Goshen News, Goshen, IN

March 17, 2013

WHOLE FAMILY: Common cold offers some valuable lessons


— Oh my word, was I sick recently. Nothing life-threatening, just a common cold. I enjoyed a fever and its companions: chills, aches and hot eyes. Then it morphed into an upper-respiratory infection of some caliber. Hacking, sniffles, sneezing. More hot eyes.

I suffered a common cold for about three days — probably a rite of passage for most people this time of year. But I felt simply awful and actually barked out the words, “Childbirth wasn’t this bad!” to my longsuffering husband who endured my two days of agony with this common cold. (He had already endured me giving birth — twice.)

When I felt the funk coming on — during an otherwise pleasant social interaction — I told myself to just endure it with grace. In my head I often say (or hear?) things like, “Push past that pain. Just focus on something else. No need to wallow in it.” It’s not quite a mind-over-matter strategy, but I have learned I don’t have to be moved by every little feeling, and that’s empowering to me.

But as I drove home, the so-called matter was simply bigger than my mind. I knew I’d been beaten when I set my van heater at 89 degrees and still was shivering cold. “Ech. Fever,” I said.

When I returned home, I stumbled my way into the house, cursing what felt like Arctic Indiana winds (probably 40 degrees) and fell onto the bed within arm’s reach of the thermometer. It beeped and read, “101.8.” Shoot. The way I felt, I was sure it 105 and malaria.

And thus came my first lesson of several, the lessons I want to share with you.

Remember I’m a student nurse now, and I have patients for whom I care? Well, my first lesson came on the tail of this question, “Is this how bad my patients feel? Wow.” It went on: “Do I make sure to really care how they feel? Because this is awful, and someone should care and should do something about it.”

Shortly here, I’ll start my clinical stint on a medical-surgical floor, no doubt caring for patients with fevers, for sure caring for patients with pain and wounds. I began to see some beauty in my own misery with that common cold: I’ll know something of how my patients might feel. Knowing should, then, translate into caring.

Lesson two came the next morning, after a not-so-wonderful night shivering buried under blankets and hearing my nursing professor’s voice — Yikes, I keep telling you I hear voices! — touting the immunotherapeutic value of a good fever. (That meant I purposed to ride out the fever overnight rather than take the tempting ibuprofen to kill it. I eventually gave in and took as many NSAIDs as my liver would tolerate and walking all the way back to a local drugstore pharmacy for the good stuff they keep behind the counter.)

So, the lesson. I woke up sure something had crawled into my mouth and died there. No, seriously — just that horrible in-bed-overnight-with-a-fever mouth. You know the one.

I made my way to the bathroom and sucked dreamily on my toothpaste-laden toothbrush. Brushing my teeth never felt so good; the toothpaste had never been sweeter. And then it hit me: “My poor patients!” Many of them are in bed, confined there, really. They’re at the mercy of their nurses for something as simple and necessary as brushing their teeth. Did I care? Had I paid attention? Well, I would now.

Wrapped in a blanket at the kitchen table, I told my husband I’d gotten some revelation. I mean, we learned these basics already: Take care of your patients’ basic needs. But now I really got it. He reminded me of his sister, may she rest peacefully, who died in hospice care. Her nurses would brush her teeth for her, he said.

I cried. Hot eyes again.

I learned from the common-cold experience that I’d better get ready to see things much more awful than a mild fever and two days of chills. I know, intellectually, that people suffer far worse symptoms — some of them chronically, as in for years. If I’m going to be a nurse — a good nurse — I’d better buck up and get ready to help.

I’m not ridiculous enough to compare my common cold to people’s serious and painful disease processes and I won’t insult my patients that way, but I’m glad to have touched the edge of feeling miserable — a teeny taste, I guess you’d say, of my patients’ worlds.

I’m better now, and that gets me to my last lesson, and it’s a cheesy one but true: One should not take her health for granted. Waking up not feeling like my head is formed of cement products was such a relief I nearly cried again, which might have given my more hot eyes, so I held back.

When I’m healthy, I’m going to try to stay that way and to relish in each moment being able to breathe, to move and to think without crying.

When I’m sick? I guess I’ll learn.

Goshen News columnist Stephanie Price is a wife, mother, teacher, childbirth educator, doula, midwife’s assistant and student nurse pursuing a minor in complementary health. Contact her at wholefamily@goshennews.com, 269-641-7249 or on Facebook at the page “Whole Family Column by Steph Price.”