What Your Doctor Never Taught You About Healing From the Flu (or Other Illnesses)

It began just after New Year’s. My wife and I got a call from our adult son. He was extremely stressed and agitated and was in a real emotional distress. After talking with him for an hour I decided I needed to get on a plane and be with him. Shortly after I arrived I started to get the first symptoms of the flu. I had a fever and was hot, then cold. I doctored as best I could and helped settle things down with my son. I flew back home, but by then I had serious breathing problems, was wheezing, coughing, and feeling awful.

I made an appointment with my doctor and was put on two inhalers. The first, Albuterol, is a bronchodilator that relaxes muscles in the airways and increases air flow to the lungs. The second, QVAR is an inhaled corticosteroid. It has small particles of medicine that are designed to reach deep into the large and small airways, where asthma inflammation exists. It was meant for deeper healing and preventing further lung problems.

Getting my instructions for healing, I was sent home. But there were a number of things my doctor didn’t teach me about healing from the flu. Here are some that I learned. Hopefully, they will help you when you’re dealing with the flu or other illness.

  1. All medications have “side effects.”

Often, we think of drugs as magic bullets that do directly to the effected area, in my case, the lungs, eliminate the inflammation, open the pathways, and allow my lungs to heal. But all medications have side-effects that aren’t always discussed. After starting using the inhalers, I noticed a number of things that concerned me:

  • I was becoming more anxious.
  • My mouth was extremely dry all the time.
  • I had stomach upset and slight nausea.

My doctor never talked about side effects, so I assumed these were just more symptoms of the flu. However, I looked up the side effects on-line and found the following:

  • Stomach upset, nausea.
  • Stuffy nose.
  • Dryness in your mouth and throat.
  • Hoarseness or deepening of the voice (I had that, but wasn’t concerned).

I asked my holistic doctor about the anxiety. “Of course, there would be some anxiety,” he told me. “You’re using a steroid, which is like adrenaline.”

All of the above made it difficult to sleep. During the day I was OK, but at night things became more challenging. Knowing the side effects, helped relief my anxieties. At least I knew what was causing the symptoms.

  1. We get sick for a reason.

Viruses are all around us, all the time. But we don’t all get sick. I had taken the precautionary flu vaccines, but they don’t always work. Flu types change all the time. It’s good to get some protection, yet it doesn’t always work. In reflecting on why my own immune system may have been compromised such that I was more at risk for getting sick, I realized there were a number of factors:

  • There had been a lot of stress in our lives during 2017. Two of our grandchildren had gotten into trouble.
  • Later in the year, one of our other sons had a serious tumor and had to undergo emergency surgery. We flew down to be with him and his wife.
  • The fires in our area earlier in the year added to our stress levels and the smoke likely caused problems with my lungs.
  • Finally, the recent emergency trip to help my son, added to the stress.
  1. Sickness often causes us to re-experience childhood trauma and illness.

As far back as I can remember as a child, I had breathing problems. At certain times of the year I would wheeze and have symptoms of asthma. The treatment of choice back then was to put me in my bedroom and run a vaporizer that pumped out steam through the night. It helped, but I felt alone and abandoned.

My mother was always afraid that I’d die, so when I was sick she would often withdraw. She would take me to doctors, but emotionally she didn’t provide much TLC when I was scared at night. I learned to rely on my “imaginary friends.” Of course, now that I’m adult, I don’t have imaginary friends. Now I call them my spirit guides.

The illness also triggered feelings of anxiety and terror from the past and stirred up some of my old experiences with depression.

In order to heal in the present, I have to remind myself that I’m no longer a little child. I have more wisdom on how to heal and I can call on many more people for love and support that I couldn’t do when I was a child.

My men’s group and lots of friends have been supportive. My wife, Carlin, though sick herself, has been a tremendous source of love and support.

  1. Sickness can teach us important things about ourselves.

One of the lessons I’ve learned from this illness is how vulnerable we human beings are. We think we’ve got life under control, that we’ve got it all figured out, then BOOM, we’re hit with something that knocks us off our feet. I realized that I can’t take my health for granted. I want to continue to do things that keep me healthy—walking, doing Zumba, eating well, surrounding myself with friends, and setting limits of what I can do to help others.

My wife, Carlin, said an interesting thing to me when I was fretting about our son. “You don’t have to be my hero, you just have to be my lover.” She pointed out that I had fallen into a pattern of thinking I had to rescue our children who were in trouble so I could be her hero and that I was worthy of love. With love and compassion, she helped me see that I didn’t have to prove myself by slaying dragons or saving others. What a great gift of love. Thank you, Carlin.

