- 5 Things Doctors Do to Avoid Getting Sick
- 1. Wash Your Hands Before Touching Objects
- 2. Keep Hand Sanitizer Handy
- 3. Beware of Airborne Germs
- 4. Get a Flu Shot
- 5. Start Out Healthy
- Why doctors don’t call in sick when they should
- 8 Healthy Secrets That Keep Doctors, Nurses from Getting Sick
- Skip the Niceties
- Think About Gut Health
- If Someone Touched It, Clean It!
- Sing “Happy Birthday”
- Watch Your Hands
- Take an Exhale
- Embrace the Outdoors
- Opt for Gentle Exercise
- AVOID UNFORCED ERRORS
- GO WITH YOUR GUT
- TAKE A LOAD OFF
- DON’T LOSE YOURSELF
- GIVE YOUR BODY WHAT IT NEEDS
- Why doctors don’t take sick leave
- Concern about letting down colleagues
- Read More
5 Things Doctors Do to Avoid Getting Sick
By Robert Pedowitz, DO, Special to Everyday Health
Ever wonder how your doctor keeps from getting sick?
There are many precautions doctors take to avoid getting sick, especially during cold and flu season.
While you probably won’t be working with sick people every day, learning these precautions can be especially helpful when it comes to keeping you and your family healthy.
1. Wash Your Hands Before Touching Objects
Doctors are constantly disinfecting their hands before touching patients and medical devices. That’s because doing so prevents patients from being exposed to germs.
If you think you may have touched cold or flu germs, be sure to wash and disinfect your hands. Disinfect your hands before touching your cell phone, keyboard, door handles, and other things. It can be very easy to forget that an object you touched may be carrying germs, so it’s best to play it safe.
Avoid touching the bathroom door knob. Always use a paper towel to open or close doors after washing your hands.
2. Keep Hand Sanitizer Handy
Doctors always keep alcohol-based hand sanitizers nearby because they provide a quick way to disinfect hands. They also tend to be less irritating to your skin than repeated hand washing.
Typically, hand sanitizers are just as effective at eliminating cold and flu germs as hand washing. The only exception is when your hands are visibly dirty — then you should use a sink.
3. Beware of Airborne Germs
Everybody knows that germs can travel through the air, but many of my patients are surprised to learn that most flu cases are transmitted by coughing, sneezing, and even talking. In fact, the Journal of Infectious Diseases reported that the flu virus can linger in the air at least six feet from a person carrying the illness. So it’s important to keep your distance from anybody showing cold or flu-like symptoms.
4. Get a Flu Shot
Most people think flu vaccinations are only for infants or the elderly. A quick flu shot can save almost anyone days of illness and discomfort. In fact, the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunizations Practices (ACIP) recommends that everyone get a flu vaccine unless they have a medical condition that prevents them from doing so. That’s why most of my colleagues and I get a flu shot every year.
Flu shots are available at doctors’ offices, pharmacies and medical clinics.
5. Start Out Healthy
If there’s one secret I consider the most important, it’s this one — people who start out with good general health have well-functioning immune systems and are less likely to get sick. And even if they do catch a cold or flu, their symptoms typically are less severe and won’t last as long as they would for an unhealthy person.
Most people already know that the main factors in staying healthy are nutrition, exercise, sleep, and low-stress levels. The secret is finding out how to work these healthy habits into your lifestyle.
Luckily, it’s easier than you think. For example, you can slowly start working healthier foods into your meals by adding a favorite vegetable to one meal per day. When it comes to stress, even 10 minutes of meditation or listening to music can do a lot to help you relax. Taking a short walk or lifting weights during your lunch hour is better exercise than doing nothing. Plus getting eight hours of sleep each night will give you the strength to do everything else more easily.
There’s no way to guarantee that you won’t get sick this winter, but following these few steps can significantly increase your odds of staying healthy. If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to call or visit your primary care physician for advice.
Robert Pedowitz, DO, is board certified in family medicine. He is on staff at CentraState Medical Center in Freehold, New Jersey.
Why doctors don’t call in sick when they should
Recent research from Florida Atlantic University and Cleveland State University have found a direct correlation between preventative health care and the number of paid sick leave days a worker gets. Workers with more than 10 paid sick days annually access preventative care more frequently than those without paid sick days.
Preventative care, in turn, leads to better overall mental and physical health. Doctors that are in private practice function like small business owners, when they are out for any reason, including sickness, they must pay overhead without collecting income. Doctors in academic practices and those employed by hospitals may have sick days in their benefits that range from 2 to 3 weeks paid sick leave per annum.
