Monday, 20 January 2014
What I Learned This Month About Being Sick While Old
One of the universal effects of getting old is that our bodies and their systems gradually slow down and operate less efficiently so illness hits us harder than when we were younger and lasts longer.
I see now, as I am finally recovering, that my complaints ten days ago about tiredness and ennui were the beginning of worse to come. It's been so long since I had a serious bout of flu, I had forgotten how it feels at first and believed I'd get over such lassitude.
Instead, by last weekend my temperature was up to 101.x where it stayed for a couple of days.
Stupidly, I thought I was well enough on Tuesday to, as I reported, see the eye surgeon and meet friends for dinner that evening too. Dumb.
For the rest of the week, until Saturday, I dozed almost around the clock. When I wasn't sleeping, I experienced mental confusion and a terrible sense of anxiety, EG: there's something I've promised to do but I can't remember what it is).
Sometimes I could not decide if I had done something or only thought about doing it.
In lucid moments, I checked email but realize now that doing so increased feelings of panic. Get-well messages from friends and blog readers made me feel obligated to write back but I was too tired to do it so the anxiety was compounded, and compounded further each time I checked the inbox.
Other emails with questions about plans for an upcoming community meeting I chair required an answer. I could barely make sense of the words I read on the screen and typing a response felt like a Sisyphean effort.
Finally on Saturday morning, for the first time in many days, I woke clear-headed. Clear-headed and chastened. I'm not anywhere near as tough as I think I am and now I've come up with some things I have learned about being sick while old that might make it easier next time.
Never, ever ignore an ailment – cold, flu, etc. when it is first coming on. It will – WILL - hit harder than when you were 20 or 30 or 40.
At the earliest symptoms stock up, if necessary, on the remedies you use – pain killers for achiness, sleep aids, refills for prescription drugs if they are low, beverages, etc.
(I was lucky that I had just frozen a gigantic batch of homemade soup so when I was occasionally hungry, I had only to engage with the microwave.)
While you can still think, cancel upcoming appointments so that you are not plagued with thoughts about something you may be forgetting to do.
Do not read email. Period. You're probably too sick to make sense in response and it will sap your energy to do so.
Don't forget that flu can be deadly to elders more frequently than to younger adults. So as you get ready to go to bed, make sure your phone is at your side and that phone numbers – physician and emergency – are where you can easily find them.
Be prepared for a lingering recovery and don't overextend yourself. Flu and colds last longer in old age and so does the aftermath.
If you have further suggestions, please add them below. This does not include, however, specific remedies, foods, drinks, etc. which will be removed. And thank you all for your well wishes while I was out of commission.
ANNOUNCEMENT: In keeping with letting myself off the hook for too many responsibilities while sick, I have not prepared stories for The Elder Storytelling Place this week. They will return next Monday 27 January.