Monday, June 23, 2014

On Being Sick

LUCY BURDETTE: Over the past few weeks, most of the Reds have been struck with some kind of summer plague. Vicious head colds, fierce flus, brutal bronchitis, stomach ailments, even pneumonia. 

As I was lying on the couch snuffling and sneezing and watching Orange is the New Black instead of working on my book, it occurred to me again how much I hate being sick. Think of it. Supposing you have one cold per year over 80 years. Supposing you feel lousy for five days running during each cold. 80×5 = 400 lost days! And that's just one stinking cold.

Which brings me to a related subject. How do you feel about people going out when they're sick? Or you going out for that matter. Are you the kind of person who searches your memory for the vector of the virus as soon as you come down with it? Who was coughing at the dinner party? Who was snuffling at the theater? Who was hacking on the airplane? On our vacation, a couple of our fellow tourists developed horrible flus--this being Japan, they were given masks to wear as a courtesy. As the trip progressed, I could hear the cough spreading through the other vacationers. Not much could be done about it in this case, as we were all on a boat. But I had my hand sanitizer working overtime...

Should you stay home when you're sick? What if it's a special occasion like a wedding or a vacation?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I'm always saying--I can't be sick, I cannot be sick! I duck and cover when someone coughs around me, or has runny poor Jonathan had an eye thing which I decided (after my many years of medical school) must be contagious, so I didn't even hug him, and made sure our pillows didn't touch. Poor man, Turned out it was not contagious.


When people come to work sick it drives me crazy. I understand the problems, I do, but it is so rude to subject everyone to those germs.  Last time I was on the train, there was a VERY sick person, and I'm not going to describe it, just imagine. And it was the quiet car. So anyway, moving along, the woman next to me in the train (a stranger!) and I spoke in hushed tones about our shared fear he had norovirus, and proceeded to essentially pour Purell on ourselves.
So I say--if you can--stay home! Nothing more frustrating and disturbing that sitting by a person who is snuffling.
(And whatever you do, do NOT check it out your symptoms on WebMD. It is always fatal.)

LUCY:  Ha, ha, Hank. John turned up with spots all over his body last winter. After looking online, we were CONVINCED it was deadly Dengue Fever. (Turned out to be reaction to sulfa drug.)
HALLIE EPHRON: I was down with a mean flu, REALLY down for 2 weeks. Every joint ached. Fever spiked. No choice -- I was not doing anything but lying in bed and moaning. Then 2 more weeks of feeling just so-so before finally feeling normal. (And YES, as everyone asks me, I DID get a flu shot last fall.)

I sympathize with anyone who ends up with getting sick when they have to fly somewhere. I mean, sometimes you've just got to mainline cough suppressant and go. But when it's optional then I say stay away, and ask to wear a mask

while you're in the doctor's waiting area. And heaven help you if you happen to get sick on book tour. I mean what DO you do then?
DEBORAH CROMBIE: Oh, Hallie, I did get really sick! And not just on any book tour, but on book tour in Germany. I woke up in London on the morning I was due to fly to Munich to start the tour with a RAGING sore throat--the kind that will not let you tell yourself it's allergy, or post-nasal drip... By the time I got to Munich it was clear I had the flu. But I was booked in four cities, and it wasn't just me, but my publicist, a media personality, and a famous German actress who was doing readings from my book in German.  And all the events were ticket-only and sold out. So you just keep going. As soon as we checked into a hotel in a new city, my lovely publicist, Katrin, would take me to the nearest pharmacy for every cold and flu remedy we could buy. By the fourth city, I couldn't talk. And I did sign books for people, and felt terrible about spreading my germs, but had no choice. Washed hands until they almost fell off.

But under ordinary circumstances, I wish people would STAY HOME.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Ditto to the request that people stay home from work. I always point out to Ross that going in is counterproductive anyways - I'm convinced a good day's bedrest knocks a day or more off the cold's lifespan. If I have to go, say to a wedding or a book appearance, I try to medicate my more obnoxious symptoms and avoid touching anyone. I got a great idea from a very stylish mother-daughter pair who go to our church: when the dreadful swine flu was going around a few years back, they started showing up in adorable little gloves, the kind every woman wore in the fifties. They looked stylish (instead of paranoid) and they never got sick with anything that winter! Bring back indoor gloves!

