Welcome to one of just a handful of blogs on convalescence! It’s such a lost art that there’s now virtually no easy-to-find information about it anywhere. The word ‘convalescence’ comes from the latin ‘convalēscentia’ which means ‘regaining of health’. It may be largely forgotten, but it’s vitally important, so for the third in my series of blogs about natural approaches to infection, we’re focusing on how to get well, and stay well.
Our life these days is so fast-paced, that most of us feel under constant pressure to get back to work, taking care of the family or any other commitments before we’re really ready. Recently we’ve found that people we considered to have ‘no underlying health conditions’ can still become gravely ill with Covid19. But having ‘no underlying health conditions’ doesn’t necessarily mean we’re in perfect health. In fact most of us who think we’re well are what I would call ‘sub sick’. That is, we sit somewhere in a wide gap between perfect health, and a detectable illness. If we’re very honest with ourselves, we might admit that we could feel a bit more energetic, a bit less bloated, our eyes might sparkle more, our skin might be clearer, or we might spend less time worrying. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that chronic illnesses and recurrent infections are becoming more common when the best we allow ourselves is sub sickness. Covid is considered to be one example of a virus which can return again and again, and it’s far more likely to be the same infection refusing to leave than a new one invading. Infection, and aggressive treatments for it, can put quite a strain on our body, and if we don’t fully regain our vitality, we can pay the price. Whilst it can be very hard to stay away from work once you’re over the worst, going back too soon can make you more prone to more sickness in the future. If they knew that, your employer might rather you take a few extra days off now, than months or years off work later, and hopefully you feel the same!
How Did We Used To Convalesce?
Up until fairly recently, we appreciated the need to convalesce fully after illness. We saw that a bout of sickness left the body ‘weak and emaciated’, so Doctors would often recommend a few days taking at the seaside, knowing that breathing the sea air, and soaking up the sun was going to help. Studies have since shown us that open water swimming, increasing Vitamin D levels by getting out in the sun, and the negative ions in the air have numerous health benefits. Failing a trip to the sea, a stay in the countryside, or even better, a spa town was prescribed wherever possible. There were even convalescent homes and maternity homes where patients were looked after until they were fully recovered. Nowadays we still have some rehab units where patients go after a hospital stay, just until they’re considered safe to return home. New mums are likewise discharged from hospital within hours of giving birth in many cases. This is vastly different from taking the time and care needed to get back to peak health. Going straight back into ‘normal’ life inevitably means we won’t get the nourishment, rest, sleep, and gentle activity we need to make a full and lasting recovery.
How Can We Convalesce After Illness Now?
This largely depends on your individual circumstances. A single parent and nobody to support them will not be able to convalesce in the same way as a retired person with no family to take care of. Start by putting your own health at the top of your list of priorities, especially if you have other people depending on you to take care of them. Here are some ways you can look after yourself:
- If you can, take some extra days off work at the end of your illness to make sure you’re fully recovered. You should allow for 2 days rest for every day you had a fever. Swiss Naturopath Dr Alfred Vogel recommended a week’s rest even following a cold or bout of flu. If you can’t be off work full time, look into a phased return.
- Get to bed earlier, and if you need help with getting a good night’s sleep, get a good bedtime routine. You could include things like Epsom Salts baths/footbaths, a drink of Chamomile tea, and some meditation before bed. If those don’t help you get a good night’s sleep, book a free call with me.
- Make sure you nourish your body properly. Food is medicine, so eat nourishing broths, porridge, and a rainbow of vegetables and fruit every day. Batch cooking makes it easier to eat well on bad or busy days.
- Supplement your diet with a potent multivitamin/mineral, probiotic, and antioxidant. A herbal tonic can also be made up to rebuild your strength and target any lasting symptoms you may have.
- Choose gentle, energising exercise such as yoga, tai chi or walking whilst you recover. Vigorous exercise before you’re well enough could do you more harm than good.
- See if you can get some help with childcare, cooking, or housework even if it’s only for a few weeks.
To me, convalescence should encompass all aspects of our experience. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen cancer patients who’ve been successfully treated, but left severely traumatised. They find that because they no longer have cancer, they’re expected to return to their old selves, but sometimes even their own families don’t appreciate that they’ll never be the same person again. Recovery from a life threatening illness is extremely demanding physically, emotionally and psychologically, and it doesn’t finish when we’re signed off by the hospital.
I can’t emphasise enough the need to take good care of yourself after you’ve been unwell. In a short space of time, we’ve completely forgotten how important convalescence is, and lost all capacity to do it properly. So next time you get sick, please do whatever you can to rest and recuperate, aiming to become healthier than you’ve ever been before.
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