(broad)ject self #16: Self-Care When...You're Sick

When last we left our heroine, she had already broken her own rule of taking a damn sick day when you’re sick, especially when it’s something like the flu that has you with a fever, chills, and aching body. I didn’t go to work on Monday. I sent my boss an email saying I could barely move (true) and was hacking up a lung (also true) and that I’d keep her posted. I spent the day in bed reading, because my cough required me to be upright at all times, and by Monday night I felt better. I slept like crap though, in great part because I couldn’t lie down without having a coughing fit. So when I woke up on Tuesday morning still feeling terrible with bonus overnight snow, I decided to work from home because I honestly did not think I could manage any portion of the 8kms of walking I usually do the way my lungs were feeling.

By Wednesday morning I was ready to leave the house, even though I had slept badly again and still sounded like a dog with kennel cough. The good news was no-one could accuse me of faking sick thanks to my periodic coughing fits. A week after I last wrote (and 13 days after I first started feeling sick), I still have a vicious cough and scared the crap out of David this weekend thanks to my terrifying sleep wheezing, but I feel better.

Part of the reason I didn’t take a day off originally (when I think I had the flu), was that my boss has made several comments about how she never takes sick days. The last time she made a similar comment (she had a migraine), I told her that I felt that it was her responsibility as a manager to set a good example and take sick days. Even so, when I mentioned two weeks ago that my cubicle pod mate and I were both coming down with something she said something along the lines of, “you better not be”. It had a tone more of, “you guys do important work and we need you” rather than “you are not permitted to be ill, minions”, but still. It didn’t help that I had a handful of important meetings that I really couldn’t miss.
In retrospect, I should have taken that first Wednesday off.  But I have no idea if ploughing through led to this cough (or bronchitis, potato/potat-oh) or if it would have happened anyways. Still, I feel uncomfortable that I allowed myself to be intimidated into not taking time off that I genuinely needed. My first act as a manager, should people ever be lucky enough to have me as their boss, will be to set a tone where the flu is a non-negotiable sick day.

I really did try to dig deep in terms of taking care of myself these last two weeks (going to work aside). I went to bed super early every night. I took a week off from yoga, even though I’m loving Yoga Camp, because when you’re congested and have a hacking cough all those vinyasas are a recipe for trouble. I kept warm. I stretched. I took hot showers. I drank so much water I had trouble falling asleep at night because I kept having to get up to pee. I made my own “tea” during the day with lemon, ginger, and local honey. I cancelled plans.

But the hardest part of this whole thing for me has been the sleep situation. I cannot take any meds with “night” in them, because the active ingredient gives me a bad high and prevents me from sleeping. Many daytime drugs have ingredients in them to keep you alert, so I can’t take those at night either. As a result, I’ve been going to bed feeling fairly sleepy, but as soon as I recline even remotely, I start coughing. So I’ve been thrashing around, tossing and turning, until I manage to prop myself up sufficiently until I finally pass out. Needless to say, I have not been at my best. Last week I finally caved and bought some cough suppressant (after a hilarious conversation where upon hearing about my drug difficulties the pharmacist’s response to my question of what cough syrup I could take was “basically none of them”) and that, plus the dulcet tones of John Roderick’s ‘Roderick on the Line’, finally got me some sleep.

When we get sick, the urge to play through the pain is huge. Part of it is that we are underplaying how sick we actually are, and no doubt if a loved one was in the same condition we would urge them to take care of themselves. What I know for sure though is that playing through the pain does not hasten healing. Maybe you need to be in bed all day, maybe you just need to be curled up on the couch with cats and tea, or maybe the right cocktail of meds and hydration and sleep will get you through. Regardless of what the right prescription is, be honest with yourself (and your loved ones) about what you need to be well.

The best medicine, of course, is prevention. This week’s homework is to really dig deep and make sure you’re taking care of yourself physically. Are you getting enough sleep? How does your diet look? Are you drinking plenty of fluids? How much stress are you carrying around with you? Neglecting any of those elements is a sure fire way to make sure you’re run down and susceptible to whatever sickness jerks like me are bringing into the office.

Self-caringly yours,