But the older we get, we realize we can’t save anyone else, even our own children. Everyone has their own path to walk, their own lessons to learn. This may have been the most important lesson of all for me. I consider myself a healer and a helper, but there are limits on what I can do.

I need to accept my vulnerabilities as a human being, accept that healing takes longer when we’re older, and know I can’t save others. I can only do my little bit to love more deeply and feel gratitude for all the gifts of love that are in my life. Thank you, Carlin, for your wisdom and love.

I look forward to hearing from you. Your comments and sharing are my reward for writing these articles.

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  1. Sickness can teach us to take a real look at our life and slow down the pace a bit 🙂

  2. Marlene Waller says:

    Dear Jed,
    Thank you for these posts and your books. They have helped me get through some recent bouts of depression experienced by a loved one so I could be more supportive.

    As a woman who derives happiness from productivity, I am lately struggling to feel validated as more frequent health problems block me from my achieving my large and even small goals. Perhaps that would be a good topic to address. Your article about the flu struck home. When health falters, we need new ways to see our value in the family and other community circles.


    • Marlene,
      Yes, indeed. I, too, have put a lot of my self-esteem into my productivity and physical activity. When I’m not able to do those things due to illness and aging, I have find new ways to feel OK about myself. For me, one of the ways I’m dealing with these challenges is writing about them. I find when I write and share my experiences with others, it helps me make sense of the challenges and helps others who may be going through some similar changes. Thanks for your comments.

  3. This article hit home for me. As a child, I developed a sickness which required some hospitalization. We lived in a small town 40 minutes away and I had three older siblings. My mom had just left our dad and moved us all here from another country and although she had family in the town and received a lot of help from them, and tried her best to see me often, I was alone a lot and scared. Most likely due to the recent upheaval in our lives. I didn’t have good times in the hospital and left feeling abandoned and disappointed due to some psychological tricks the nurses would play on me to either get me to cooperate with many of the tests or to eat, which I had been refusing to do. Anyway, I had not realized how the trauma would come nack to me again. I had surgery three weeks ago and had to stay a day longer than expected. My family came to visit me and as they walked out at the end of visiting hours, all the trauma and loneliness from my memories as a seven year old came back, 39 years later! I cried most of the night, confusing the nurses, as I could hardly tell them everything that I was feeling at the time. I am happy I was able to go home the next day. It is funny how things you thought were dormant can erupt unexpectedly.

    So, as in your article above, sickness can bring back past trauma unexpectedly! 🙂

    • Susan,
      Thanks for sharing your experiences. It must have been traumatic as a little girl and as you say old wounds can be triggered again when we’re adults. I certainly experienced that. It was an opportunity for me to do some more healing on the past as I worked in the present to calm my fears as I dealt with a similar kind of breathing problem that had terrified me as a child. Then I was more alone and helpless. Now I have other resources and adult experience, yet the old fears can still grab a hold of us. Sharing our experiences with others helps. Thanks again for your sharing.

      • Jed, thank YOU for your understanding and compassion. And also, thank you for sharing your wisdom and insight in your writing.

  4. Dear Jed.

    One of my co-workers told me that when she gets the flu, she drinks green tea three times a day with some honey. Another way to deal with the flu is to stay hydrated by drinking plenty of fluids and don’t eat anything. Seems to work pretty well.

    Another person informed me this is how she doesn’t get any flu because she takes this every day:

    1/4 tsp of Turmeric with a sprinkle of black pepper and few tbs of water. Follow it with clear water
    however much I feel like I need, probably 1/4 cup, or just enough to rinse the pepper down. When you first start it is kind of jarring, like dirt a bit, but after a few weeks, it’s nothing. It helps with a lot of things, not just sickness. It prevents 90% of the flu from replicating and protects healthy cells from becoming infected

  5. Here is another way to prevent and/or fight the flu.

  6. Thanks for the wisdom, the comments, and healing suggestions. I’m getting through the flu, but the things I’ve been learning will stay with me.

  7. Jed, thanks for this one. I had the flu too, only a 5-day milder bout here in Hawaii. I’m glad you are through it, perhaps wiser. 🙂

    I wanted to chime in too that I don’t think we always get sick “for a reason.” That reason is often that bugs, especially these days, are strong, and perfectly healthy people fall ill not because their immunity is compromised but because the bugs can be virulent. I’ve worked with this myth in my medicine practice for decades and the belief that we are somehow compromised, or something is wrong with us, when we get sick can lead to false and pejorative beliefs about ourselves and a waste of resources trying to improve what doesn’t need to be. Sometimes we do need to bolster ourselves, but many times we don’t and just need to focus on getting well again. Placing blame where it truly belongs is healthy. 🙂

    And how about them Eagles!? Yay….all best to you…Jack

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