Lessons learned from being sick for a week

I got the worst tonsillitis recurrence this past week. In fact, I only began to feel better today, yet I’m still on a liquid diet today because I’ve completely lost my appetite due to the difficulty of swallowing (no pun intended) for the past few days. I took two days off from work, but I was barely mentally there on those three days that I went to the office anyway. Most people think tonsillitis has to do a sore throat only, but I’m Nicky English. Nothing I do ever go gentle. Not even when I fall sick. Like falling in love, or tripping over my own foot, I fall HARD.

According to WebMD, an incredibly credible source on anything medical, more so than your average GP,

The main symptoms of tonsillitis are inflammation and swelling of the tonsils, sometimes severe enough to block the airways. Other symptoms include:

Throat pain or tenderness
Redness of the tonsils
A white or yellow coating on the tonsils
Painful blisters or ulcers on the throat
Hoarseness or loss of voice
Loss of appetite
Ear pain
Difficulty swallowing or breathing through the mouth
Swollen glands in the neck or jaw area
Fever, chills
Bad breath

In children, symptoms may also include:

Abdominal pain

Guess which symptoms I’ve got? EVERY FREAKING ONE OF THEM, including the children ones (but I refuse to believe I have had bad breath), plus for some strange reason I also had diarrhoea which is not even listed! I should contribute and argue I finally got my research published on an important publication!

Anyway, other than just laying in bed watching TV and googling how to treat tonsillitis, vomiting and running to the bathroom, having the worst chill one sec and a fever next, taking the cab to the hospital/doctors, passing out and waking up soaking wet in sweat, dosing on useless pills that only made me feel worse and eventually getting salvation from Chinese medicine and acupuncture, I, of course, did a lot of reflection in life. Classic me. These reflections affirmed some of my beliefs, but some also changed my worldview forever.

  1. Chinese medicine is no joke

I used to only go to my Chinese herbalist/acupuncture specialist to treat my muscle sores. Whenever I’m “sick for real”, I always go to a conventional doctor.  Since I have lost my voice earlier this year due to tonsillitis, I was very quick to go the doctor this time, as soon as my glands become swollen on day 3 (I just felt abnormally tired on day 1 and 2). I began the antibiotic treatment immediately, but my symptoms got worst day after day to the point I couldn’t even go to work even if I forced myself to. Just by walking to the doctor’s office made my head explode. Seriously, I switched to a different doctor on day 6. When I saw him after completing the torturous 10 mins walk from home, I murmured with tears rolling in my eyes, “Doctor, I’m in so much pain…” Doctor No.2 was so kind to give me different meds and a shot to ease my pain, but the situation did not get better like he promised. On day 7 morning, I decided to go to a supposedly better, private hospital because my company health insurance covers it. After waiting for about an hour, I was finally attended by a doctor. Unfortunately, he turned out to be a suited up jerk. He had this cold attitude and showed impatience when I briefed him on my condition even though my teeth were chattering from the chill. He told me I needed to see a specialist who wouldn’t be there until three fucking hours later, and I should just “go get lunch.”

I was sure I would be one of those who died in a hospital lobby had I kept waiting there, I just paid and returned home. After passing out for another two hours or so, I finally realized I should have called my Chinese doctor, who is also a family friend who treats my entire extended paternal family. I told her how miserable I was feeling, and she told me to go see her right away. When I got to her clinic, I still had an ice patch on my forehead. She took my pulse and was surprise I really was as sick as I sounded. She gave me an acupuncture treatment, which I thought I was familiar with, but boy, was I wrong. To target my condition this time, she needed to puncture the needles into my THUMBS! Mad kings in Ancient China used to torture political enemies by crushing their fingers (Perhaps they still do)! I screamed so loud the entire clinic could hear me, and I literally and metaphorically cried like a baby, wondering why God would do such thing to me.

The treatment was the most painful I’ve ever got from her, but it was worth it. My fever was subdued right away. Even though I was still having pretty bad headache and developed diarrhoea that night, on day 8, the next day, she cured me after a second session of acupuncture and three doses of very bitter medicine.

I think one of the reasons that make my Chinese treatment so much more effective lies in the time she spends observing me. A conventional doctor spends about 5 minutes maximum diagnosing a patient, including my kind Doctor Number 2. Everything they do is so formulaic. I bet for simple illnesses, it works, but my condition is significantly worse than my previous tonsillitis episodes this time. My fever ran for at least four days despite all the pills they’ve prescribed (also well-supported by WebMD), but they were all treating me like an average patient. Like, “Oh she has symptom A, let’s give her medicine A,” without realizing symptom B may complicate the matter.

At my Chinese doctor, she also spends 5 minutes diagnosing me, but she also spends 10-15 minus planting needles all over my body, during which we get to talk more and she gets a better idea of where she needs to place the needle or sometimes make changes to her prescription. She knew my mom was out of town and I had a lot to finish at work before moving to Auckland. When I was bursting in tears in pain, she even wiped my tears for me because I had a dozen needles of each hand and said, “Poor thing. You must be under lots of stress for your condition to deteriorate so quickly.”

Now I’m on Day 9, I’m finally starting to feeling better. I’m so returning to her in a few days for a check up.

