Staying Healthy for Finals

| November 23, 2010

Photo credit: Skippyjon via Flickr

This may seem unrelated to the library, but it has everything to do with student health and wellness, and my need to scream it from the mountain tops. I HATE BEING SICK!!!!!  Eh-hem… sorry. But seriously, health and wellness, if not kept in check, could effect your academic performance, which I feel is sufficient justification for inclusion in this realm. Since I have no intention (and even if I did, I’m in no condition) to climb a mountain, I’ve chosen to express my pain via Pressible through a little good-natured banter; a calm from my storm of pain-induced fury that my husband has unfortunately had to endure…poor guy. In addition, I will share with you all some things that I’ve learned on how to usher the illness that I will be discussing out of your body and out of your life!

Late Saturday evening, I got slammed with a nasty little bug called Norovirus (aka, gastroenteritis; aka stomach flu), which, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), is caused by ingesting food or liquids contaminated with the virus (aka food poisoning), touching contaminated surfaces or objects and then placing your hand in your mouth (aka GROSS), or having direct contact with someone else who is infected with the virus.  Side Note:  It is actually incorrect to refer to gastroenteritis as the stomach flu because the flu is a respiratory illness cause by the influenza virus, while gastroenteritis is a viral infection in the intestines…just thought you all would like to know.

As I replayed Saturday’s events in my head, I figured out where the lovely little bugaboo came from. You see, I don’t just go around touching people, surfaces and objects and then putting my hands in my mouth, oh no! Having lived in this great city for going on 3 years now, my healthy hygiene habits have become semi-obsessive. It could only be one thing: food poisoning. Regardless of how often you wash your hands with anti-bacterial soap, bleach every surface that you plan to come into contact with, whip out the hand sanitizer if you even so much as hear someone sneeze, and engage in other behaviors that could qualify you as being a classic Mysophobic, we unfortunately can’t control this behavior in others. This makes being a foodie in the food capital a bit cumbersome because choosing a restaurant to dine in based on the hygiene habits of the employees is like a box of chocolates…you know how the saying goes. There’s only one restaurant that I patronized that fateful day, which will remain unnamed (cough cough, arestaurantlocatedonthecornerofbroadwayand116thstreet, cough, cough). I mean, we all have a right to information, especially if it will save us all from the misery I’m currently enduring as I type out this post. I’m unable to eat, unable to sleep, keeled over in pain every half an hour, and feeling like I’ll be surrendering my insides any second to the porcelain god.

Food poisoning it is. This means that an employee who was either infected with the virus, or came in direct contact with someone else who was infected with the virus (and in either case neglected to wash their hands) passed the virus on to me through the food. GAG EFFECT!  Now I’m sure that this place-that-shall-not-be-named is really okay. I’ve eaten there before and had an okay experience, but the memory of my most recent dealing with them will be the very thing that stops me dead in my tracks before I even consider crossing the threshold of their establishment any time in the near or distant future. It’s one of those memories that makes your face turn. You know what I mean? That face that you make when you’re walking down Broadway on a gorgeous New York summer afternoon, clear skies, sun setting, a light breeze, enjoying an ice cold fruit smoothie, and life is just a bowl of cherries, when all of the sudden, you get a violent whiff of hot garbage cooking in the summer heat on the street.  I’m so happy we’re all on the same page with this one.

But instead of ranting endlessly about my suffering, I feel it would be much more helpful if I shared some tips with you all on how to combat gastroenteritis, information that I learned from my husband’s physician when he suffered the same illness shortly after we returned from our honeymoon in Cancun (not a fun way to start your new life together). Please Note:  I strongly urge you to see your doctor if you are experiencing symptoms of the illness to make sure you don’t have something even more horrific, like amoebic dysentery or similar. The symptoms of gastroenteritis usually include nausea, vomiting, stomach cramping, and diarrhea. One may also experience dizziness, cold sweats, chills, headaches, muscle aches, and fatigue.  So far, every single one of these symptoms have reared their ugly heads in my body except for vomiting. I’m keeping my fingers crossed. There is nothing I hate more than throwing up. I’m the person that is ready to heave today’s, yesterday’s, last week’s, even last month’s meals at the very thought of throwing up.

The symptoms can begin 24 to 48 hours (although they have been found to occur as early as 12 hours) after exposure to the virus and can last anywhere from 1 to 2 days (and in some people they may last longer). It seems I’m just getting the short end of the stick in both scenarios because my symptoms began about 8 hours after I ate the food, and it has been about 55 hours (at the time this post was submitted) and although some symptoms have subsided, they are taking their sweet time exiting the premises, 1 by 1.

You should drink lots of clear fluids (broth, water and natural low-sugar juices) to prevent dehydration from occurring, preferably 8 to 10 glasses of water and Gatorade  (4-5 glasses of each). Water alone lacks the nutrients needed to properly replenish your system, so Gatorade accomplishes this by providing the body with electrolytes and carbohydrates that your body loses through diarrhea. Keep away from carbonated, caffeinated, and alcoholic beverages, and dairy products. No Starbucks and no bar-hopping, although I suspect that you wouldn’t even feel up to leaving the house. You never know, some people just can’t fight the temptation of the caramel macchiato with extra caramel, no foam, light on the whip cream, and warmed to a perfect 150 degrees.

Restrict yourself to a bland foods diet.  The most common is the BRAT diet, which stands for bananas, rice, applesauce, and toast (plain). After your body is able to tolerate clear fluids, you can try to slowly add these foods to your diet. Chicken soup, saltine crackers, and jello are also okay to eat, but again, you should try to re-introduce these things into your diet slowly and one at a time. Steer clear of spicy, citrus-y, greasy foods and dairy and tomato products, as these things will just upset your stomach even more. This is probably the hardest part of the deal for me because my husband made chili and cornbread tonight, which may mean very little to all of you, but I love chili and cornbread! The aroma of spices, lean ground turkey, red kidney beans, stewed tomatoes, green peppers, onions, and garlic all mixed up in a pot of deliciousness and married with sweet, buttery cornbread! While I’m stuck eating bananas, dry toast and applesauce?! But, I digress.

Wash your hands often and sanitize doorknobs, handles, light switches, computer keyboards, phones, and pretty much everything else that you touch that you know someone else will be touching as well. You also want to avoid preparing or serving foods to others while you are contagious, from the time you begin feeling ill, to about 3 days after recovery. That is, unless you have ill intentions toward some poor, unfortunate soul, in which case it’s not too late to stop and do the right thing. Seriously, I wouldn’t wish this pain on my worst enemy.  By the way, if the pain becomes excruciating and unbearable, I learned that it’s okay to take an Acetaminophen, like Tylenol or Excedrin because it causes less stomach upset than Ibuprofen (Advil, Aleve, Motrin), but this is only recommended for otherwise healthy individuals. In other words, ask your doctor first before taking any medication.

Last, but not least, get lots of rest–a difficult feat considering the fact that it’s the time of year when paper and project deadlines are fast approaching. Just remember, your body has a way of knocking you down as needed to be able to get back into equilibrium. Your immune system is shot and your body needs you to allow it to use what little energy it has to help build it back up to an optimal level of effectiveness.  So unless you want to prolong the pain, do yourself a favor and listen when your body tries to tell you to slow down! Speaking of rest, I’m off to bed. The Tylenol PM is starting to kick in. I encourage you all to refer to the CDC’s website and/or your physician for more information. Stay healthy! Ciao!