I was too weak to protest. I’d been in bed for seventy-two hours, unable to eat. A troupe of miniaturized Taiko drummers were using my cranium for rehearsal space while I alternated between deep chills and wracking sweats. I was sick. Really sick. And my friend and I didn’t think to Google an answer to the question: How high does one allow a fever to rise before seeing a doctor? That’s how I ended up being driven to Stanford’s emergency room on a Saturday afternoon in late January.
We hear stories of ERs filled with people miserable with colds and minor bouts of flu. We all know that visiting an emergency room when it isn’t necessary wastes precious resources and time. It distracts medical personnel away from patients in true need of urgent care and has the potential of spreading the virus through an unsuspecting and susceptible public. Yet there I was, simmering at a balmy 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Even with my fever-addled brain I knew I’d be sent home with a few ibuprofen and instructions to stay in bed.
My kind doctor took time to explain why he wasn’t a fan of Tamiflu, told me I was dehydrated and suggested I be given intravenous saline. I turned down the IV with a promise to drink more water, paid my co-pay and then made my way back to the lobby where my friend was waiting.
This was my second run-in with a dose of something bad. Prior to this past November I’d not been ill since the winter of 2009, when a cold laid me out so flat I spent five days between Christmas and New Year passed out on the couch with a marathon session of “ER” (the Clooney years) on continuous loop. What did I do different this past winter to deserve being knocked down in the prime of mid-life twice in twelve weeks by some nasty virus on the party circuit? Was this karmic payback for demonstrating a lack of compassion when a co-worker had the sniffles? Or was it just my turn? After enjoying three years of cold-free living had my resilience weakened or had this year’s bugs mutated to the point where resistance was futile?
I’ll never know. What I do know is that after seven days of Ibuprofen, water and bed rest I was strong enough to go back to work.
The complementary health care industry is booming. As a nation we spend up to thirty-four billion dollars on alternative medicines every year. I’ll admit, I’m one of those folks who runs for my favorite echinacea and zinc lozenges at the first indication of a scratchy throat. My two recent bouts of illness, however, arrived with a sudden onset and not with a sore throat but a chesty cough. Before I knew it I was well past the point of echinacea and zinc. Still, I take comfort in those lozenges and I swear they work although it’s probably the comfort that I find healing, not the purported benefits of echinacea on the immune system.
Comfort is a good thing. But breaking the bank on alternative remedies with dubious efficacy? Not so good. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a holistic approach to warding off colds and flu. But it’s a question of balance. Our bank balance and the balance that promises optimal health. So why not begin with lifestyle changes that don’t cost a dime?
During flu season we obsess about boosting our immune system, yet our bodies’ systems work synergistically. Rather than focusing on immunity alone, we need to consider keeping all our systems in homeostasis. Equilibrium. If we want to avoid colds and flu or at least lessen their severity, we need to stop trying to boost our immune system and begin embracing balance.
After the fever broke I cruised the inter-web for answers. When it comes to health and wellness, my favorite websites are the Mayo Clinic, Harvard Wellness, WebMD and, despite the broken heart I’m nursing from Lance Armstrong’s deceit, Livestrong. Yahoo Health is good, too, for quick, easy answers and links to more information. Pulling together tips from all these sites I’ve come up with ten suggestions that, while they don’t address colds and flu directly, might stave off the next bug that comes calling. Yes, they’re going to seem obvious but that’s my point. It’s simple common sense that will keep us well.
Stay Positive. And proactive. An optimistic outlook pays dividends. Besides, smiling just feels better. In his book The Miracle of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh encourages us to stay present by reminding us that when we feel overwhelmed taking a moment to smile gently softens not only the expression on our face but also our heart.
Chill Out. We’re too busy to relax. Right? Wrong. Taking time to reduce stress through meditation, yoga or peaceful walks is a powerful health booster. In addition, it increases our energy and clears our mind.
Sleep. We are chronically sleep deprived. Sleep gives our body and spirit the opportunity to rest and repair. Six to eight hours of uninterrupted shut-eye is like money in the bank.
Party On. Staying social contributes to our emotional and physical wellbeing. Friends are our support group. Knowing there are people who care and can help keeps us happy and healthy.
Wash Your Hands. It’s obvious, right? The big secret to avoiding germs and viruses is something our mothers have been trying to get us to do since we were knee-high to a grasshopper and digging for worms in the back yard.
Hands Off. Once you’ve washed your hands, avoid touching restroom door handles, restaurant menus (or at least don’t allow them to rest on your plates and cutlery), condiment containers, grocery carts, magazines in doctors’ offices—the list could go on but maybe it’s just easier to carry a bottle of hand sanitizer with you.
Drink More Water. We often mistake thirst for hunger and while I don’t wear a water bottle like a fashion accessory, I try to be mindful of when I’m thirsty and then, instead of grabbing a sweet or a soda I grab a bit of water. It’s a habit. But it’s a good habit to cultivate.
Eat More Greens. In fact, eat a rainbow. And I’m not talking about the ones you find in boxes of Lucky Charms. Peruse the produce aisle for color. Try something new. Recently I gave celeriac a go. Didn’t like it one bit. But I could pat myself on the back for trying.
Eat Less Sugar. Period. Read food labels. You’ll be surprised where it shows up.
Sneeze into Your Elbow. Last but not least, if you do feel yourself coming down with a spring bug, do us all a favor. Stay home. Or at least sneeze and cough into the crook of your elbow and not into your hand. My immune system, as well as my endocrine, digestive, respiratory, circulatory, muscular-skeletal, nervous, integumentary, lymphatic and reproductive systems, thank you.
Mimm has been a yoga teacher, massage therapist, reflexologist and writer. When she’s not balancing in Ardha Chandrasana or wrestling with a sentence, Mimm’s either playing her guitar or doing homework. She is working towards a master’s degree in transpersonal psychology.