Finally, Just a Common Cold: No More Anxiety
Last updated: February 2023
Growing up, I didn’t get sick any more or any less frequently than most of the other kids around me. When I did, there was nothing to it… just part of life, right? Time to stay home from school (if luck was on my side), watch cartoons, eat chicken noodle soup with a side of saltine crackers, drink plenty of fluids (water and OJ), use all the tissues in the house, take hot showers to help clear up my congestion, eat popsicles to ease my sore throat, and so on. Of course, the flu always seemed to hit me hard; it typically hit me at the end of the year (flu season), so many of the photographs of me as a child during the holidays feature me opening presents in my pajamas.
Switching to a new MS treatment
Once I was older, and multiple sclerosis (MS) had become part of my life, I didn’t seem to get sick very often. Everyone around me would have a cold, but it was like I was immune to it. I could walk around a bunch of people who I knew were sick, and I wouldn’t even worry about catching anything because I felt like I had some kind of shield. That lasted until I had to (yet again) change therapies to treat my aggressive MS. I ended up having to try the newest (at the time) DMT, Lemtrada (alemtuzumab), and that is when it started. I have talked about this in the past, but something has finally changed that I feel I need to mention.
Concerns about starting a brand-new treatment
So, first, a quick recap for perspective: at the time, Lemtrada was new, as in it had only been FDA approved weeks earlier, so none of the medical professionals treating me really knew what to expect. They told me that I was the first person north of San Diego to use this therapy in California (I don’t think I could ever possibly fact check that), so all anyone ever talked to me about was their concerns about all the possible risks associated with Lemtrada. In retrospect, I think all these hospital people in suits were mostly scared that I would sue them for something - I don’t know. Maybe I’m just being cynical, but either way, it only added fuel to the fire of what would soon become a nearly-crippling anxiety. Anyway, the treatment went OK; I mean, it wasn’t at all fun, but none of the super scary stuff we had talked about happened, so… add that to my list of wins? Yay?
My "shield" was shattered
But, unbeknownst to me, that “shield” that had been protecting me from getting sick was shattered, leaving me more vulnerable to the world of microscopic dangers than I had ever been before. I was told that if I ever developed a fever of 101 that I had to go straight to the ER, and the first time I did? I felt like I was dying! Fever, chills, terrible body aches, weakness, vomiting, and all the other little cold/flu symptoms. Upon getting to the ER, I gave the admitting nurse my Lemtrada information card, and they immediately showed me to a room. No sitting in the waiting room for 8 hours before being seen? That was pretty cool. A little alarming, but cool.
It was "just" a cold
The doctor saw me pretty quickly, and he/she (I can’t remember) started running a bunch of different tests. While we waited for the results, they hooked me up with some IV fluids as I was extremely dehydrated from vomiting. A short time later, the results were in: it looked like it was just… a cold. All this because of a little cold? The emergency room, IVs, tests; I mean… I felt like I was an inch from death (maybe a little dramatic), and it was because of a bit of a cold? How could that be possible? Guess there really is something to the whole immunosuppressant thing…
My anxiety over getting sick skyrocketed
This is where my anxiety over getting sick skyrocketed. I became afraid to go out, and when I did, I wore a mask. I was always washing my hands and always reaching for the hand sanitizer. I made it an effort to be mindful of everything that people might have touched and left germs behind on. The handle to the microwave door, the TV remote (eew), doorknobs, anything with a button on it (like the coffee maker), the backrest of the chairs in the dining room, the edges of the cupboard doors, countertops, tables surfaces, handrails along stairs, and, well, I could go on forever.
I felt surrounded by danger
My logic: people often pick up germs on their hands, and because people use their hands to touch so many things, those germs were everywhere. I felt surrounded by a danger I didn’t realize had been lurking in plain sight all my life. But after four or five years, my “numbers” (lab results) had finally risen to a normal range, and I was able to start attacking this new anxiety of mine. Since I was finally starting to notice that a little bug like the common cold was no longer sending me to the ER, I started going back out, leaving the medical masks behind, and using hand sanitizer less compulsively.
My brother was recently sick
About a week ago, my brother had gotten sick. It seemed like a minor cold with body aches that luckily resolved in around a week. Typically, upon discovering that someone in the house was ill, I would have basically sequestered myself in my bedroom till the coast was clear, but this time, I just went on with business as usual. I felt fine until about a week later when the dreaded “itchy-tingle” started to form in the back of my throat.
It was like being sick as a kid
The next day, I knew I was sick. I had all the usual symptoms of a cold plus body aches and… nothing else. No fever, no feeling like death, I was just… sick… regular sick. Not that being sick is at all enjoyable, but I have to admit, it was nice to just be sick like old times. Chicken noodle soup, crackers, bed-rest, TV, and lots of water. It feels bizarre to say it, but I seriously felt a little nostalgic for the times that catching a cold wasn’t such a climactic occurrence. It was just a cold. Nothing more.
So yeah, I think I’m finally ready to declare that I’ve finally gotten over my anxiety of getting sick, which to me, is a big deal.
Do you ever have moments where you question your self worth because of your MS?