2. Work can’t always be No. 1

For the past year, work has been my number one priority in life, no questions asked, because my entire force has been on saving for my Ph.D. Besides my 9 to 6 job, I filled almost every weekday night and every weekend with teaching gigs/freelancing. I had long forgotten what a real day off felt except my short getaway at Christmas. Other than work, I had almost nothing going on in life. It’s past 10pm every night when I get home. I have two to three hours to shower and catch up on my TV shows, and that’s it. I get about five hours of sleep then I wake up and go to work again. Knowing I’m going away, I try to spend more time with my mom, but I only get to have dinner with her about twice a week even we are living under the same roof. I barely see my friends. I barely have time to shop. I even skip mascara on some days because I’m unable to get up!

The one thing that I know must have contributed to my health crisis is my choice to forsake exercising to make more time in order to make more money. I used to be very proud of how I managed to maintain my workout regime despite my busy schedule. I honestly have no energy to exercise anymore. Yea, one may say I could skip a few episodes a week to run. Fine, it’s like if you point a gun at me, I could do it, but my physically exhaustion from work would make it a torture, instead of the fun thing that I once enjoyed.

I thought I could pick up working out again once I moved to Auckland, which I SWEAR I WILL cuz I actually miss it, but I’ve paid a tremendous price. I thought I only had to sacrifice my so called fit physique by slacking for a few months, I didn’t know the price would be my health.

3. Taking care of myself. 

The reason why my mom is (still) out of town is because I decided to use part of my bonus money from work to treat her to a two-week cruise holiday, to thank her for being so cool with me for giving up a good job to pursue a seemingly useless Ph.D. Since I had been so busy in the past year, I did zero housework. Well, she dares not enter my room, so it’s not surprising to find three inches of dusk on my floor. Other than that, she does my laundry and occasionally cooks for me (since I’m rarely home for dinner) and does grocery shopping.

Before she left for her vacation, my only concern was my laundry, but I figured I had more than enough clothes to last two weeks. Little did I know I would get so sick.

I have always been very careless and often forget my keys. On day 6, after I got a shot by the doctor, I barely made it to the supermarket downstairs to get some juice because I couldn’t swallow anything hard or keep anything down. By the time I got to the cashier, I realized I forgot my keys again! It was 10:30 a.m., I had to call my dad at work and wait for him to rush home at lunch to give me the keys. Not that I wasn’t grateful, but I felt so hopeless at one point and almost broke down at the supermarket because I really wanted to throw myself into my tiny but still a bed-bed.

My mom’s absence concerned many, not only my Chinese doctor and nurse, also my supervisor at work. Like I’ve said before, she had long found my mom’s freestyle parenting biaazre. On day 6, I called her at 7 a.m. to tell her I couldn’t go to work cuz my fever wouldn’t come down and I needed go to the hospital. She checked up on me multiple times to make sure I was okay.

There are moments I wished my mom were here to take care of me, but then I thought, “Come on, you’re a grown woman! Your mom had given birth to you when she was your age. You lived on your own half the world away ten years ago. You are about to do the same in a month! You can take care of yourself like an adult. You’re gonna be a doctor (I know it’s a different kind, but still) for God’s sake!”

So I did! I haven’t bothered anyone except for my father. I checked myself to different clinics, and even the hospital by myself. I took the cab mostly cuz I was too fucking sick to walk a straight line. I even cleaned my room today since I was feeling better and began to suspect that three inches of dusk might be one of the culprits of my sickness.

4. Be thankful to your coworkers and boss

I’m not the person to pull a sickie. I hate it when I fail to fulfil what I have to do for that day. I tried very hard to drag myself to work on the first few days of being sick. They were okay with me for coming in late and leaving early because rush hour commuting would have made me faint. They could see how much I wanted to go to work and just be there because we are planning a big event to be held in a week. I was actually worrying about it a lot. On my worst nights, I had interrupted sleep with nightmares that we totally screwed up the event, and I woke up in either a fever or chill.

I was also very concerned that my co-worker would think I was pulling sickies because I had already handed in my notice and my performance didn’t matter anymore. It mattered, indeed, because I love working for this company so much and want to contribute more before I leave. It was extra heartwarming when my supervisor texted me one night and told me not to worry about work cuz she knew I was a responsible and hardworking person.

I have learned a ton out of this physically excruciating experience. As always, I think every experience is a blessing as long as we take something out of it. I’ll learn to take better care of myself because I now understand I can only enjoy the fruit of my hard work if I have my health, and being health-conscious may be lame, but it’s wise.



About Nicky

Nicky English is a journalist, an educator, a podcaster, a couch potato, a dreamer, and a child at heart. Learning is her passion, so is the English language, which she believes is the tool to unlock the door of knowledge. Born in Hong Kong, she received intensive writing training at The University of Iowa, where she double-majored in journalism and political science. Apart from the Hawkeye State, she’s lived in Chicago and Philadelphia. When she was a guest student at Georgetown University, she fell in love with Washington, D.C. She also has a Master of Arts in Communication. A little side note—she cannot imagine a world without her Mac and iDevices. Like many crazy ones, she hopes to change the world one day at a time.
This entry was posted in family, friends, health & exercise, Phd and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

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