What say you Red Readers? Douse yourself in Purell? Stay home all season? Take up Julia's new fashion statement?


  1. I'm in the camp of "stay home if you're really sick," but I have to admit I like Julia's idea of reviving the custom of gloves. And not being a fan of the Purell stuff, I don't do the hand sanitizer thing . . . .
    Fortunately, I tend to be reasonably healthy [or maybe it's just that I refuse to admit to feeling under-the-weather], so I generally just go.

  2. While I try to keep to myself when I have a cold, I still go out to work. Anything more serious than that, and I definitely stay home and take it easy.

    And I try to avoid those with colds, but I understand being out and about. I do get upset at those who go out who are sicker than that. Unless it is to the store. After all, I live alone, so I have to take care of myself to a certain extent.

  3. Blogger swallowed my comment again, fellow Reds. I'm still traveling and use the hand sanitizer constantly. I also tell myself when I can't be sick and it usually works.
    However John picked up a nasty cold on our cruise ship, thanks to a man who was sneezing all over the place!

  4. STAY HOME, sickos.

    Purell is a double edged sword. It's good to carry around but it's still best to use regular, not anti bacterial soap, and wash your hands while singing the birthday song. Sometimes, Mom is right.

    This post reminds me of an old news story. Wasn't there a NY legislator cited for drunk driving, but he claimed his BAC was so high because he'd used Purell on his hands several times that day? And it must have seeped into his bloodstream? I know I didn't imagine that.

  5. I love the idea of indoor gloves, or even lightweight outdoor gloves. When I'm out and about, because of my knees I always have a hand on the railing of escalators or stairs, but then I think of how many other hands have been there and wish I were wearing gloves, even in the summer!

    Sorry you've all been sick, Reds. I had a nasty post-cold cough myself recently that kept me from sleeping for more than a week. Brutal. I finally went to the doctor, who gave me a prescription for a "controlled substance" cough suppressant, which I filled. And that did the trick - filling the prescription, not taking it, because that night and since I didn't cough once despite not having cracked open the bottle.

  6. Can you gargle Purell? Curious minds...

  7. I don't remember that story Ramona, but it sounds like it could be true!

    Edith, I hate touching railings and escalators. If I can manage it, I use my elbow:)

  8. Roberta, I'm the same--and I'm religious about not touching anything, including the door handle, after washing my hands in a public restroom. I go to Howard Hughes-like lengths (remember Leonardo DeCaprio's dilemma in Aviator?) to avoid touching the door handle. I've witnessed WAY too many people not washing their hands after using the restroom.

    Fifteen years of lecture tours/shows taught me many ways of coping and maintaining good health: Echinacea can shorten a cold by more than half; Oscillococcinum can stop a cold or flu in its tracks if you get it in you fast enough; and a daily Vitamin D3 capsule--at least 2,000 IU (Dr. Andrew Weil recommends 2,000 to 10,000)--can keep your immune system strong enough to fend off all but the most virulent germs.

    When we were in Tanzania, these precautions really came in handy, vis a vis our conversation about icky public bathrooms all over the world. We had hand sanitizer with us, but I used good old soap and water the most, and while I did get sick, my doctor thought it was actually a reaction to the anti-malarial, and not a virus.

  9. We all have "herd immunity" and when we stay in our herds, we don't get sick (or at least not as often). But when you travel, our germs are not their germs, and you pick up "things."

    A study at the U of Wisconsin many years ago found that when a cold runs rampant through a family, it is often not the SAME cold. The reason you have fewer colds as an adult is because you have already had most of the colds that circulate in your area (apparently you never have the same cold twice, but there are a lot of them out there). Unfortunately, if you hang around with little kids or grandkids, they are little incubators. You should keep them at arm's length (sure, just try it.)

    About going to work when you're sick, the "suck it up" mentality says you should. And people earning minimum wage with no sick days have no choice.

