we initially thought nothing of it. But when both started coughing and developed high temperatures, we rang NHS Direct to seek their advice.
Two hours later, after a flurry of phone calls starting with NHS Direct, both our children had been prescribed Tamiflu.
It was not certain that they had swine flu, but the on-call GP was pretty certain they had and it was better to be safe than sorry.
Under no circumstances were we to take the children to the surgery, so instead we were asked to dispatch a 'flu friend' to the nearest open pharmacy to collect the drugs.
At that stage - and I remember this vividly, having played it over in my mind dozens of times - both our children were reasonably well.
Jessica, in particular, seemed to regard the pills as sweets and was positively bouncing off the walls with excitement.
Once the first dose had been administered, however, all that quickly changed.
James's temperature, which up to that point had been kept at normal levels with Calpol, rocketed. His appetite disappeared and when his raging thirst finally persuaded him to drink some milk, he vomited so spectacularly that we are still struggling to clear up the stains several weeks later.
For the next day he barely moved, except to be sick every time he had so much as a sip of water. We had never seen him so ill, and because he was unable to keep anything in his stomach, there was no way of controlling his temperature with paracetamol.
His fever was reaching dangerous levels and we were becoming seriously worried about dehydration. Thankfully - though we did not see it this way at the time - James is nothing if not a character.
He knew what was making him ill - the Tamiflu - and he fought tooth and nail to resist taking the drug.
Producing the packet of pills was the only thing that could rouse him from listless torpor.
In the end, we gave up. Almost immediately, his symptoms cleared up and he was back to being our happy little boy.
Jessica, however, has always been of a gentler disposition. Perhaps it is a simple matter of gender, but she is delightfully eager to please, and even after the pills started to kick in it did not take too much wheedling for her to take them.
Indeed, for a few hours all seemed well. Until we were woken in the early hours of the morning by the sound of Jessica screaming, between deep, heaving dry retches: 'I don't like the pills, Daddy! Please don't make me have the pills!'
She was hallucinating, sobbing and more upset than I have ever seen her. Eventually she rocked herself to sleep in my arms, only to wake up an hour later and repeat the process.
In the morning, exhausted, my wife sought advice from our GP.
James had made his own decision, but we were encouraged to carry on with Jessica's course.
Pills were smothered in chocolate sauce, but she was no longer to be so easily fooled.
In the end, it took the promise of a trip to the toy shop and a river of tears before she, with typical sweetness, obliged and swallowed them.
That night, however, the screams and violent retching returned. By now she was begging, pleading not to be given any more pills. We cracked. Enough was enough. The Tamiflu went in the dustbin.
So what happened when we defied government advice and eschewed Tamiflu in favour of Calpol and cuddles? Within 24hours both of our children were completely recovered, save for those runny noses.
Yet the sobering fact is that today alone, the NHS will hand out Tamiflu to thousands of vulnerable little children who will go through needless suffering as a result of scaremongering about an illness which is no more dangerous than seasonal flu.
Of course, there is always the chance that your child will not suffer side effects, and the drug could reduce the length of the illness by a day - though even the Government now admits Tamiflu does virtually nothing to relieve symptoms.
Take it from us: it really, truly, is not worth it.
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