Sense & Sensitivity

DEAR HARRIETTE: I’m feeling very sad and a little scared right now. I just learned that a man I used to know many years ago died from the flu. He was in his mid-50s.

I’ve read about the flu being lethal this year, but this has hit close to home. Like so many people, this guy didn’t have insurance, so he was trying to heal at home. He didn’t go to the doctor when he was feeling sick because he couldn’t afford it. I’m told that he was resting at home trying to get better, but he ended up dying in his house. I feel so bad about this. Sad for him that he died alone, even though he had a lot of friends.

Also, it’s scary. I don’t have insurance. When I get sick, I go to the doctor only if it’s really bad. I’m guessing he had no idea he could possibly die. How can you know that for sure? I am feeling my mortality and not knowing what to do right now. -- Fearing Death, Milwaukee

DEAR FEARING DEATH: It has been reported that this year’s flu epidemic rivals that of 2009, when our country battled swine flu. Many people are suffering, and quite a few -- from children all the way to elders -- have died. The threat of this illness is real.

For people who do not have insurance, you can still get medical help if you feel you are in a life-or-death situation. You cannot be turned away at a hospital emergency room. You will be treated and will be able to pay later for the service. Obviously, you don’t want to do that unless it’s necessary. Warning signs that you could be in trouble, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, include difficulty breathing or shortness of breath, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion, severe or persistent vomiting or flulike symptoms that improve but then return with fever and worse cough. For more information about the flu, go to cdc.gov/flu/takingcare.htm.

You are also grieving. Even though you were not close to this man, his death has stirred a lot of concerns in you. This is normal. Consider attending a grief workshop. You may be able to find a free one at a local house of worship.

DEAR HARRIETTE: My sister was recently diagnosed with cancer, and it sounds like it’s pretty bad. She has decided not to tell anyone about her illness because the doctors have told her that there’s nothing she can do about it, and she doesn’t want to worry her husband or friends. I think this is crazy. Her husband is going to be devastated and angry if he doesn’t find out before she dies. I also think he will be angry with me for keeping my sister’s secret. Do you think I should tell him? I know this is my sister’s life, but I feel like I’m caught in a terrible situation. -- Should I Tell?, Aberdeen, Maryland

DEAR SHOULD I TELL?: You should not tell anyone without your sister’s permission. You do have a heavy burden to bear since she told you, but your duty is to stay true to her. Do your best to tend to her needs. Ask her what she would like you to tell them when the time comes. Perhaps you can get her to write something or talk it through with you.

(Harriette Cole is a lifestylist and founder of DREAMLEAPERS, an initiative to help people access and activate their dreams. You can send questions to askharriette@harriettecole.com or c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106.)

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