However, most doctors never take any of their sick days. This is not because doctors don’t get sick. Taking sick days is highly frowned upon in the medical world, and residents are taught from the start not to call in sick no matter what the impending illness might be.
If you live and work in the medical profession, I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. Half-way through my residency (pre 80-hour work week regulations), I called in sick and was asked if I was “sure” that I was “really” sick (I was, I had the flu with full-fledged vomiting and all the fixings). I did call in sick that day but never really did it again until this year (at the age of 46) when I had visible shingles. Enough of the unspoken rule that “doctors don’t call in sick.”
I’m at a point in my career now where I can call in sick and not worry whether or not my own impairment will result in being fired or given less hours. Unfortunately this isn’t the case with most doctors that I know, and I’m fairly certain that residents are still urged not to call in sick.
I’ve seen surgeons with the flu operate, stop to vomit, and continue operating. I’ve seen doctors walk into hospitals with sky-high fevers and strange diseases. I’ve seen doctors attached to IV bags sitting in hospital hallways mid-shift just to get through the rest of the day while beating back illness.
This insanity has to stop. Doctors everywhere are making people more sick by not calling in sick. Here’s what needs to happen in order to give doctors a break when it comes to resting, feeling better, and having permission to call in sick.
1. Responsibility. Doctors should cover for each other when one doctor is sick, another doctor in the same group should be able to fill a shift — creating a culture of support is imperative.
2. Patient education and understanding. Patients must understand that doctors are human and can call in sick. It’s not in anyone’s best interest when a sick doctor treats a sick patients.
3. Transparency. It’s commonplace for clinic or hospital staff to tell patients that doctors are busy, on-call, or out for other reasons when doctors take a sick day. Offices should be allowed to tell patients that a doctor has taken a sick day. This will help people to understand that doctors are not superhuman.
4. Self-care. Doctors should have their own primary care physicians, and should be responsible for routine health visits and measures such as colorectal screening, pap smears, mammograms, flu shots, etc.
5. Surgeons. Rescheduling an urgent surgery is difficult to do, but this is where a peer or partner network comes into vital play. One surgeon should be able to call in sick and know that a partner or peer can perform the necessary surgery. If surgery is elective, rescheduling on a day that the surgeon is healthy should not be taboo.
Jennifer Weiss is an orthopaedic surgeon and can be reached at her self-titled site, Jennifer Weiss MD.
Image credit: .com
Doctors, PAs, and other medical professionals DO get sick. As a matter of fact, I am fighting an upper respiratory infection right now, and it has been hanging on for about two weeks. If illnesses were dependent solely on the amount of exposure that one gets, I should have been dead years ago.
Medical providers, depending on the type of practice, are exposed to sick people nearly every day. Working in primary care; working in pediatrics; and having an “open schedule” that allows sick people immediate access, puts me in the forefront of germs. For viral infections, people are most contagious early in their disease, when I get to see them.
Fall is the season for upper respiratory infections, from simple colds to influenza, and their complications (sinus infection, pneumonia, and bronchitis). It is also the the season for gastrointestinal infections (vomiting and diarrhea), often wrongly called the “stomach flu”. Flu shots should be arriving soon, but keep in mind the influenza vaccines ONLY helps protect a person from influenza, not colds, and certainly not gastrointestinal viruses.
There have been some lengthy discussions on the ALL EARS BLOG regarding sanitation, especially in the schools, including the lack of disinfection by the janitorial staff. Last year, on the Blog, I did a series on the Dirty Dozen – Twelve of the dirtiest, germiest, places. Of course, schools AND medical offices were prominent on that list.
I typically work in my clinic until 9 PM three days a week, taking care of acutely ill children. Working late, I have the unique opportunity of watching our janitors at work. Janitorial service is provided by the landlord of our building, and is not a crew that the medical group hires. Unlike the janitor in my old grade school, who held the same job for generations, this crew changes like the weather. Some are good; some are unbelievably bad. Nearly all of them, just pick up the trash, mop the floors, and wipe off counter tops. I observed one janitorial crew (no longer there) actually using a feather duster instead of a disinfectant. The vast majority of our after-hour cleaning crew are Hispanic; some have been Russian. Our geographic area is a rich cornucopia of ethnic groups. Many do not speak English, but they are friendly and smile at me when I try to tell them what area needs “extra cleaning”.
