I’ll let you in on a little secret about blogging/column writing: It’s not always easy coming up with something to write about on a weekly or even monthly basis. This time around, though, the inspiration came to me like a punch to the gut. It’s pretty straightforward: Get a flu shot.
I wrote much of this column (in my head) while flopping and flailing in bed on Thursday afternoon, a sweaty mess, trying to muster up the energy to go downstairs and supplicate to the porcelain god. At the time that I imagined this piece, my multiyear no-vomiting streak was still in tact, but I already had resigned myself to the fact that the streak was in serious jeopardy.
Irony of ironies, as I’m in the midst of assembling some best practices for coping with cold and flu season (for an article in the January issue), I’m down with the flu. I went into work for about an hour and I could barely hold my head up at my desk. It’s nasty stuff –body ache, vomiting, chills, fever, sweaty pillows, the whole nine yards – and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.
On the few occasions that I’ve been to the emergency room in my life, I remember being asked if I was experiencing any pain, and if so, could I quantify it with a number between 1 and 10. Fortunately, I didn't get sick enough to necessitate a hospital visit. But if someone were to have asked me that question Thursday afternoon, I might have said, “I feel like someone beat me all over my body with a bag of quarters.” Or: “I feel like a bus ran over me, and then the driver stopped the bus and put it in reverse so he could run over me again.”
Well wouldn’t you know it that the CDC’s top recommendation to maximize your chances of staying healthy during cold and flu season is to get a flu vaccination? I mean, they aren’t the least bit ambivalent out it: They flat-out urge people (especially vulnerable populations such as the elderly) to get a flu shot.
Perhaps because I didn’t get a flu shot last year and I made it through cold and flu season without much of a problem (just a few instances of having the sniffles for a day or two), I decided to not get a flu shot this year … even though I’m writing an article that, among other things, emphasizes the importance of employees getting flu shots. (“Do as I say, not as I do,” right?)
I think another reason that I opted out of a flu shut is that I’ve developed an inflated (over)-confidence about my health in the past year or so. During that time, I’ve been eating a lot more fruits and vegetables (as part my transition to a mostly vegetarian diet), I’ve started practicing yoga on a regular basis and I’ve stepped up my efforts to cut out desserts, snacks and highly processed foods. In other words, I’ve been implementing all of the healthy-lifestyle tips that you read about (ad nauseam?) in wellness articles. Heck, I’ve even attended some group meditation and drumming sessions.
To make a long story short, I guess I thought that I was above all of this flu-shot stuff. Sure, I’ll recommend it to my readers, as sort of a public service, but I don’t need it, right?
I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Yes, good hygiene is absolutely important. Thanks to my OCD tendencies, I never go anywhere without hand sanitizer (especially airports and airplanes), and I like to think that’s helped me stay well. The hands are a key delivery mechanism for pathogens, because we touch our faces so much.
But you can’t kill every germ. And while the CDC considers hand hygiene an important prevention strategy, there’s a reason that the agency says, in no uncertain terms: “The best way to prevent the flu is by getting vaccinated each year.” (I didn’t add the emphasis.)
The CDC, of course, acknowledges that the effectiveness of flu shots varies from season to season and from person to person. Getting a flu shot doesn’t guarantee that you’ll avoid contracting the flu. But it certainly gives you far better odds of getting through cold and flu season in one piece.
Consider that the agency, in a report issued on Thursday, estimated that flu vaccinations kept 80,000 people out of the hospital last year and prevented 6.6 million influenza-associated illnesses. Yet the agency also noted that only 40 percent of Americans 6 months and older had reported getting a flu shot as of early November. Regrettably, that 40 percent included me. But not for long.
Don’t learn your lesson the hard way (like I did). Don’t be a Josh – get a flu shot!
How’s that for a new CDC slogan?