Cold and flu season begins in October and peaks between December and February, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We’re in the midst of the season, and I feel under pressure to do everything I can to remain as healthy as possible. Those of us who are living with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) are considered high-risk, and we know that catching a cold or the flu with compromised lungs could be disastrous.
In my previous column, I discussed how mental health is the elephant in the room when living with IPF. Another concern that’s rarely discussed is how to be mindful of someone who is immunocompromised during cold and flu season. Sometimes I feel guilty when reminding others to be careful to avoid spreading germs even when I’m aware of the potentially severe adverse effects on my lungs and overall health. I’ve struggled with the awkwardness of asking others to keep away from me when they’re ill, particularly my colleagues with whom I share an office space.
I find it hard to comprehend a society that values work ethic more than physical health. We tend to push ourselves to maintain a schedule even when we’re unwell. I have had this attitude, too. I am reluctant to slow down. But I’ve learned to take care of myself — this has been one of the unexpected gifts of my IPF diagnosis. Though while I’m better at prioritizing my health, it’s still a work in progress. However, my awareness of this prevalent mindset makes it difficult for me to ask others to stay home from work when they are unwell.
I understand that people have commitments and that children need to attend school even when they’re a little under the weather. When informing others of my need to avoid germs, I say that I don’t expect them to do anything differently. Telling them that I will be proactive about staying away from them, using hand sanitizer frequently, and wearing my Vogmask tends to relieve others of the burden. However, I can’t do much if I am unaware that they’re sick or if they aren’t yet symptomatic, and they can’t do a lot about the latter, either.
So how can we be as proactive as possible at avoiding illnesses during cold and flu season?
We can take precautions to keep ourselves as healthy as possible. However, I’m learning that one of the most effective ways to remain well is to inform others of your needs during cold and flu season. Transparency is key to empowering others.
While conversations of this nature might be uncomfortable, they are essential. People with IPF can’t hibernate during the winter. A few years ago, I caught a mild cold that escalated into a critical illness. I was taken to the emergency room and subsequently admitted to the intensive care unit. My recovery was incredibly difficult because of my compromised lungs, and I lost lung function that I won’t regain. It was a turning point for me; I realized how fragile my lungs were because of the damage that persisted after that “small cold.”
I try to ensure that I remain healthy during cold and flu season, but I rely on others to help me, too. Put aside your discomfort and speak with others about your needs. Helping them to understand why colds and flu can be dangerous for those with compromised lungs is our best defense.
How do you inform others of your need to stay as healthy as possible during cold and flu season? Do you find these conversations difficult?
Note: Pulmonary Fibrosis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Fibrosis News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary fibrosis.