Saturday, January 3, 2009

Health is Wealth

After an iffy New Year's Eve* that I'm not going to rehash, I spent a generally pleasant New Year's Day with my sister and cousin and Rhett. I managed to drag Suellen and Rhett to church for the Solemnity of Mary, although Suellen only came because she got her days mixed up and thought it was Sunday. "It's not a Sunday? Why are we at church? Whatever, I'm taking this Sunday off." What part of the word obligation do people find so difficult? Then we all went out to lunch before the girls headed back to NY, while I stayed in DC for an extra couple days to spend time with friends who were in town who I don't often see. Right. That happened.

My throat was a little dry that morning, but I attributed it to either the high heat we'd left on all night or rawness from yelling to be heard over the music at the bar the night before. By that afternoon, my throat was decidedly sore. I went out to dinner with Rhett and a few friends anyway, and drank tea, but by the end of dinner, I was still sore and was feeling very out of it. Maybe feverish? I went to bed, but woke up the next morning unable to swallow, and definitely feverish (IMO, of course - I didn't have a thermometer). I wouldn't let myself take anything for the fever, because I'm a big proponent of the idea that the body's own defenses are the body's best defenses. Sure enough, after a few hours of fitful sleep, I woke up for real around noon with a much improved throat. I didn't get dressed or go out all day, and my head was killing me, but I let Rhett bring me orange juice and make me soup. He was so sweet all day. I can't remember when I've ever seen him go into "nurturing" mode before, but it made me think that he'll be a very good dad one day.

He very much disapproved of my decision not to take anything for my fever. My insistence that a fever is not a disease, it's a symptom and an immune response didn't do much to change his mind. I'm sure he thought I was making it up when I told him that my throat would have continued getting worse had I not let my body fight the infection the way it wanted to. It's still not great, but nothing like the raw, awful pain of the the first morning. I've googled around on the questions "should I treat a low-grade fever?" and "should I treat a low-grade fever in an adult?" About half of the results simply told you how to treat a fever, without any consideration of whether that's the appropriate first course of action. (Example: The other half, the only ones that mentioned whether or not treating a fever was a good idea, seemed to unanimously say that treating a low-grade fever in a child or adult with a functioning immune system was not necessary. (Example:

When I get feverish, I get to what I'd call the brink of delirium pretty quickly. I wouldn't say I'm actually delirious, and I'm aware enough to know that I'm a little "off," but I'm definitely not acting or thinking normally. That's no fun. It's not pleasant. I have, I think, had at least one brief bought of full-fledged delirium. Maybe I should have taken something for that, but, as I was hallucinating math problems and living in the chorus of John Mellencamp's China Girl**, I had no conscious perception that something was not right. And when I finally fell asleep, I slept thorugh the night and woke up the next morning with no fever and no trace of the nagging cold/flu/ickiness that had been plaguing me for several days. Two nights ago, of course, was nothing like that. My fever was nowhere near as high. I was just a little out of it. (And, of course, the lower fever was also less effective - my throat is still, slowly, healing.)

What I don't understand is why everyone prioritizes short-term comfort over long-term health (understand, of course, that when I say "long-term health" I mean "the shortened duration of this short illness"). Yes, I would have been much more comfortable had I taken Tylenol Friday morning. But I would have been much less comfortable for the rest of that day, and today, and probably tomorrow, because my immune system would have been hamstrung and the infection in my throat would have raged on unchecked. I can't think of anyone I know, except for maybe the members of my immediate family, who would choose to delay gratification in a situation like this. Do I surround myself with people who have poor impulse control? Do most people just not understand the nature of a fever? Is everyone in society so accepting of the conventional that the thought of not treating a fever, however much sense it might make, just simply doesn't even occur?

Anyone would take a particularly nasty medication if he believed that it would make him well. How is this any different?

We live in a culture of medication. If it's medicine, if the doctor tells us to take it, if taking the aspirin is what everyone around us does for a headache, we down the pills without thinking about it. We take antibiotics for viral infections because the doctor prescribed them. Um, the doctor's wrong. Common sense says as much. We bring down fevers with medicine that treats symptoms, not causes, and then wonder why we languish in miserable illness for days. Not treating something that's uncomfortable, or even ever so slightly difficult to deal with, is unthinkable. Not because when we do think about it, the idea confuses, upsets, or offends, but simply because we don't think about it. Ever. It simply doesn't occur to anyone that sometimes the cure is worse than the disease. I can't comprehend how people can be so unthinking when it comes to what affects their own bodies. Our bodies are ours, both to care for and to rely on - without them, with them in poor condition - we're screwed, if I may be so blunt. So how on earth do people continue to treat their bodies on autopilot? If you give give significant thought to nothing else, shouldn't you give significant thought to how you treat your body?

*our New Year's was a bummer for entirely different reasons
**that was 6 years ago, and I haven't voluntarily listened to China Girl since.

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