For the past two weeks, I’ve been battling a nasty cold, my first of the winter season. I’m surprised it took me until mid-March to catch one, considering I’m always exposed to sick students at school and at work. But it finally hit, and it’s hitting hard: laryngitis, cough, runny nose, and now a sinus infection. I’ve practically rubbed my nose raw from all of the tissues I’ve used in the past week! (I’m sporting a bright red schnoz, just like Rudolph.)
I visited my campus health center on Tuesday morning, hoping to get some sort of medication to help clear this thing up. However, all the doctor could tell me was that I needed to wait it out, drink lots of fluids, and get plenty of rest. I looked at her in disbelief, thinking to myself, “I don’t have time to get better! I have things to do: assignments, presentations, and work!”
I realize this is how I, and so many other Americans, approach illness. We expect to go to our doctor and leave with a miracle prescription to instantly cure whatever is ailing us. We want results and we want them now. We live in a culture that values time as money—so missing work or class due to illness for an extended period of time is not “acceptable.” We place our health on the backburner in order to get the most bang for our buck. Health becomes secondary in the grand scheme of our lives, yet we forget that in order to accomplish anything in this life, we need to maintain a health body and mind.
Even though I felt frustrated when I left the health center, I realized the doctor was right. I couldn’t expect my cold to be instantly cured. Too often, I forget that our bodies are perfectly capable of fighting off some of these illnesses, as long as we provide them with the rest, nutrients, and care they require. Doctors can’t go handing out antibiotics at every cold they see—not only because of the antibiotic resistance that is plaguing this country, leading to ineffective medical care and weaker bodies due to the elimination of good bacteria in our system (yes, there is such a thing); but also because antibiotics can’t cure every ailment (think viruses!). A miracle pill simply doesn’t exist.
Yet, taking the week “off” to recover left me feeling immensely guilty. Not only did I miss my presentation for a class (kind of hard to do when you have no voice), I also missed meetings with professors and had to put projects on hold. I felt like my health wasn’t a “good enough” reason to miss school or work, because my lifestyle had convinced me that making myself a priority was selfish. I know people who have bragged about going to class with the flu, who have never missed a day of school despite their illnesses. But what does that accomplish? Personally, I can’t concentrate in a class when my head is throbbing and I’m blowing my nose every 2 minutes. Plus, I risk exposing my classmates to my cold/flu/virus, which only perpetuates the vicious cycle of sickness.
So while I debated going to class this morning as my head throbbed, I coughed up mucus, and my nose ran like a faucet, I took a moment to evaluate the situation. Was it going to be worth it? Should I try to fake my way through a class when all I would be preoccupied with was when I could get back in bed to rest? Would I want to be interrupting class with my constant nose-blowing and coughing? Most importantly, did I feel up to it? Nope. I had to remember that I am my number one priority: without my health and happiness, I can’t accomplish much. I come first in my life, and I need to treat my body with the care and respect it deserves so it can serve me for many, many years to come.