If posts have been a little bit scarce lately, it’s because I came down with a terrible bout of food poisoning (well, actually DYSENTERY, which is worse than food poisoning, and definitely much more disgusting). I’ve since been recovering (and catching up) on what now seem like very very long to-do lists and tasks. If you don’t know what dysentery is, perhaps do a google search. It’s also known colloquially as “traveler’s diarrhea” — which, as I can now personally attest — is a pretty nasty predicament to find yourself in.
I’m all for finding lessons and learning from the things we go through in life. But this might be a stretch: what could possibly be the lesson in a five-day stint of horrible, awful, and quite literally gut-wrenching dysentery? On the worst of days, I felt like shouting, Are you THERE God? ‘Cause it’s ME, SARAH. And I can’t seem to keep any food or water in my system, thankyouverymuch.
To prove (to myself, perhaps) that even the worst days are filled with life lessons and things learned, here’s a short list of the best and most inspiring notes from what ended up being a very immobile five days. I’m all for finding the positives. REALLY. There are positives in EVERYTHING.*
Rule number one: It can always get worse. What started out as a mild temperature and body aches (small flu? I thought, Oh, it will just be better in a day or two), quickly escalated into physical body shakes, cramping in my extremities, painful muscle contractions, a horrendous temperature, and the worst bout of “food poisoning” and nasty bacterial infection that I’ve ever had. Sometimes you really DO get sick.
Don’t wait too long to find out what’s wrong. I don’t typically like to take sick days or time off of work unless I’m really sick, and when I first felt bad, I thought I could manage by taking one day off to rest up and get better quickly. I even had my sickness planned out: In my mind, I gave it 24 hours – 48 hours to rest and figured I’d be back up on my feet within two days. Unfortunately, I took a day off and promptly slept for 10 very fitful hours. I probably should have camped out right next to the bathroom, because by the time night rolled in, I was spending more time in the bathroom than anywhere else. And yet I didn’t go to the doctor for another 12 hours. With hindsight (there’s your first bad pun), that was a BAD CALL.
Sometimes you have to let people help you. The next morning, day #2, I woke up feeling like a semi-truck had rolled up on top of me. It hurt to wiggle my toes or lift up my arms. My first thought to myself was “What is WRONG with me?” I picked up my car keys and padded to my car in my pajamas in a fever-induced stupor. My roommate leaned out of the second story window, took one look at me, and said “Holy shit, girl: are you OK?” When I got behind the driver’s seat, I realized that I couldn’t get on the freeway because my body wasn’t capable of driving faster than 12 miles per hour, hunched over behind the steering wheel. That, and I was afraid that if I went more than 10 minutes without a bathroom, I would make a very nasty problem inside my brand new car.
I flipped a u-turn after going a block (it was so hard) and drove (crawled) back up the hill to my house, got out of my car and found my way to my front door. Somehow in the time between leaving the house to try to find a doctor, and not making it there on my own, my temperature had gone up from 101 degrees to 102 degrees. Boy, was I hot. And boy, was it painful to move.
Once inside the house, I sat down on the floor inside the front door (so perhaps I was not technically “inside” the house, but just propped up in the doorway) and I stared at the hallway for a while. Some time passed. I don’t really have clear memories of these moments. I figured that I needed to see a doctor, but it seemed like an insurmountable task. The stairs – devil stairs! – looked like a cross between Mount Everest and some other difficult mountain that I was too fuzzy-headed to picture. Damn stairs. I pulled myself up off the floor and climbed up the stairs to find a roommate. By the time I reached the top, I was dripping in sweat: sweat on the forehead, sweat in my armpits, sweat in every crack on my body. Gross.
I couldn’t find my roommate. I wanted to cry. I climbed all the way up the stairs, and nearly suffered a heart attack from my extraordinary exertion, for that? Thankfully – very thankfully – my second roommate was home and took one look at me and picked up his car keys to drive me to the hospital. I think I mumbled something about “wouldyoutakemetothedoctor…icantgetthereonmyown” and he drove me the 5 miles down to hospital nearby.
I’m not sure how I would have done that on my own, because by the time I got to the doctor’s, they measured my temperature at 103.5 and my dehydration levels as dangerous, and all I remember is falling asleep on the warm patient bed with nearly no clothes on and having them stick me with needles to get fluids back into my body. (Again: many thanks to my roommates for helping me out so readily.) LESSON LEARNED: We cannot do it on our own. Sometimes we really need to lean on other people for help. And I am exceptionally grateful for the help lent.
Sometimes things are beyond your control, and you gotta just let it happen. We don’t PLAN on getting sick. I don’t chart out my weekly calendar and circle a few days and say, You know what? I think I’ll make it harder on myself by getting sick on Wednesday and Thursday, and pile up a lot of work for the weekend. But life doesn’t go according to my calendar, and if it did, well, you know it would be pretty boring. Sometimes, I have absolutely no control over my schedule – or, for that matter, my bodily functions – but that’s probably a bit of an over-share.
If it hurts, it doesn’t mean it’s good for you. A lot of times I like to remind myself that difficult/frustrating/hard/challenging things are good for me. These dreadful tasks “build character,” as Bill Watterson always says in Calvin & Hobbes (yeah, and the world used to be in black and white). Character, Schmarachter. Sometimes, if it hurts, it doesn’t mean it’s good for you. Some things are truly bad, and you ought to do your best to figure out what’s wrong and get on with your life. In the literal and the figurative sense, I went through a huge cleanse in a matter of a few days. Every possible thing was eliminated from my body, and my world stopped for a moment: I couldn’t work, think, move, breathe, exercise, or plan. The only thing I could do was sleep, sleep, and, well, you know, that other thing: go to the bathroom.
