At the end of January, when I was still recovering from the rigors of being a musician during the Christmas season, I came down with some noxious bug. I hesitate to label it “flu,” because while I certainly showed all of the signs (“can’t swallow anything but pudding” sore throat, fever, aches, swollen glands, cough, runny nose), I had no official diagnosis other than an upper respiratory infection. I made my first trip to the doctor’s office in about two years to have my throat swabbed and was told almost instantly that it wasn’t strep. Long gone are the days when a throat culture had to actually percolate overnight. The nurse practitioner reviewed my asthma meds, made a follow-up appointment with my PCP, and sent me on my way.
To provide the backdrop for this story, let’s just say that over the past two years I have not been the gleaming portrait of good health. I have worked too much, slept poorly, overindulged in food and drink, and been a rather sedentary being. Thanks to my sloth-like attributes, I put on quite a bit of weight, and felt rotten most of the time. The problem was, I didn’t care. Anytime I tried to reverse the cycle, to commit to a healthier lifestyle, I’d inevitably fail in less than a week. And failure after failure pretty much destroyed any shred of self-confidence that remained after the rotten Summer of 2008. I found myself languishing in a dark pit of despair (melodrama intended) and anger; anger towards myself, anger towards those who had wronged me, hurt me, etc. My spirit, once lighthearted and jubilant about the future, was extinguished. I didn’t care.
Two days after the first visit, I met with my doctor. I like him. He’s probably my age, maybe a year or two younger than me, and graduated from the “brother” school of the girls’ high school where I work. We’re on the same page. He looked at the notes from the previous visit and asked about the antidepressant I had stopped cold-turkey about six months before. I braced myself for the inevitable scolding; I had heard countless warnings about the dangers of quitting an antidepressant without a doctor’s supervision. While he certainly didn’t applaud my methods, he did give me a sliver of hope. “The fact that you are here, sitting in this office, is a sign that you’re ready to take the steps you need to feel better.” He suggested a different drug, and told me to CALL HIM (yeah, not so good with that) and update him with any changes. He ordered blood work and scheduled a physical, and I was on my way.
During the next ten days or so, I felt much better, though I was still coughing and whatnot, but figured I was just recovering from a cold, and I should tough it out. Besides, the world doesn’t stop for you when you’re “sick.” I couldn’t miss any more school, unless I wanted to completely deplete my sick days, and God forbid one of my kids should get sick and have to stay home. So I went back to my normal schedule–get up at six, teach, attend after-school meetings, chauffeur kids here and there, and go to the gym. Yes, I joined a gym. I knew that if I paid the membership fees, I would carve out the time in my schedule to sweat on the elliptical trainers for forty-five minutes. So I started going. There were a couple of days where I was completely lacking in energy and motivation, but I chalked it up to laziness and forced myself to go. Something was changing–for the first time in months, I actually felt like I could achieve the lifestyle changes I’d been telling myself I “should” make. Rather quickly, I saw results. Confidence reinstated.
A few days ago, I started having chills again, and the swollen glands returned. I wouldn’t say the cough or nose-faucet worsened, but I definitely felt lousy again. Back to the doctor. I saw a different physician this time, who hemmed and hawed over my symptoms for a good fifteen minutes (not exactly instilling confidence). She listened to my lungs, checked all facial orifices, and concluded that I should wait another couple of days. If I didn’t feel better by the weekend, I should start antibiotics and get a chest X-ray. Great. I started the antibiotics early. To make it through the school day, I’d pop the ibuprofen, feel somewhat okay until that wore off, visit the nurse for more, feel somewhat okay until dinnertime, then crash on the couch. Friday night, after making the rounds at the kids’ school spaghetti dinner and ice cream social (“but I can’t miss this!”), I knew I was in trouble. The fever was back with a vengeance.
Off to bed I went. Which was okay, because I lacked the energy to sit up. I went for the chest X-ray the next morning. I was frustrated. “I’m healthy…I’m young…I’m not supposed to get sick.” Throughout all of this, I kept lamenting “this isn’t fair.” Here I was, finally trying to make positive lifestyle changes, and my body decides to sock me with a double infection of pneumonia plus whatever flu/cold virus was still floating around in my system. In the past I would often say to myself, “What’s the point of trying to take better care of myself? I’ll still feel like shit.” Here was the reinforcement that the old voice needed. When I started thinking about it, I suspect that I’d abused my body for so long that it had settled into a constant state of immune-system-readiness. Once I started eating better (and less), exercising, and sleeping more, my immune system said “Hey! Cool! We can relax now!” Instead of instantly reaping the benefits of a two-week health binge, I was given a harsh reminder of how much I had let myself go, and how fragile our bodies really are. Two weeks cannot possibly undo two years of self-inflicted abuse.
I’m looking at several days of doing nothing more strenuous than taking a shower. The best laid plans may have to be altered–we’ll see about that upcoming trip to Florida–but I know what my priority is going to be. Time to rebuild my health–that precious gift we take for granted until it’s gone.