    I DO count backwards-- I was told that you start feeling the earliest symptoms of a cold 36 hours after exposure. I find that if I count backwards, I was usually in the grocery store or on a bus at that moment.

    And about those gloves: when I first started college, women still wore little gloves (Remember Jackie Kennedy? BTW she wore them not just to be elegant, but because she bit her nails). You couldn't see it on black ones, but white gloves were INSTANTLY filthy-- coal black filthy-- if you wore them on the subway.

    I'd say just wash your hands often, with hot water and regular soap, but keeping yourself germ free may (or may not) make you more vulnerable. I rely on ColdEEZ at the first sign of a cold, and Occilococcinum at the first sign of the flu. Both seem to work.

  10. Yes, gloves! I love that idea!

    And Ellen, Oscillo--absolutely. I am convinced it is a wonder drug. Also I drink tons of water if I think I'm getting sick, and try to get extra sleep.

    I also wear a scarf, and kind of put it over my nose and mouth on trains and buses. Subtly. I am sure that is completely worthless.

    And I am going back to the glove idea. It is such a good plan.

  11. Oh, Karen in OHIo, you mentioned Oscillo, too. With ya. It's great.

  12. Oooooh - one of my buttons.

    When I was still working I would get furious with my faculty who would come in sick, stand at my desk so they could tell me in great detail just how sick they were until I started banging my head on my desk and explain they were there because, well - the department just could NOT do without them for a day or two, doncha know.


    Usually, after a few days of spreading their germs, explaining how they were sicker than anyone on God's green earth had EVER been, they ended up finally staying home.

    I'm convinced they would have gotten better much sooner if they had stayed home that very first day, but noooooooo, martyrdom is alive and well in the world of academia. Rampant, in fact.

    did I mention this was one of my "hot buttons?"

    I am not familiar with Oscillo - must look into this! I am a believer in Zicam and/or Coldeeze at the very first symptom of a cold.

  13. Back when I worked in offices I noticed that if someone at work had a cold and shared my phone that I would also catch the cold. So I started keeping isopropyl alcohol in my desk, and I would just wipe down the phone periodically, and do the same with all the phones at home. That made a huge difference.

    Now, of course, we all have our own phones that we keep attached to us 24/7, so it's not as important.

    Remote controls at hotels are loaded with germs, too. Best Westerns sanitize theirs after each guest leaves, did you know that?

  14. When I feel stuffed up, I use a Neti Pot and it has really helped deflect colds. One of my daughters uses one daily.

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  16. What a timely (for me) post.

    In general, if you're just sniffling a little, I'm fine. If you're dragging yourself around, hacking up a lung, and your nose is, well, disgusting, please stay home. I am very fortunate now in that I work for a company that is absolutely fine with telecommuting, so if I'm feeling well enough to work, but sick enough that I don't want to spread germs, I can work remote.

    And on that note, I'll be doing that all this week because I found out on Saturday that the spots I thought were bug bites are actually shingles. Can I just say, ow, ow, OW?

  17. By the way, in the area of medical news -- I had an attack of gastritis this winter. I never experienced what I thought were typical gastro symptoms (heartburn, stomach pain) -- but rather what I thought were allergy/cold type things.
    I was with my sister-in-law the nurse who figured it out.
    Coughing? Take a Tums.
    Oh, and also figure out your trigger foods (garlic and onion and cucumber and tomato and . . .)

  18. Yes, neti pot--my personal favorite. I use mine whenever I feel stuffy, and during allergy season, and if I've been exposed to sneezers, etc.

    Since I've been using the neti pot and Vitamin D3 I have not had a cold or the flu, going on eight years now. Previously, I caught the flu every year, and had two colds a year like clockwork.

  19. Okay, I'm going to get a neti pot...

    Mary so sorry about the shingles:(

  20. Oh, Mary! I feel for you. Shingles are mean.

    My husband brings home colds - he teaches college. He gets sick for 2 days and I'm down for a week. Not fair.

    I also get bugs from our grandbaby. It's worth it.

