The Story of Getting Sick

One of my favorite aspects of Chinese Medicine (there are so many to love) is the theory on getting sick. Don’t get me wrong, I believe in germ theory. We all have to in this world of epidemics and infections. But the best epidemiologists (even my mother-in-law) will admit that there is a certain mystery after an exposure as to why some people get sick and some people don’t.

In Chinese Medicine it is all about relativity. How is the state of the body RELATIVE to the state of the germ? If the body is stronger, the germ doesn’t stand a chance. If the germ is stronger, the body doesn’t stand a chance. Sounds simple, but in real life it isn’t. Unless you know the warning signs and can count the strikes against you.

I’m writing this blog post because I was “sick” this weekend. Now for all intensive purposes I wasn’t sick at all. I had a little headache, some good body aches, a low grade fever and fatigue. Most people wouldn’t even notice these symptoms, but I know that those are all the warning signs of sickness so I laid very low all weekend, stayed inside, drank hot tea, took loads of Chinese Herbs and returned to work on Monday feeling great. It never progressed past the point of being uncomfortable.

Now how did I get sick in the first place? I played detective to figure out why I got sick and why my husband did not?  Let’s review my Friday.

Strike One: Friday morning I woke up rested, organized and healthy. It had been a quiet week with plenty of time to rest and an unusual number of nights with good sleep. I shouldn’t be susceptible to even a big germ. When I left the house on Friday to bike across town for my 10 am class I got a flat tire. No big deal, except it took 20 minutes of sitting on the side of the road waiting for the cab to pick me up. Friday was cold and and I got pretty chilled being out for that amount of time. On another day that wouldn’t be enough to get me sick.

Strike Two: One of the downsides/perks to being a health care provider is treating sick patients. It is a perk because I get to make sore throats instantly disappear and magically unblock nasal passages. It is a downside because sometimes no matter how well I wash hands and keep the office clean I get sick myself. Strike two was definitely treating a sick patient Friday afternoon. I treat a lot of sick patients (well not really that many this fall-super healthy patient load lately), but usually it doesn’t make me sick.

Strike Three: I left the office feeling great and rushed to meet my husband for a rapid dinner before we were to hurry off to Holyoke for a dance concert. I was running late and ordering dinner took longer than expected and when my meal arrived instead of it being room temperature it was quite cold. But we were late so I threw the cold meal down the hatch (got a very bad stomachache in the process) and we hurried off to pick up our tickets.

Strike Four: We arrived at the dance concert to find out that the first act of the concert was actually going to be held outside next to one of the canals in Holyoke. Yes, you can imagine it well—20 degree weather, light wind off the canal and 30 minutes of standing still. The dance was amazing, really amazing, but after the first part we were ushered inside to an unheated concert hall and proceeded to sit in maybe 30 degree weather for another 30 minutes. I am embarrassed to say we couldn’t make it for the second dance piece we were frozen through and rushed home to drink tea and go to bed early.

Saturday morning I woke with a stiff neck, sore throat and head-to-toe body aches. My husband woke well rested. If any one of those strikes had happened differently I might have had a healthy weekend.

I’m writing this post to educate you that we all have options about getting sick. We need to think about sickness with a three strikes and you are out kind of mentality. A very dangerous strike is exposure to the elements: heavy rain, deep cold, intense heat or any kind of wind. Exposure to the elements weakens the body’s defense and allows germs to enter more easily. Cold congeals the body making muscles stiff, heat depletes the body of fluids, wind races through the vessels of the body carrying with it coldness or heat depending upon the season and rain dampens the body and settles heavily in the joints causing pain. When the body isn’t functioning well we are susceptible to the tiniest germ in the room.

Bottom line: You can definitely catch cold from being cold. I proved that this weekend. In the fight to stay healthy this fall try adding a scarf to your wardrobe, keep your foods warm and when you are exposed be mindful that you do your best to fight it off. Think of the common cold like an unwanted overnight guest. You want to make the house of your body as inhospitable as possible.

Image credit: wavebreakmediamicro / 123RF Stock Photo

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