Monday, March 27, 2006

Sick Happens

"I came in right away so I could catch it early. I can't be sick. I don't have time!"

How many times do I hear this each week in my college health practice? Too many. The busy student gets one of the myriad viruses going around. They come rushing in to the clinic, wanting us to fix it immediately so they don't lose any time. Can't afford to be sick. Gotta get well immediately! Give me a magic pill and quick, doc! I've got a paper to write, an exam to study for, homework to do! You have to do something!

Well, guess what, kiddos?
Sick happens. Especially when you stress your poor bod and its defenses by eating your meals at the vending machine or the drive through, sleeping few and erratic hours, and partying hearty on the weekends. Not to mention the "normal" academic and social stressors of student life.

Your body is not a machine. Unlike your computer, it can't just get rebooted and work like a charm. Unlike your car, it can't get a ten-minute lube job and be back on the road, purring smoothly. Your body needs ongoing care. And sometimes, it gets sick. Even if you care for it well, it can catch a virus. When that happens, well, you can't just "get in early and nip it in the bud". And truthfully, we can't help you much anyway.

Viruses are everywhere. The "common cold" is truly common. Modern medicine still has not developed a medicine that can kill any of the usual viruses. But here's where YOU hold the trump card. Your body CAN cure the common cold. That's what your immune system is for. And it works! Miraculously, eventually, you will get well. With or without our help. But you have to give it time. You have to be patient. You have to take a break from the rat race, slow down,
listen to your body and take the rest it needs while it does its amazing cure job.

And maybe your body is telling you something else. Maybe you
need to slow down, to stop and take some time to yourself, take a break from the whirlwind. That paper isn't going anywhere. The sun will still come up tomorrow whether you're in class or in bed. The exam can be rescheduled. Life goes on.

In these days of instant gratification, instant messaging, instant meals and drive-through everything, we forget that our bodies are part of the natural world, which doesn't function in gigabytes and nanoseconds. Nature belies a quick fix. And, when you're flattened by a virus, you learn the primitive truth. Nature will out. Might as well relax and give it up.


Virginia said...

Hey Pegadoc, I was wondering if you could do something about this tight spot in my lower back? Now?

No, I don't want yoga stretches. They take too long.

What do you mean, get up from my computer and move my body? I don't have time for that.

It's just one little achy spot. Can't you make it stop right now?

marybishop said...

I am not a doctor, but I play one in my family.

Doesn't every mother? We have to assess the severity of the malady or injury and give first aid, then decide if we need the big guns or not.

Even though they don't want to listen to their bodies, I can always predict an illness if they've lost sleep, been over-stressed and haven't been eating right.

My body says: Take a rest in the afternoon: read, play the piano or just put on the tv. (I think it's my body saying that...maybe not..maybe it's me telling me that!)

Heather said...

I dealt with this issue the second semester of my freshman year. I thought I had mono. After testing they finally told me I had a new strain of the flu and that I needed at least 6 weeks of rest to get better.

Hello? I'm a freshman in college!?! 6 hours of rest is pushing it. Everytime I would start to feel better I would push myself to get everything done that I had missed and just send myself back into bed. Worst grades I ever got and it took me 3 months to finally get over it.

I've learned that when I don't feel good to take care of myself. Fortunately, I don't have kids, so that's much easier for me to do than for many.

pegadoc said...

Virginia - sure, I can fix you right up. Stand right let me just find my magic wand...


Marybishop - Aren't you glad you've learned to listen to your body? One of the benefits of, um, maturity, wouldn't you say? I would.

Heather - Yepper, you sound just like our patients. Live and learn, eh?

Thanks for the comments.


Giovanni said...

I had written an interesting comment but then I remembered that I had to create an account before I could submit an entry. When I finished setting one up, I forgot most of what I wanted to say. But here goes again...

We are so removed from the realities of honest living that we unrealistically expect technology to preserve us from pain and suffering. We have begun to view things such as menopause and andropause as diseases to be prevented.

