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The big bad world has been invading my cosy little world lately. Writing in the Irish Independent (8 October) Bertie Ahern quoted the IMF as saying that $152 TRILLION dollars is the total global debt; twice the global economy. He sounded concerned, but not suicidal. Then there was Trump, ISIS, and lots more to worry about. There are big problems in the world. I know that we men discuss and worry about these things in our men’s sheds. We wisely leave the tiny details of life to women. What have the tiny details of food and nutrition and sex and relationships and education and health got to do with us men?
But I have a female side too. To this end and because I am getting older it is apparently okay to talk about my health – at great length. It is unusual for doctors to discuss their personal health journeys in print. I will do this today while explaining my psychological journey as well. If you are squeamish, go no further.
The common cold. Already my female co-workers are describing it as MAN-FLU, obviously sniggering at the jovial put down of men and their ‘complaints’. And they have a point, because I have never had to deliver my own baby myself, nor do I plan to anytime soon.
My Cold War (MAN-COLD) was not a flu, although the literature says that doctors are 10-times more likely to get the flu than the general population. I note the agenda behind these statistics. Carers and doctors should get the flu vaccine. To prevent our many patient contacts from also getting the same ‘germs’. Being a trained scientist, a doctor, trained to think for myself, I noticed that this statistic of 10-times did not correlate with my own experience. I have rarely come across a doctor who did not come to work due to colds or flu. I can recollect no doctor who was told by his employers not to come to work due to cold or flu and I can recollect no doctor on the same hospital shift roster insisting that another doctor go home to bed due to cold or flu.
I have had many colds in my time, but this one was different. Normally I wait patiently until it goes away. This time I was more scientifically aware. I noticed my thoughts.
I can recollect no doctor who was told by his employers not to come to work due to cold or flu and I can recollect no doctor on the same hospital shift roster insisting that another doctor go home to bed due to cold or flu
My nose ran like the waters of the Nile. I seriously wondered if it was possible to get dehydrated from that amount of clear, watery, nasal discharge. All the cut trees of the Amazon forest could not keep up with my needs to absorb moisture and trash paper towels. My joints were a little sore and I had a small temperature. Of course, we all know from reading the national papers that a temperature is always bad.
For the first time in my life I noticed that the nasal hyper-flow stopped overnight and started again the next morning. Hey, what is this about? I developed a new theory, that the cosy warmth of the bed causes the discharge to stop. I put on an extra layer of clothes, in daytime now, and hey presto, the discharge lessened. Yes, I felt warmer, even slightly uncomfortably warmer, but the nose tsunami called a halt. Scientific thinking is brilliant. I had results. Now I need to develop a Heslin Theory to make me seriously rich or at least famous. A legacy at last. Headline: ‘Cosy warmth clears all common colds.’
I also noticed on day two that allergic-like sneezing developed at 700mph and I visualised that it was spring and that my precious bod was sending seedlings out into the world to make thousands of little Heslin colds to help the world become a better place by forcing people to slow down and observe their own bodies. Again this was worse when the ambient temperature changed swiftly or if I was not well wrapped up.
I looked up Google again, like any other patient, and discovered that doctors do not make any decisions based on sputum colour alone and that green or yellow phlegm simply means that the body’s own white cells and the body’s own immune response are working normally. Most patients are convinced that coloured phlegm automatically means serious infection needing the ‘strongest’ antibiotic. I always explain that coloured mucus is like the battlefield after Waterloo; the dead and injured have to be taken away. The infection is dead and the recovery starts with the clean up. Mucus often appears AFTER the acute infection is over and when the recovery is beginning. This clean up can take two days, the exact time it takes for the antibiotics, that are unnecessary, to ‘work’.
But I had bigger worries, I had clear discharge even on day two. Did this mean I had a weak immunity? No white sputum and no white cells coming to rescue me. OMG! I calmed myself.
Thankfully the tap stopped on day three. I developed thick sticky mucus, as predicted. Yet despite my constant advice to patients to use nasal saline in a very messy way, I delayed using it but wow, when I did use one it was very therapeutic. God, I’m a good doctor! I need to listen to my own advice more often.