Friday, June 21, 2013

How to care for yourself when you're ill

I don't care if you think you're Strong Like Bool -- sooner or later in life, you're going to come down with a case of the ick. Everyone does. When that day comes, don't be the person who has to call Mom or your significant other or whoever-it-is to come wait on you hand and foot because you have no clue how to take care of yourself. Unless you're seriously incapacitated -- as in hooked up to an IV drip in a hospital bed -- you can do most or all of these things on your own.

See a doctor.

Yep, start out with the advice of a specialist. You need to talk to someone with medical expertise who can review your symptoms, make an informed diagnosis and give you further instructions. And don't start in on me with "But I don't have health insurance!" (Situations like this are the reason you want health insurance in the first place, but that's a discussion for another day.) If you don't have a primary care provider, visit a walk-in health clinic. If you're a college student, there's usually a cheap or free clinic on campus. In a pinch -- say, when you have the shakes and a high fever (102 F or above) in the middle of the night -- get to an emergency room. The money you pay to care for yourself is an investment in the rest of your life, and some illnesses don't get better on their own, so don't mess around -- see a professional first.

Get and take any medication the doctor prescribes.

You're not going to need prescription medication for every illness, but on occasions when your doctor writes a prescription, pick it up from the drugstore right away. (If you're so far gone that you can't make it to the drugstore, call in a favor and get a friend to pick it up for you -- using your money, of course.) If you're concerned about what it's going to cost you, ask your doctor if there is a generic version of the medication available -- this usually lowers the cost of a particular drug -- and shop around if you can; prices for prescription drugs vary from store to store.

Most prescription medications now come with a long printed insert explaining how the medicine is used and what to expect from it. At the very least, read and know the serious side effects of any medicine you take; if you notice you're developing any of these side effects, or if anything else alarming happens -- for instance, if flaming snakes are erupting from your walls and ceiling, that's usually a bad sign -- stop taking the medicine and call the doctor who prescribed it right away.

If you don't get any serious side effects, you should keep taking the medicine as your doctor prescribed. Come on, you're not going to get better by magical medical osmosis if you pick up your prescription but don't actually take it. It's especially important to take antibiotics on schedule until they're all gone, not just until you feel better. Bacteria are tough little buggers, and some of them can bounce back and make you even sicker if you don't finish the whole course of antibiotics, so stick to the program.

Just have a cold? Some over-the-counter remedies are your friends. Others, not s'much. The FDA has more useful info.

Follow doctor's orders.

If your doctor recommends that you breathe moist air, get or borrow a humidifier and use it. If your doctor tells you to stay away from spicy food, put down the three-alarm chili. You just paid to get the benefit of six to eight years of medical school knowledge -- so follow your doctor's advice!

Let people know you're sick.

If people are depending on you and you're not going to be there, call or email them and let them know you're lying flat in bed with a case of the crud. As Wilford Brimley would say, "It's the right thing to do!"

Keep it clean.

You probably got sick because you were exposed to somebody with the mung in the first place. The best way to keep from spreading the joy around is to keep yourself and your environment clean. Also, you can combat some kinds of illness by reducing the total bacterial load. Bathe regularly, wash your hands, and if you're Super OCD you can get some of those antibacterial wipes and rub down things like door handles.


The human body is capable of healing itself, given some downtime, so get as much sleep as you can. Or at least get plenty of rest. If you can't just lie in bed without going stir crazy, watch a movie or play a game on your phone or just read a favorite book -- any pastime that doesn't require a lot of strenuous physical or mental activity is fine. If you have bronchitis or some other respiratory crud and find the coughing gets worse when you're horizontal, stick some pillows behind you to prop up your upper body. But stay down.

Force fluids.

Dehydration is a common side effect of many illnesses. Clean, potable water is the cheapest and best drink of all when you're sick, but you can also switch it up with apple juice, warm broth, ginger or peppermint tea, or the magical stuff known to mankind as chicken soup. (We keep a can of Campbell's Chicken and Stars soup in our pantry on the off chance someone in our household gets sick. The stars have magical healing properties! Ask my husband!) Just keep ladling it in. Yep, that means you're gonna need to pee a lot. It's all part of the process of flushing out the system.

By the way, yes, I know some alcoholic beverages are technically clear fluids, but they're NOT your friend when you're sick. Alcohol might help you sleep, but it also causes severe dehydration, which is the precise opposite of what you want. And that brings us to the next topic:


Yeah, I know you probably feel like crap, but a hangover isn't an illness -- it's a consequence. You get ill because you were accidentally exposed to a virus or bacterium. There's nothing accidental about you being exposed to a fifth of Chivas Regal. And your boss probably didn't get where she is by being stupid. If she notices you're constantly calling in "sick" on Monday morning or the day after a long weekend, it won't take very long for her to see a pattern -- and for you to get canned. And frankly, you'll deserve what you get. Play it safe and don't drink the night before you go in to work. Doi.

While hangovers aren't an illness, alcoholism is. Think you might have a drinking problem? Adults aren't afraid to ask for help when they need it. Go get 'em, Tiger. Your loved ones (and your liver) will thank you.

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