Sometimes “tomorrow” is the only thing you’re capable of. There are a few times in our lives when “tomorrow” is the only thing you can respond when faced with tasks at hand. And, sometimes, it’s okay to wipe clean (bad pun again – sorry) the calendar and do nothing for a day. Sometimes, it’s the only thing you’re capable of. Sometimes the nicest things we can do for ourselves is breathe, put the to-do list aside, and let tomorrow be tomorrow.
Given my amazing inability to do anything, when I started to feel microscopically better on day #3, I then had to figure out how to pick one – and only one thing – to do for the day. The first day’s task was quite exhausting: what movie will I watch on television? (Turns out it didn’t matter because I was too exhausted to actually watch the television). All joking aside, I learned a very important lesson: When you aren’t able to get everything done: you have to pick. If you just could do only one thing a day, what would it be? What would you let slip to the wayside? Which ONE dream is your most important, fantastic, amazing goal? I have recently been making the mistake of saying yes to too many things, and I was unable to prioritize which projects and tasks are truly important, and which ones were busy work or can be delegated, eliminated, or postponed from my current workload. Under extreme circumstances, when you can only choose to do one – or maybe two things – how would you spend your time?
In a related vein: it’s okay to say no – especially when you’re not well. I learned a huge lesson about myself — and my inability to say “no,” even during times of duress. I have an exceptional desire to perform well and to show my bosses and managers that I can do a good job – sometimes to the point of making bad decisions for my personal and professional well-being. It’s hard to set boundaries and limits, and I became poignantly aware of how ridiculous I was being when I found it hard to say “no” to work, even while lying in bed, too sick to move! At some point, it’s OKAY to say NO and to give yourself time to rest. Trust that your peers and your fellow professionals will help you out during sick times. They will. Just as you would help them out when they are sick. Note to self: it’s okay to let someone else do the work sometimes.
Sleep is your best defense mechanism. Sleep can make everything better. I didn’t realize it was possible for a human body to sleep more than 20 hours a day, but I learned, it’s possible. Dehydration can be debilatating: and it can take a few days to get your body back up to speed.
Sometimes life only gives you 10 seconds of notice. Dysentery, if you’re not familiar with the term, is probably one of the more awful things that can happen to a human body. Your body makes way to eliminate everything (I mean everything) from your insides, and it does so with NO NOTICE. If you have to go to the bathroom, RUN, SISTER, RUN. You just might not make it. On the upside, how well can you deal with sudden changes? How quickly can you adapt? AND, if you DON’T MAKE IT …. well, that’s a funny story. But I’m getting off-topic again.
You might still have to make critical decisions, even when you’re unwell. Sometimes we wish that all of our obligations and responsibilities would disappear and go away. Unfortunately, as you gain experience, expertise, and responsibility – in professional work, in your freelance positions, or in other arenas; you may find it difficult to bow out of responsibilities that you would like to just hide from. It is still your obligation to crawl out of bed, open up your email accounts, and put a “sick response” on your vacation responder. When you can, email a short note letting people know your status (although perhaps not too much detail). Here are a few tips for helping your brain during it’s excessively hazy-fuzzy state:
- Stick to the facts. Don’t try to explain or elaborate or write well when you’re physically incapable of forming coherent sentences.
- Pass the buck if and whenever you can: If there are people you can call on to help you out, call them. Give yourself space to get well.
- Keep it Simple, Stupid: This rule (KISS) works for a lot of things. Keep it simple, if you can.
- The ultimate test question: What would you do if you were working for yourself? If you have to make a professional judgment call, even when unwell: it helps to ask yourself what you would do if you were working for yourself. Sometimes it’s easy to shift the blame to your project managers or interim bosses, but that’s not always the best call. In this situation, I still had to find a way to get a few projects done for the most critical of deadlines. Not an easy task, but the right judgment call.
And sometimes you look like shit, and it doesn’t matter. AT. ALL. I’m glad that there were no cameras around. Because I’m sure I looked like a hot mess of a disaster.
And lastly: things are always better when you can laugh about it. I heard a lot of *terrible* jokes the past few days, and I’m convinced that humor is sometimes the best way to get through tough times. I couldn’t physically laugh the first few days (hurt. too. much), but now I’m gladly partaking in a few belly laughs. And with that, I’ll leave you with a few good one-liners:
Have a good trip? “Cause you must be WIPED.
Isn’t it nice to have all that BEHIND you?
Must be nice to have such a good CLEANSE.
How are you holding up? ‘Cause you sound like you’re thoroughly DRAINED.
Bada-bing, bada-boom. Hope you’re groaning with me. More posts to come soon. *BARE* with me as I catch up on my life. :)
* All humor aside, there ARE several other positives that I am very grateful for: I am very thankful for having health insurance, for local hospitals, and for the ease of rehydration through IV therapy. I am SUPREMELY grateful for the marvels of modern medicine, one of which is the wonders of antibiotics. Without antibiotics and rehydration capabilities, most people die from dysentery. I am, without a doubt, SO grateful to live in a country where all of this is available. I am, of course, cognizant that my episode was a “mild” experience compared to the experiences of many who don’t have access to the health care that I have.—
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