Three weeks ago I started to feel pain in my face as if I was getting yet another sinus infection. Along with this pain was a sore throat and a swollen gland. As it was late on a Friday afternoon, I called my doctor’s office and he prescribed a round of antibiotics. I don’t like taking them however if I have a bacterial infection – it’s what will usually knock it out.
Over the weekend instead of better I felt worse. I had a fever and it was going to 101F for a few nights then up to 103F. Because antibiotics only work on bacterial infections not viruses, I suspected something else was wrong. That next Wednesday I went in to see my doctor and I learned what I had was actually the flu. The FLU. That little word will forever strike horror in me.
I was told to rest, stay hydrated and take Tylenol when the fever goes above 101F, which it did quite often. The worst days were still to come. There were several nights where my fever went to 104F. It would start with uncontrollable shaking. I would take my temperature and it would around 99F. After about a half hour I could feel I was getting hot so I would take it again and in that short time it would climb to 102F-104F. The Tylenol would bring it back down quickly and then I would sweat profusely. Drenched. The cycle would start back up again within about three hours. This went on for over a week. It seemed like an eternity. I cannot tell you how important it was that I stayed hydrated during all of this. Being dehydrated would have meant a trip to the hospital.
Every cell in my body ached. My hair hurt. It hurt to swallow. The glands on the right side of my neck were huge and painful to the touch. There were times where I would try to get out of bed only to feel like passing out so back into bed I went with my legs raised above my heart. I was exhausted. And I honestly thought I was going to pass away – that’s how sick I felt.
I felt as if my body was a battlefield and it was completely decimated by armies who were at war. This is, in fact exactly what happened. It was my immune system vs. one of the latest types of influenza viruses fighting it out within my body. Somehow, a couple of days earlier before my symptoms started, I was exposed to the virus – in the air, from a handshake, touching a doorknob or surface of someone who was infected. I couldn’t figure out where it came from. My immune system recognized that I had an invader and started to attack it. As sick as I was – the good news is that although it took a little longer than the average person – my body was able to fight the flu off without any lasting complications. Right now as I write this, three weeks later, my worst symptom is that I am profoundly tired.
Four and a half years ago – I had cancer of a type of white blood cell in my body (lymphocytes) that fight off infection. I then had strong chemotherapy to wipe out those cancerous white blood cells. This chemotherapy not only wiped out the cancerous cells but pretty much my entire system of white blood cells (immune system), along with my red blood cells. Since then, my immune system cells are regrowing and learning their functions again. One of these types of cells – plasma cells – produce something called antibodies (aka immunoglobulins) that recognize and then neutralize pathogens such as viruses and bacteria. Because my plasma cells were wiped out and are regenerating – so are my antibodies. When tested periodically – 4 of the 5 of these antibodies test low. This means that I do not have the same ability as another person my age to recognize a pathogen and launch an invasion against it. I basically have the immune system of a 4 year old – because 4 years ago is when chemotherapy wiped out all the cells in my immune system where I had to start from scratch. So just as a 4 year old gets sick and catches every cold or infection, that is now me at 56. My body has to relearn what is a pathogen and how to attack it.
The good news is that it is happening. Although I have been getting sick with frequency this year (I’ve probably been sick more days than well in 2019) – I am getting over these bacterial and viral infections without serious, lasting complications and moving on from them. My immune system cells are learning their jobs and protecting me. Everything is working as it should, although it is frustrating that I keep getting sick.
There are other things that have contributed to being able to withstand these infections and move on without serious complications. I eat a whole food plant-based diet. I am mindful of everything I eat and how it contributes to the health of my cells. If something doesn’t have good nutritive value – I don’t eat it.
I take certain supplements daily that help keep my immune system working as well as it can (Vitamin D3, Glutathione, DMG, Pre/Probiotics (100 billion), Oregano Oil, Vitamin C, Mushroom Complex). My Vitamin D levels are around 90. Vitamin D is especially important because it is needed as part of the chemical reaction that activates macrophages– a type of large white blood cell in your immune system that goes after invaders and destroys them. Seventy percent of your immune system is in your gut and so it’s important to keep your gut healthy and balanced with beneficial bacteria (probiotics) and what they like to thrive on (prebiotics). A healthy and balanced gut is critical to good immune system functioning. Taking antibiotics will destroy beneficial gut bacteria so it’s even more important to supplement with a high dose/broad spectrum probiotic complex during and up to three months after taking antibiotics. Discuss this with your doctor.
One thing I have not been able to do as much as I need to do is exercise. Moderate, consistent exercise is critical for healthy immune system function as it too helps activate the production of macrophages. It also helps the cells of the immune system circulate more freely within the body to help kill bacteria and viruses. But when you are fighting an infection – your body needs every bit of energy to fight the infection – and so it cannot afford to expend energy on other activities such as exercise. It’s best to rest until the infection has passed. Because I have been sick quite a bit this year – I have been doing a lot of resting….
I’ll be honest – the two weeks where I was sickest with the flu were some of the worst two weeks of my life. In some aspects – it was reminiscent of how I felt when I was on chemotherapy. Not an experience I’d like to relive. But I got through it and am healing. This is a huge victory for someone like me. So once again – I will look at the positive and walk away feeling victorious. I won.