A cold and flu post

I know that people read this blog from all over, and that in some places (like sunny Australia) it is not cold and flu season, but here in Canada, it certainly is. I caught a bug a week ago and now have a pack-a-day hack and the energy of an omelette. Not to worry! I know that the worst will soon be over, and I’m grateful that I generally have excellent health.

But my week-plus of illness has been interesting from an almost sociological perspective. I live alone, and the cold (both the illness itself and the fact that it seems pretty contagious) has meant that I’ve had to cancel *all* social ties. I’ve basically spent the past week saying, “Four days since social contact. Five days since social contact,” and so on. I’ve also become more than usually self-sufficient. Family members have offered to bring me groceries, but the grocery store is only a block away, and I’ve been able to walk there, so I’ve told people I can get by on my own.

And I have been able to get by, but the solitude has got me thinking. There is so much written these days about the wonders of living alone, and some of this writing is (a) really good, and (b) long overdue. But weeks like this one make me realize how tough living alone can actually be. There hasn’t been anyone to bring me tea. No one to entertain me with tales of the wider world after I’ve spent the day in bed. No one to ration out cough drops when I’m on the verge of coughing up a lung. Instead, I’ve been relying on virtual company — on my email accounts, and (somewhat obsessively) on news articles online.

I’m not saying that there aren’t good things to living alone. Clearly, many people enjoy the peace and solitude such a situation can offer. But we have to recognize that not all people have chosen aloneness (I, for one, was basically kicked into it this past spring) and that living alone can be, at times, exceptionally difficult. This past week has felt like a solitary confinement experiment, and I haven’t enjoyed it. I’ve got things to do this coming week — meditation class, dinner with a friend — and I find myself hungry for companionship.

So this post is really going out to a select few: those who live alone, and who find themselves sick this winter. It’s lousy. (And a week spent alone can really remind you of lots of other periods of unchosen aloneness.) If you find yourself sick and on your own this winter, drink plenty of fluids, stay warm, and be really, really good to yourself. It will pass.

This entry was posted on Sunday, January 22nd, 2012 at 9:25 pm and is filed under the category General.

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13 Responses to “A cold and flu post”

  1. May the coming week make up for the suffering of the previous week, Emily.

  2. Solitary Diner said:

    When I was living alone in a city away from friends and family, I came down with a horrible case of strep throat that left me almost unable to get out of bed. It was really depressing to have to call my boss to take me to the doctor, given that the only other option was an ambulance. Being alone when sick is never fun.

  3. zannelaw said:

    Struggling with my anorexia alone was a really scary time for me. I was afraid that if I passed out from my low blood sugar episodes there would be no one there to help and I would die–leaving my daughter alone. I also have a fear of choking to death and there’s no one to give me the Heimlich (as my husband had to do this twice for me!)

  4. Iamnotabozo said:

    I haved lived alone for fifteen years and have been able to take care of myself but sometimes it has been very difficult. Last January I got the flu and I vomited for five days straight I sat on the bathroom floor for three days. I called in a home doctor and he told me to go to the hospital. On the seventh day of vomiting I called a ambulance which took me to the worst hospital in the city of Toronto. I waited eight hours to be hooked up to gravol tubing and got out of the hospital by myself at four in the morning with a barf bag supplied by the hospital and grabbed a cab. After the eleventh day of no eating and continuous vomiting I called my sister and told her I was dying come and get me. She did and took me to a hospital in her home town and when I was released, my other sister nursed me back to health. The first time I have ever had to get help and even than I waited until my liver was failing. Here is the amazing part – my family got together to tell me how much they loved me and needed me – my neices. When I told my few friends what had happened to me from December 26th to January 11th they were upset I had not reached out to them because they had been phoning me and were worried. Needless to say it was a relevation for me. They lay down some rules for me I had to have a cell phone with all of their numbers – I had to e-mail them a complete medical history – I had to give two people a key to my place. I had to make a will and a last testament and give it to my sister. I get at least one phone call every week from my sisters and I am on facebook with my family and friends and it keeps me connected. I learned my lesson the hard way – stay in contact with friends and family and reach out.

  5. Nancy234 said:

    I think that for those of us who don’t choose aloneness as a lifestyle, that illness and other stresses can really push a difficult situation over the edge. I was reminded of this when I came down with Lyme disease (luckily, I was diagnosed very early on) several years ago and spent a month recovering on the couch, with very little energy. I emailed all my immediate neighbors (about 15 households–we are all on an e-list together) and asked for a little help with 1) a dump run if they were already going, and 2) a little help with a few groceries (like a few items here or there), if they found themselves already going to the store. I got one offer for the dump (for one time), and offers from only 2 others for groceries, which was depressing. Although some of my neighbors have trash pick-up and don’t go to the dump, I have a sneaking suspicion that everyone does, actually, go grocery shopping. When I was back up and around, some of the non-responders inquired after my health, so I know they had seen the email. It was pretty scary to see how thin the support options really are. There were others I could probably have asked who lived further away, who might or might not have been available to help, but it would have been more distance for them to travel, which is why I turned to the neighbors I know somewhat well on a casual level, with what I thought of as a simple way to help someone in need.