Interviewer: So Dr. Madsen, I’m curious, physicians, nurses, doctors, when they get sick they can’t necessarily take a day off. Sometimes you have to go in.
Dr. Madsen: Right.
Interviewer: For people that are suffering from colds or whatever right now, what are the things that nurses and doctors do to try to keep going that maybe we could do, or to even get better quicker. Is there anything? Is there a magic bullet that you guys know about that you’re not telling us?
Dr. Madsen: See, I think you’re trying to get free medical advice from me.
Dr. Madsen: Because you’re sick right now.
Interviewer: Yes, I am. I am. I’m trying. I’ve got this cough and this congestion that’s been going on for a number of days.
Dr. Madsen: But I’m more than happy to offer the advice here, because I went through the exact same thing a couple weeks ago and it is just a miserable thing. And you’re exactly right; I have called in sick for one shift in the last 10 years. That’s one day of work. So I do everything I possibly can to get through work. And something I deal with on a regular basis is very severe colds. I’m exposed to a lot of people who are really sick and can make you feel really miserable if you catch what they’ve got.
So the things I do to get through a shift are, number one, I use Tylenol. Acetaminophen is the generic name. I take that one a regular basis and I alternate it with Ibuprofen. I alternate it back and forth every three hours. So that means you’re taking each of those, individually, four times a day. You’re not overdosing on either one, but it can help a lot with the body aches, the fever, just that feeling of misery you have. And I stay on top of it. I don’t wait until I feel miserable. I take the acetaminophen and then I take the ibuprofen, alternating every three hours.
Interviewer: What kind of dosage?
Dr. Madsen: I usually take just a 500mg tablet. You’re okay doing 2 of the 325 for the 650 total. And then the ibuprofen I take 600mg, so over the counter comes in 200mg tablets; you’re taking 3 of those. For both of these dosing, you will find instructions on the bottle and precautions to avoid overdosing on either of them.
Interviewer: All right. What else do you do, medical professionals?
Dr. Madsen: So the other thing I do, there’s the issue with the congestion and the coughing, and that’s what can make you feel really miserable. So, typically I’m also staying on top of things and I take a combination of guaifenesin and dextromethorphan. So guaifenesin is a congestion medicine; dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant. And the brand name of that is Mucinex-DM. Again, you can find that as a generic, and I just usually get the generic because it’s the same thing. It’s half price. I take that also on a regular basis.
Just staying on top of things, morning and night. I think it’s just a twice a day dosing on that. Maybe a little bit more. I’d have to look it up. Maybe four times a day, but I take it on a regular basis so I don’t kind of get behind the game where I start feeling miserable and then I take it and wait for an hour to kick in.
Interviewer: Yeah. Anything else?
Dr. Madsen: So the other thing I’ve found is pseudoephedrine. Also known as Sudafed, but again, pseudoephedrine is the generic name. That’s one of these things, if I find that these other things aren’t cutting it, I take pseudoephedrine and that really just kind of dries my sinuses up. It helps me a lot with the congestion, runny nose. I don’t like to take it a lot because personally, it gives me a little bit of a headache, but I usually kind of have it available during a shift if just nothing else is cutting it.
Interviewer: Would you use that on top of everything else we have talked about?
Dr. Madsen: If I’m in a situation where maybe I have taken the guaifenasin and the dextromethorphan and it’s been two or three hours, I’m okay with taking it then.
Interviewer: Is there any concern about taking it all these medications? It sounds like a lot of stuff, or isn’t it really?
Dr. Madsen: It is a lot of different stuff, but keep in mind these are all different classes of medication. You know, taking all of them can make you feel a bit jittery sometimes, honestly because they can kind of have that effect. The pseudoephedrine can kind of dry your mouth out and with any cold medicine, it’s going to make your head a little cloudy. And it’s probably already cloudy from feeling miserable from a cold. But they are different classes of medication, so aren’t necessarily going to have a cumulative effect with each other.
Interviewer: So you talk a lot about controlling symptoms. Is there anything you can do to shorten duration?
Dr. Madsen: There is some evidence suggesting that if you start taking zinc early in the course of a cold, say within the first 24 hours, that it actually does have an effect. And for years, maybe even physicians have thought, “Well, it’s maybe not scientifically based,” but there have been several studies that have come out, including a nice review of all the studies that came out about a year ago, looking at zinc based medications. You may have heard of Zicam; that’s the brand name. But if you start taking that early on, it very well may shorten the duration of your cold and the intensity of it.
Interviewer: What about drinking lots of orange juice?
