Winter. Both my favourite and least favourite time of the year. The time when in Australia’s beautiful sunshine state we can finally sleep at night without the need for a cold shower or ten before bed and when the days are finally cool enough to enjoy outdoor activities after 9AM. However there is one thing about winter that has me struggling to remain calm. The huge risk to my health posed by the prevalence of colds and the flu viruses.
For anyone living with a chronic illness adding a virus on top of their already complicated medical history is a whole lot more dangerous than it is for the average person. If the chronic illness happens to affect the lungs or immune system that makes the risk potentially life threatening.
In 2009 I was at the lowest point in my health journey. Weighing a tiny 38 kilograms and with a lung function that struggled to get above 30%, I was hit with Swine Flu. I was so sick at the time that I didn’t realise how close I was to dying. It is a story that my amazing medical team frequently remind me of and marvel at just how lucky I was to pull through it.
Even with greatly improved health these days, whenever I catch a virus it really knocks me around and often lands me in hospital – usually for many weeks at a time. What might be ‘just a little sniffle or ‘a tiny bit of a sore throat’ for one person may manifest completely differently in someone like me. Each admission to hospital requires painful and risky treatment that puts most of my other organs under pressure. It is physical and emotional agony at the end of which I am never guaranteed to return to the health I had pre-virus. Each and every virus comes with the risk that it will cause more irreversible scarring to my lungs leading to a decline in function.
When I see the advertisements for cold and flu medications I can’t help but be infuriated by their message. Don’t get me wrong, I understand that we all have busy lives and it is frustrating to drop everything and put your life on hold while you recover (oh trust me, I get it) but encouraging people to go out and share their germs feels irresponsible when you have seen and felt what I have. Not only do I doubt that your co-workers and friends really want your lurgies, people like me and the many others who have illnesses that effect the respiratory and immune systems (including patients undergoing treatment for Cancer and many other conditions) depend on others to practice courtesy and stay home – at least until the infectious period has passed. No matter how ‘careful’ you are, or how good you feel, if you are out in public during the infectious phase of a virus you never know who you might share it with.
I really ask you all this flu season to be mindful of the impact your virus may have on others. Although I take the upmost of precautions to protect myself and miss a huge number of fun outings and events at this time of year because they are just too risky, I can’t completely live in a bubble. My life depends on the courtesy of others to do the right thing and that is absolutely terrifying. I make no exaggeration when I say, in taking the time to rest up and enjoy the comforts of Netflix and chicken soup you might just save a life. Next time you are listening to the wisdom of cold and flu medication manufacturers and are tempted to play the hero and ‘toughing it out’, please stop and think about what it would mean to someone like me if you chose differently.
For those of you who need to be extra cautious to avoid the winter ‘lurgies’ here are my Five Flu Fighting Tips:
1. Make your home your wellness sanctuary. During winter I tend to spend a bit more time at home avoiding crowds and making sure I am doing all I can to keep my health in top shape. Not only do I like to make sure my home is a place I want to hang at this time of year but I like to make sure it’s a place that supports my health. Things like having a great smelling natural antibacterial wash in my shower for when I get home, all of my medications and supplements organised so I don’t forget a dose and having my bedroom set up just how I like it – including having snuggly linen and my Salin Plus next to my bed, for a good nights sleep are all important for keeping me well.
2. Limit unnecessary exposure to crowds. As I said in my post above, we can’t live in a bubble BUT we can make sensible choices that limit our exposure to people who are sniffling and snuffling. Choosing to go shopping at non-peak times means you are less likely to be stuck in a cue between people coughing their germs all over you. If that isn’t possible, having groceries home delivered or planning your meals so you only shop once or twice a week cuts down unnecessary exposure. Similarly, if you are getting together with friends at a café or restaurant choose a time where it is less likely to be packed with people or choose somewhere that has an outdoor seating option (and some of those nice outdoor gas heaters and blankies provided if you live in one of the southern states)!
3. Protect yourself! At the end of the day your heatlh is up to YOU! Tools that are useful and the degree of caution you practice will depend on the situation, however I like to take a stash of things that prevent the spread of viruses with me where ever I go. To some people this might seem completely OCD however they are not the ones that deal with the consequences of me becoming unwell. In flu season I never leave home without my Vog Mask for use in crowded places (or for when I find myself stuck next to that person with the suspicious sniffle), as well as hand sanitiser, antibacterial surface wipes and usually a small saline nasal spray too!
4. Strengthen your body! This will vary greatly for everyone but being aware enough of your bodies unique needs is an important first step. For me eating nutrient dense foods including lots of vegetables and quality protein and staying well clear of the foods I know make me feel sluggish like sugar and highly processed foods, are number one! Taking the supplements I know work for my body including lots of Vitamin C and probiotics and boosting my snacks by having smoothies with things like greens or matcha powder and hot drinks with ‘added goodies’ like soups, chai tea, warm honey and lemon and turmeric milk all help me make sure my immune system is in best possible shape! Think about the things that make you feel great and make sure you are using all your ‘weapons’ during winter!
5. Set Boundaries. Helping educate loved ones and others you come into contact with regularly about how they contribute to your health and wellness is particularly relevant during winter. Their health is likely to impact yours so helping them understand how they can avoid viruses as well as how to protect you when they are unwell is important. What they might consider a ‘sniffle’ or ‘little bit of a cough’ might cause significant illness in someone with chronic illness. Setting boundaries and helping them understand that you must keep your distance even if they ‘only’ have ‘a bit of a cold’ can significantly reduce your risk. I have found this really hard over the years however I regularly remind myself is that I best understand my own needs. Sending a group email or sharing a Facebook or blog post (such as this one!) can be a useful, non-confrontational way of helping to educate others.