Increasingly we will become so removed from biological living that processes like menstruation, conception, gestation in utero, and old age will be human processes that will seem invasive and un-natural.

I wanted to say more, and say it more clearly but don't remember what I had written earlier. I'll visit again.


Dr. Deborah Serani said...

I agree. I tell many of my patients that they need to listen to their body. Often panic and fatigue are symtpoms of doing too much. What a wonderful blog you have here!


pegadoc said...

Giovanni - So true! It took me years to unlearn the attitude I learned in medical school about menopause as a state of deficiency that needs "replacements" and correction.

I hope we never lose gestation in utero. That miraculous, natural, animal feeling is an incredible gift.

Deb - Thanks for visiting! I visited your blog briefly today and look forward to going back. Sounds like you're a wise counselor. I used to have a sign in each exam room that said "listen to your body". Wonder whatever happened to those old things? Time to make some new ones methinks.

anafaran said...

I love this point of view you're taking on treating the body with respect and listening to it more carefully. We think therefore we bully the body. Hahaha, it reminds us, 'tis not to be bullied.
I think while we let ourselves get lassoed into the fast pace of cyber life that there is a bit of a backlash and more and more is being delved into about how the mind/body and spirit are all connected. Well, actually it's been addressed for milleniums but we're surely forced to be taking notice.
Great springboard for more discussion, this topic you touched on revolving around complete health.
Relaxing in Virginia. You know Virginia is for lovers don't you?

bbkrak said...

I am not a writer but I certainly admire your writing skills. And I wish I had read about listening to your body when in college and med schools. Must admit, was always in bed by midnight except when studing for finals with friends: always interruptions. Anybody wants a cup of tea or something? Preferred studing alone, more efficient but needed the company, the socialization.
Keep at it Peg, I enjoy reading you even if I do not answer.

pegadoc said...

Thanks, anafaran in Virginia and bbkrak. Anafaran - you're right. This is the tip of this subject's iceberg. BBkrak - if you were in bed by midnight in college and med school, I'd say you were listening to your body!

Ron said...

That was me 20 years ago.... too funny. Otoh, one of the things I did learn through my 4:58PM visits to student health services was that early prevention efforts did make a difference. Obviously not for cases of the flu, but my usual sop of waiting until I was sicker than a dog to go in, more often than not prolonged the situation.

Still waiting for the magic preventative care wand. Unfortunately, in this era of fix me medicine, the preventative care wand will never be a money maker. Only students and a small minority of the population would go for it. Everyone else wants a fix me magic wand, after the fact.

pegadoc said...

Ron - good point about early intervention. That is true. There is a whole other group of patients/students that don't come for help until they're practically on death's doorstep.

Most, of course, are somewhere in the middle, coming in when they're truly ill but before it's serious. Students in general are a smart group.

I don't know if I'd like to see the magic prevention pill or not. While it's tempting to want a disease-free world, I wonder what that would do to the balance of life. Not to mention I'd be out of a job! It's an interesting philosophical question.

Thanks for visiting!


Sallysis said...

I used to get sick a lot when I was teaching Kindergarten and around colds all the time. I think that really built up my immunity cuz now I almost never get sick, and I am back in the kindergarten again. The other trick is that I go to bed earlier, and at the first, FIRST symptom of anything at all, a scratchy throat, sneeze, etc., or if I am stressed or over-tired, I'll take a handful of the Chinese herb yin chiao, and 49 times out of 50 the symptoms go away. With my 6 - year old son I use an echinnacea tincture in the same way, and he usually chases off the cold before it comes in.
So, if you catch it at the very beginning, in my experience you can nip it in the bud. However, I do think there is real value in being sick sometimes...for the buildup of immunity, and for the chance for real rest and something new to emerge in your consciousness. This spoken from a non-medical perspective, may sound "out there" to you scientists.

peg said...

sallysis - Echinacea isn't "out there". It has actually been studied, and found to do just what you say, nip colds in the bud. I use it for that very thing, and it works.

Thanks for the suggestions!

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