Getting the Cold when you have MS | MS BLOG

You may have noticed my blogging frequency dropped a bit the last couple weeks.  As if having MS isn’t enough, I’ve been fighting a cold since Christmas Day.  Being “normal sick” (i.e. cold, flu, infection, etc.) when you have a chronic illness is a whole new level of “sick.”  Having an auto-immune disease means my body does not own a normally functioning immune system.  My immune system is “special”, for lack of a better word.  Having a virus or bacterial infection can wind up in weeks of feeling “icky.”

MS sick, MS blog, multiple sclerosis blog, MS and illnessWhen my immune system is already attacking my own body, it may not always have the reserves necessary to fight a foreign invader.  To top it off, my Tysabri infusion impacts the immune system.  Although the mechanism and impact of Tysabri on the immune system are not fully understood (perhaps a topic for another blog), there is some clear concern that Tysabri can weaken the immune system and make a person more susceptible than the average Joe.  So as you can imagine, I’m a little paranoid about germs.

But part of life is getting sick and no matter how much I avoid people who are sick and wash my hands constantly, it’s inevitable.  Which brings us back to right now – you reading what I wrote while curled into my blankets feeling “icky.”

I hate being sick! 

Let me restate that – I HATE being sick! 

As if facing fatigue on a daily basis with MS isn’t enough, now I’m exhausted as a symptom of the cold.  My immune system is in such overdrive between both attacking itself and protecting itself that my body feels like it isn’t quite sure what to do.  The tissues, the cough drops, the countless bowls of soup…when will it end?!  With a compromised immune system it can take WEEKS or longer to get over something like the common cold.

What’s even more frustrating is the complication that being “normal sick” can cause with my chronic illness.  Even after losing several weeks to conquer the common cold, a person with MS or another auto-immune disease can expect to be visited by some symptoms from their illness.  I find that I have to rest until I get better from the “normal sickness” and then keep resting to prevent anything popping up from my chronic illness. I do not know how this works for other people.  When I was in school, this was actually much easier for me.  I could rest as long as I needed to and then catch up when I was ready.  Now that I’m a working “adult” (in quotes because I’m still undecided on that) I don’t have the luxury of taking off work as long as I need in order to get better with some cushion to prevent new MS symptoms.  I cut into vacation time or even have to face unpaid leave sometimes.  No doubt about it, having to pay bills can be a motivator for pushing myself and often not taking enough time to heal.

Being part of the working world and getting sick has opened my eyes to the struggles that many people with chronic illnesses face that I was never aware of previously.  I still wonder how people do it.  I think about the men and women out there with chronic illness who work 40 hours a week or more, who have to take off a day for an infusion each month and then weeks for a cold.  The 40 hour work week is taxing on anybody, and even more so for someone with MS.  Work & MS is another topic for a future blog, but being sick these last few weeks has really taken it’s toll and caused me to revisit this issue.

While it feels annoying to me to be paranoid about germs, it’s for good reason.  I hesitated to take work off with this cold because I did not want to risk being viewed as “the sick kid” at work.  I know it’s stupid.  It put me at risk, and I need to put myself first.  But none of us can deny that there is a psychological component involved when we make these decisions.  I have to be extremely cautious about getting sick so that I can avoid situations when I am tempted to push myself and when I begin to feel outside pressures like my image at work or my financial obligations.  Unfortunately, other people don’t always understand this.  It is so frustrating to me when people come to work sick or a client comes into a session sick because that increases my chances of catching something.  What people don’t understand is that I could be out of commission for several weeks whereas others can be over something in a few days.  Everyone is different of course and I can’t pass judgment on everyone’s immune system.

I think it’s important for people to be aware of how hard something like a cold or flu can be for someone with a chronic illness.  I know that for those of us with chronic illnesses it can be very isolating to be surrounded by people who don’t understand how we are impacted differently by many things.  I definitely felt isolated over the last few weeks.  The days I did go to work I felt like a leper in addition to being in a total fog and struggling to function efficiently.

This is one of the many challenges that people with MS face and it’s always aMS sick, MS blog, multiple sclerosis blog, MS and illness downer when it happens.  Luckily I haven’t been “normal sick” in a while so I’m glad this was the first experience in a long time, but this three week fiasco was enough to make me even more attached to my hand sanitizer.  I might be annoying about the germ thing, but losing three weeks just isn’t worth the risk.  And who knows how much longer I have left since I’m still not better.  I’m happy to trade in a laid back attitude about germs in exchange for staying healthy.  I just want to feel better already!  So on that note, back to sleep!

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