There are many things that healthy people do because, well, it’s pretty normal to do so. Yet such actions might be detrimental to a person with a compromised or weak immune system. This includes people with chronic or terminal illnesses, the young, pregnant and old. Not all the following scenarios are wrong per se, and I am not trying to create hostility or ask for preferential treatment. But we do come into contact with all sorts of people everyday, who influence us just as we impact them. Often, we are not even aware when this happens. With so many problems existing in our world already, it wouldn’t hurt to be a little more understanding.
1. Sick Colleagues or Germ Carriers in Public Places
Scenario: Colleagues who come into work coughing and sneezing, or carrying some other spreadable virus. Perhaps they don’t have much choice because there’s lots of work to get done, or an important meeting to attend.
Unfiltered First Thought: “Oh shit. Why are people so inconsiderate? He should be wearing a mask! That’s how viruses spread, what with all the windows closed and human germ transport systems everywhere. Would it be rude if I gave him a mask? Or maybe I should wear one to protect myself? But wait…why do I have to do that when I’m not the one at fault?!”
What I Proceed to Do: Hold my breath every time I hear him cough or whenever he talks to me, as some sort of imagined psychological defense. Hope that the germs disperse as soon as possible.
Why the Drama?: Well, I’ve contracted tuberculosis once, although everyone around me was disease free. The doctor said that I probably caught it just by walking past someone who had coughed on the street. It was a miserable experience that lasted for a year; I was in the hospital every other day for reactions to the medications. Even if it’s just the common cold, people like me take twice as much time to recover. Moreover, the flu is also extra dangerous for pregnant women.
What You Can Do: Be a good citizen and wear a mask for the sake of everyone else around you. Even a healthy person can catch it. A virus does go viral after all. Or better yet, rest or work from home; allow your body to heal!
What I Can Try Doing in Future: Just go up, give a polite tap on his shoulder, and practise my diplomatic skills. I am sure many others around us would be grateful, if he prioritised his health first too. Doing so actually maximises efficiency, if work is your aim.
2. Sharing Food With People Who are Sick
Scenario: Girlfriends meet up and order a ton of deliciousness to share. One of them is down with a cold, or something similar. Forks stab into cakes and spoons stir the dishes, mixing everyone’s saliva up.
Unfiltered First Thought: “Smile. Take part in the conversation. It shouuuuld be fine! Try to scoop from the other corner. Remember where their spoons have been. Avoid the area. Act normal, don’t be a drama queen!”
Why the Drama?: With all the immunosuppressive drugs we are on, our immune system is in sleep mode. We lack the extra layers of defense that you have, so even mild viruses have easy access into our bodies.
What You Can Do: Initiate dividing the food up into portions. I don’t even mind having less for ease of mind.
What I Can Try Doing in Future: Just speak up, plain and simple! These are friends I am with, so they should understand.
3. Giving Unsolicited Advice
Scenario: An acquaintance asks how your health has been of late (after all these years, you can’t hide your status as ‘the sick girl’). So you tell them the truth – you’ve not been well. They proceed to give you advice on the best time of day to exercise, suggestions for a complete diet makeover, or some other perfect solution.
Unfiltered First Thought: “Sigh. Here we go again. Does she think I’m lazy? Or maybe stupid? Hmm I’m not sure which… Does she think that I’ve just been swallowing all these pills with awful side effects, like a good little doctor’s girl? Without doing any research, or trying to find other solutions? Does she even know what’s at stake if I stop these medications?”
Why the Drama?: No drama here. I usually just smile and nod, chalking it up as their way of showing concern. Even though I might disappear from their mind the moment we disconnect, it is still a good thought after all. Well unless they keep insisting on you doing things their way, then I put them on the block list of my life. I don’t need the extra stress.
What You Can Do: Trust that your loved one or friend has already tried what they could to the best of their ability. Don’t give any advice, especially if you don’t live with them. Do you really know what they go through or do everyday? What you see is only a small, controlled fraction of their life. Exercise more? Perhaps they can actually outrun you despite their pains. Go vegan? Do you even know the science behind vitamin K and blood clotting disorders? Of course, if we ask for your opinion, then feel free to give it. We’re all ears.
What I Can Try Doing in Future: Not much, it’s a human thing. As long as we exist, this is something that will pop up not just in medicine, but in all spheres of knowledge. I’ll just continue doing what I do – listen to see if there’s anything I can learn from them, otherwise, zone out.
4. Insensitive Comments About How We Don’t Look Sick
Scenario: Childish ‘jokes’ at a gathering about your prude, wet blanket personality. Or hurtful comments of how I’m a liar, because I’m too young and look too normal to be that sick. Sidenote – this one mostly comes from strangers.
Unfiltered First Thoughts: “Fuck you, you ignorant cow.” (Sorry cows.) Give an icy smile, detach from the idiot, and ignore him for the rest of the duration.
What You Can Do: Assume that whatever someone else does or doesn’t participate in is for good reason, especially if you don’t know them well. Do not utter your judgments out loud for now, you might just be making a fool of yourself. Here’s a little secret too – there is no need to feel awkward or utter polite sympathies around us at all! The best thing you can do is to trust that we can adult.
What I Can Try Doing in Future: Actually, I have been speaking up a little more of late, and think that this should continue. Sometimes, insensitive people need a taste of their own medicine too 😉 And by doing so, I am also speaking up for others who are like me.
These are just a few common scenarios, but you can probably spot the recurring theme. You never know how much effort someone else is putting into an activity that may be mindless to you, so just be kind. Everyone has their own personal disabilities, so to speak. Your greatest fear might be ridiculous in the eyes of everyone else. Just be mindful that the definition of ‘normal’ can vary; that simple awareness can make a big difference in the world we live in.
Also, my potential responses are just that – possibilities. Things can change, and it doesn’t have to be how you react to situations either. Put your own spin on things, do it your way, and according to your needs. The main aim should be constructive education (well most of the time at least!). Often people mean no harm, yet ignorance in itself can be harmful.
For More Insight:
- “Do Unto Others” Means If You Have the Stomach Bug, Stay Home! (article on For Every Mom): https://goo.gl/Rp3sk1
- The Majority Of Americans Still Go To Work While Sick (article on Forbes): https://goo.gl/q5dZrW
- 27 Devastating Infectious Diseases (article on Live Science): https://goo.gl/5hSy1Q
- 5 Symptoms of a Weakened Immune System (article on Very Well): https://goo.gl/59URIK
- How to Boost Your Immune System (article on Harvard Health): https://goo.gl/pGFwBF
- Bad Jobs, Bad Health? How Work and Working Conditions Contribute to Health Disparities (article on US National Library of Medicine): https://goo.gl/VCkQDw
- How Employee Health and Wellbeing Affects Organisational Productivity (article on Australia Public Service Commission): https://goo.gl/d3co08
- To The Person With Perfect Attendance (article on A Southern Celiac): https://goo.gl/KLnOkF
- The Anxiety That Arises in a Chronically Ill Person During Cold and Flu Season (article on The Mighty): https://goo.gl/Zf3Qdw