Turning Straw Into Gold

Life through a Buddhist lens

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of Getting a Cold

What happens when an acute illness visits a chronic illness.

I used to think nothing of getting a cold. I ignored it as an irritation that didn’t stop me from doing things—even going to work. But now that I’m chronically ill, a cold is a big deal. Here's what I'm calling  the good, the bad, and the ugly of getting a cold (although what follows could apply to any acute illness).

The Bad: Sleep Disruption

Usually, how well I’ve slept the night before is the most important indicator of how I’ll feel the following day. Unfortunately, sleep disruption is in full force when I have a cold. All the ingredients for interrupted sleep are present: a sore throat, a runny or congested nose, a tickly cough. 

The Good: Forced Cutting Back on Activities

As I note in “Confessions of a Sick Person,” the author of How to Be Sick doesn’t always know how to be sick. I tend to push my limits rather than stay within my energy envelope. But when I have a cold, I’m forced to take better care of myself, and that is a good thing.

The Good and the Bad: Something to Share

The Good: Finally, health-wise, I have something in common with friends and family: I’m contagious!

The Bad: Finally, health-wise, I have something in common with friends and family: I’m contagious!

The Bad: Isolation

Aside from my husband's company, with few exceptions, my socializing is confined to two short visits once a week with two good friends. If I have a cold, however, I have to cancel with them. It's hard because it heightens my awareness of just how isolated I am from in-person contact, even when I'm well enough to see them.

The Ugly: I Can’t Tell If What’s Acute May Be Becoming Chronic

Some of the symptoms I get only when I have a cold are symptoms that are already suffered by others with chronic pain and illness. These new symptoms mix with my chronic ones, and together they feel like part of one disease. This makes me worry that maybe some of these symptoms will turn out not to be acute at all, but are new additions to my chronic illness. That's an ugly thought!

The Good: Maybe...Just Maybe...I'll Recover My Health!

Whenever I get an acute illness, along with the "ugly" concern that I have new chronic symptoms, I always think that that maybe, when I recover, the acute illness will have left in its wake a normal immune system, meaning I’ll no longer be sick! It didn’t happen the last time I had a cold, but maybe, just maybe, next time!

© 2012 Toni Bernhard www.tonibernhard.com

You migh also enjoy "Sleep Hygiene for the Rest of Us."

Thank you for reading my work. My most recent book is titled How to Wake Up: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide to Navigating Joy and Sorrow.

I'm also the author of the award-winning How to Be Sick: A Buddhist-Inspired Guide for the Chronically Ill and their Caregivers

Using the envelope icon, you can email this piece to others. To receive an email the next time I post, click here. I'm active on FacebookPinterest, and (to a lesser extent) Twitter.

Toni Bernhard, J.D., is a former law professor at University of California at Davis. She wrote the award-winning How to Be Sick and, recently, How to Wake Up.


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