    It seems sometimes there is less and less willingness and/or time or whatever to help out in this way, although sometimes I have observed that a really major need (natural disaster, say) can pull people out. I often feel pretty vulnerable without family in the area and with my closest friend living 75 miles away. Occasionally I turn to my ex-husband for help, and occasionally he is willing to give it–but that can be dicey. I get by via trying to stay healthy, not having my car break down, and trying to keep those pesky needs for outside assistance at a minimum–which is a pretty good trick!

    And, to speak to Emily’s original post, the isolation that is usually somewhat tolerable on a “regular” week feels way worse when I am not out and about but home sick. My teenage son is now old enough to provide some company and a bit of caretaking, thank goodness, so that improves things a bit. I have struggled for years to build enough of a friendship network that can stand in, with friendship and assistance, for the absence of nearby family or a partner….and I haven’t been able to make it happen, sadly. I think some people can get the support they need through friendships alone, and I would like to know their secrets, but it just hasn’t worked for me.

    Glad to hear you are on the mend, Emily!

  6. This has been an real eye-opener for me. So far, I have been blessed with good health and only ever once needed help when I was out of action with a debilitating fever and had two small children to care for (on my hands and knees – couldn’t stand up without passing out). I called someone to help and that was a really bad experience and, along with my other fear issues (relating to needing help from others as a child), I never want to rely on anyone ever again. Never. Ever.

    So now I am thinking, my good health is not going to hold out forever, and I am certainly noticing getting older … what am I going to do? I have spent half a lifetime isolating myself in order to feel safe, popping up occasionally to reach out and help others but never allowing help for myself because of the panic it causes within me. I don’t have people I call friends, at all, for that reason. Allowing someone close enough to be called friend is too frightening for me to cope with.

    How am I going to manage the remaining one third of my life if I have to rely on others at some stage? It is a really terrifying prospect.

  7. When I am depressed, social contact can be really exhausting. I end up listening to other peoples problems and they do not ask about mine. Friends know I have these episodes, but when I cancel appointments in town they don’t offer to come over. They just say ‘oh, well, I’ll wait for your call when you feel better’. In the meantime I don’t speak to anyone at all, eat very poorly and blame myself.

  8. A New Yawker said:

    Emily, if you were only in Manhattan !!! Then I’d take you with me to my great neighborood hangout and buy you a hot toddy which would get rid of that bug of yours immediately.

    Also, know this – we don’t get sick in Manhattan – er, that’s physical sickness.

  9. @ A New Yawker: :)

  10. I hope by now you are feeling much better.
    I live in ‘sunny’ Australia so it is summer here but as a Family Doctor I still see people with viruses and infections.
    Your post made me think back to when I had my dear wife (who I lost 15 months ago from cancer at 53) and how she cared for me and looked after me when I was sick. I was so lucky. We had no children so I now live alone but have not had to face illness alone but it is sobering to consider how it will be to face it alone. To have someone there who loves and cares for you in ‘sickness and in health’ is one of the most precious things in life. When it does happen to me, it will no doubt accentuate the pain I feel from her loss even more.
    Of course it was reciprocal and when my wife was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and lived only 5 months I was with her all the time, I slept in her room at hospital every night she was there, showered her, helped to feed her etc.
    As you can see, your post touched me in my grief. I think that while being alone is very difficult, to be alone AND ill is so much harder.
    So I hope by now, 10 days down the track you are back in full health. Regards from sunny Oz, Doug

  11. I’m reading your post 10 days after the fact, so I sincerely hope you’re better by this point!

    Secondly, I know what you’re going through. I live alone, and I also have spondylolysis. (damaged cartilage in my spine.) I never feel more alone than when I’m laid up on the couch with a bout of severe pain, and have no one to bring me a glass of water, or answer the phone when it rings, or just give me a hug because I need comforting.

    Fortunately, living in Toronto with amenities and easy transit and people nearby, things could be worse. But I think for the lonely, the tendency is to say “No, no, I can’t bother those people” and then we sit alone miserable and sick because we didn’t reach out.

  12. Iamnotabozo said:

    I agree Crystal you do have to reach out – make connections to your neighbours. Saying hello and smiling to neighbours is the first step, then comes the small talk about the weather. You don’t have to be best friends but it is always good to know who is living around you. In the urban core you see your neighbours everywhere going to work, school, the grocery store, the library, the corner store and at community events.

  13. Hi Emily,
    I was just checking back to see if you’d fully recovered but no newer posts. Sure do hope you did recover okay.
    Anyway, I thought that since the ‘dreaded’ Feb. 14th, the day when being alone can really suck, I figured we here could at least wish each other a decent day on ‘hearts’ day. All the dear older ladies that I knew growing up, who sent me little cute Valentines cards are now all gone and so the mail box now sits empty on the 14th. Last year was the first year of my entire life after elementary school that i didn’t receive one Valentine. It was sad indeed.
    So, to all of you who read this know that someone in Canada, although I don’t know you, will think of those alone on Tuesday. We are in a club of sorts, aren’t we?
    Blessings to each of you.
    And Emily, will you let us know you are okay?

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