Friday, February 18, 2011

In Sickness and In Health

Over the past few weeks, we’ve had some extreme weather variations here in Texas. I realize ‘extreme’ is a relative term, so let me elaborate: we had multiple nights where it went below freezing, followed fairly soon by daytime temps in the 60s and 70s (that's Fahrenheit, for you
non-USAns). So if you weren’t tuned into the weather forecasts regularly, you’d easily be caught dressed inappropriately for the prevailing weather.

At work, most of my co-workers who contracted the
subsequent colds/coughs/infections were
sensible enough to stay home to avoid spreading their germs, but I did get to see them as the symptoms first hit them, and also upon their return to work. I saw the very punctilious folks bring their tissue box and hand sanitizers to meetings, and using them every few minutes. I spent long minutes in elevators with some folks who obviously didn’t care where their germs went. And in between were the folks who walked into meetings and chose remote seats, but insisted on explaining to everybody within earshot what their problem was and (in painful detail) how they contracted it and from whom, etc.

In addition to people at work, everybody in my own personal family was affected, as the flu verily swept through our household. (At one point, our theme song was Queen’s “Another One Bites the Dust”). Now, the symptoms were quite severe and debilitating, so there is no question about the impact. But it was extremely interesting to watch how different people handled the physical stress. Rithvik was the picture of angelic cheer and repose – up till the sinus headaches appeared, upon which a low-level but constant irritability cropped up, which was largely amusing for its rarity but also uncomfortably intense in spots. Roshan did his best impression of a volcano throughout – completely unpredictable, flipping between explosive and inert, and making fairly widespread impacts. My dear wife Sowmya strove valiantly to keep up with the demands of the household, verging on martyrdom and buckling only when she had reached her physical limits. My father-in-law, who is living with us currently, was verily the walking death when his symptoms peaked. But he didn’t go to the extent of calling for distant relatives and dictating bequeaths, as he has been known to do in the past.

Another interesting process I was able to observe was my own reactions, as the number of affected people and resulting impacts grew. In the beginning, I found it easy to be nurturing and solicitous, to pick up the slack with chores, and to do the multiple treks in the middle of the night with thermometers, nebulizers and ibuprofen. Then, as tempers frayed around me, and my own sleep diminished in quality and quantity, irritated thoughts crept in: “looks like sickness allows you to get away with murder”, “I wish I could say what I really feel”, “I’ve had enough of this”, “I’m the only sane person in the house”, “I wouldn’t mind getting fussed over a bit”, and so on. And bang - one morning I wake up with a fever and a sniffle. Now, upfront in this Big Flu Swoop, I had been particular to load up on the preventives – echinacea, vitamin C, chyavanprash, and the like, so I suspect that helped me escape with just a couple days of mild symptoms. But I can’t help wondering if those thoughts opened the door just a crack for the bugs to enter in the first place.

In any case, it made me wonder what I’m like when I’m sick. I like to think I remain my usual self – just a little lower physical energy maybe, but with unchanged levels of attitudinal stability and concern for others. However, feedback from others around me would be the only reliable way to assess that. How about you? What does poor physical health do to your mental health? If we were to ask your spouse/kids/colleagues, what answer would they give? Have you checked? How would you like to be when you're sick? Why?

To your health!

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