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At different times last year, my roommate and I experienced painful illnesses that followed a similar trajectory of suffering. We started off feeling minor ailments and pains we believed could be fixed by taking some over-the-counter medicine and simply toughing them out. Seeking further medical attention from a doctor was out of the question. When our problems continued to linger for a while, we still went to work and fought through them despite the fact that there was clearly something wrong with us. Finally, when our sicknesses became too much to bear, we succumbed to visiting a doctor’s office and were told that our conditions were bad enough to require immediate hospitalization and surgery.
In my case, I had appendicitis. It had gotten so bad that my appendix had perforated and started leaking fluids before I made it to the operating table. For my roommate, it was pneumonia that filled up 80% of one of his lungs with Mountain Dew-colored fluid. If you think visualizing that image in your head is gross, imagine having to see 2 liters of that stuff drained out of your body. In both of our situations, we neglected to identify the warning signs that led to the unnecessary escalation of our illnesses.
Unfortunately, scenarios like these are not uncommon in the workforce, especially among postgrads. Granted, you may not experience anything as severe as we did (at least I hope you don’t), but the circumstances are similar. When most people feel something wrong with themselves, their first instinct is to either ignore the symptom completely or just do the bare minimum of what’s necessary to combat it so that they can move on from it as soon as possible.
This happens for a variety of reasons, none of which my roommate and I are strangers to. Chief among them is the reluctance to take time off of work. A lot of people won’t use a sick day or other PTO because they would rather go into the office and show their boss that they are a dependable employee who will show up to work no matter how miserable they feel. I did that and trust me, no one was impressed by my lack of productivity that stemmed from me writhing in pain all day. There are also those who work a job that implicitly wants you to sacrifice your health for your work, whether it’s because of the workload or, even worse, they don’t offer sick time. In that case, maybe it’s time to consider finding a place that doesn’t prioritize work above your well-being.
A lot of people also have an aversion to getting medical attention from a doctor or other medical professional. Part of the reason for this is a misguided notion that their symptoms aren’t that bad, they’ll get over it, and everything will be fine. Case in point: my roommate originally thought he didn’t need to see a doctor for his persistent chest pains and cough that lasted for weeks before his pneumonia diagnosis.
Instead, he thought it could be fixed by chasing Mucinex pills with tablespoons of Robitussin. I was no better, chugging Pepto-Bismal like a slimy pink milkshake in hopes that it would soothe my stomach pain. Clearly, neither of us are well-versed in medicine. If you feel bad enough, whether it’s from sickness or injury, it’s worthwhile to see a doctor. Our guy Crick Watson might even squeeze you in for an appointment in between episodes of The Bachelorette if you ask nicely.
Don’t forget to take care of your mental and emotional well-being too. Mental health is just as important as your physical health, but is taken care of far less often. If something is bothering you or you feel off for some reason, don’t hesitate to seek some sort of treatment. Whether it’s talking to a friend, a professional, or even engaging in an activity like meditation, take care of the problem before it gets worse. Because believe me, it can.
The point of all this isn’t to turn everyone into hypochondriacs or to make you freak out the next time you feel a slight sickness. Obviously there are some things that can simply be cured with time, and the examples of my exploding organ and roommate’s debilitating illness fall on the extreme end of the spectrum.
But often times we feel the warning signs of a problem coming from our body and tend to ignore them, making things worse in the long run. Take some time to rest, see a doctor, go talk to someone. The human body is an incredible machine and gives pretty reliable indicators when something is wrong. When it does, listen to it and do what it takes to fix the problem. Me and my roommate learned that the painful way..
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