  21. I do get aggravated with people who are obviously unwell and out and about. However, what really burns my buns is when I see parents taking a child out who definitely needs to be in bed. I'm talking about non-essential trips out where dragging the sick kid around is a matter of choice. I try to stay in when I'm sick unless it just can't be avoided to attend something. I do, however, understand those who cannot afford to miss work or, like Mark, live alone and have to go out to get necessities.

    And then there was the girl I grew up with who came to school with everything, as her mother wanted her to have perfect attendance. I and many of my classmates can thank this girl for getting our childhood diseases over with early.

    I get really frustrated and depressed when I am down with something for more than 4 or 5 days. It doesn't happen often, but it is entirely irksome when it does. Right now, I'm dealing with ulcers, which don't seem to be getting any better, so I've called the doctor to see if he didn't mean to prescribe an antibiotic at first. They so love when you tell them their business.

    Mary, I'm so sorry to hear that you have Shingles. My mother-in-law keeps telling me to ask my doctor about getting a Shingles shot. I think I will now. I hope you are better quickly.

    Julia, I love the glove idea and applaud those who use it. I always thought that the practice of shaking hands with your neighbors in church was a bad idea due to the germ factor. I think many people can trace a cold or illness back to that practice. Maybe that's why I'm not a regular church goer anymore. Well, that along with a few other issues.

    Echinacea is something I'm familiar with, but I need to check out the Oscillo. I have an herbal tea called Throat Coat for sore throats that's quite good, and I have an Echinacea tea. Loratadine in generic form has worked for me to take when I feel a cold first starting. Oh, and my grown kids swear by zinc lozenges for sore throats.

  22. Love the idea of summer gloves, I even remember wearing them to church as a kid. Fairly certain I didn't like the idea then! Can we bring back summer hats too, won't help with germs, but they will look good with the gloves.
    And if you are really sick, just stay home, relax, catch up on sleep or do some reading.

  23. I spent many years working in a retail establishment, and that is the WORST. if one person comes in sick, get ready for the whole store to be sick. Never mind that you can't tell the sick customers to go home!

    I do like the white glove fashion statement, though. And if you want to be kicky, replace white gloves with driving gloves. Tres chic!

  24. Don't forget that viruses are shed for several days prior to the sick person experiencing any symptoms. It's the sneakies that get ya!

    As a retired nurse, I'm in whole-hearted agreement with soap & water hand washing. I don't care if the antimicrobials/antibacterials are killing germs--I don't want the *#)* germs on my hands. Purell, etc, are okay when nothing else is available, but too many folks use it for everything--then wonder why we're developing more antibiotic resistant bugs.

    Okay, off my soap box now.

    Diane Hale (signing in as anonymous because I can't get my password reset on Google)

  25. Eat right. Exercise. Sleep. Lots of water. Your immune system will take excellent care of you.

  26. I like the idea of sick people staying home from work.

    When I'm sick, I hate to stay home from work!

    I do reluctantly stay home, though, because I like my coworkers! (And I spend the time I'm at home counting the hours until I will be "released" from home imprisonment.) I'm rarely ill, though; I wash and wash and wash my hands; I take Coldeeze at the first sneeze (my doctor even recommends it), and I tell myself "you are NOT supposed to be sick!"

    Of all the people in my office, I'm the one who is sick the least. Some of it is attitude, I think: I really MEAN it when I tell myself I cannot be sick! I have no patience with being ill!

  27. I hate summer colds. Had one once and it's terrible because I always use the fan and I couldn't stand to have it on my face when I had a cold.

    If you have a temporary job you might not be able to stay home sick because they'll just give the job to someone else! Staying at home when I've had a cold didn't do much good because it could take a week to get over it and you can't take that much time off. Just taking a day or two off is no good. I hated having to answer the phone when the receptionist was sick or elsewhere.

    I have allergies and a post-nasal drip cough so it's always hard to get rid of the cough after my cold ends. In February or March I had a cough that stuck around forever and I even took Claritin during my cold. Then I changed to Allegra thinking that would help because it was a different medicine. I don't think it helped too much. I also used cough syrup during my cold and took lots of cough drops. Maybe next time I'll try Nasacort, a nasal spray which is available over-the-counter. That or Flonase may be the best thing for my allergy cough.