Dr. Madsen: Yeah, high dose vitamin C, I’ve tried to look some things up on that. Personally, I take it, just because I’m like, “It’s not going to hurt me, and it may help me.” Evidence is a little mixed on it. I feel that personally, it kind of has an effect. Maybe it’s a placebo effect. Maybe it’s a real effect. Again, trying to look up some studies, kind of a mixed bag on it.
Dr. Madsen: But I don’t think there is any harm, and it may help.
Interviewer: So that leads me back to another question: Is there anything you do just kind of on a daily basis to help boost your immune system?
Dr. Madsen: Yeah, so on a daily basis, it’s funny that you ask that too, especially with the vitamin C question, I take Vitamin C every day because I figure I am exposed to so much junk and so many different types of viruses and illnesses that I’ll do whatever. And maybe it helps; maybe it doesn’t. It’s cheap, it’s easy to do, but I do take vitamin C supplements every day.
And of course, the other thing is trying to get sleep. And that’s one thing for me, personally, that’s a challenge. Just with working night shifts, I find that when I do that, man, a couple days later, I’m really a set up for a cold. But if you’re in a situation where you can sleep on a regular basis, and not interrupt your sleep pattern, that’s going to help you to stay healthy. And certainly, just exercising. I personally exercise on a regular basis, but I think doing that keeps your immune system up and helps you to hopefully avoid some of these things.
Interviewer: So do you have any concern when you go . . . because there’s a lot of discussion nowadays about when you’re sick you should just stay home. It used to be, “Oh, I’ve never been absent a day in my life.” But now there’s a chance you might spread it to people. In the medical profession that’s not an issue, because you said you’ve had one sick day in 10 years.
Dr. Madsen: Yeah. I mean, if I tried to call in for work, it’s just not that simple.
Interviewer: They’re going to be like, “Uh, I don’t care. You need to come in to work.”
Dr. Madsen: They’re going to say, “We need you here.” I mean, reality is if I’m sick, I’m going to wear a mask. I don’t want to spread it to patients if it’s really a concern. Unfortunately, that’s a big reason people should avoid the E.R. in general. There are just so many bugs floating around there when you walk in the door.
Dr. Madsen: That’s why a big thing I always try and talk about is what you can do to avoid the E.R. But certainly anyone who had any immune system compromiser would be a set up for an infection. I’m wearing a mask in that room if I’m even a little sick.
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8 Healthy Secrets That Keep Doctors, Nurses from Getting Sick
How are doctors and nurses not constantly sick? They come in contact with sick people on a daily basis, and yet they don’t catch every cold or flu. What’s their secret?
It turns out there are a number of ways health professionals avoid catching a cold. Whether by boosting their immunity or escaping germs, the pros know how to survive cold and flu season.
The worst of the flu season is behind us, but springtime colds continue to circulate throughout the country. A healthy person can overcome a typical cold in about seven days, but it can take longer for anyone with an asbestos-related disease. An average cold can easily turn into pneumonia for people with pulmonary disease.
In addition to the following tips from health professionals, don’t forget to take good care of your health by eating well, drinking lots of water and getting plenty of sleep.
Skip the Niceties
It may be socially customary to shake hands when greeting someone, but if they’re sick, it’s a surefire way to catch the virus they’re carrying.
“Doctors tend to be very cautious about hand shaking,” says Dr. Terri Remy, medical director of Primary Care Alexandria in Virginia. If someone is sick, don’t shake their hand or give them a hug. Avoid any close contact. If you do happen to touch someone with a cold, wash your hands immediately and take extra care of your health to keep your immune system in tip-top shape.
Think About Gut Health
Approximately 70 percent of your immune system resides in your gastrointestinal tract.
This means your gut health is important to immune function. Taking probiotic supplements, eating low-sugar yogurt and drinking kombucha (a fermented tea that contains probiotics) will balance out good bacteria in your gut.
Eating a healthy diet low in sugar and fat and high in whole foods like vegetables and fruits will maintain digestive health. Avoid processed foods and limit alcohol consumption. Take a quality multivitamin and make sure it contains zinc and vitamin C because these chemicals can reduce the duration of colds.
If Someone Touched It, Clean It!
The common cold is caused by viruses, primarily rhinoviruses, which can survive on surfaces for up to 48 hours. Cleaning surfaces regularly with disinfecting wipes will limit the spread of viruses.
Make sure to clean anything someone may have touched in the home or office, such as cell phones, doorknobs, light switches, appliances, countertops, faucets, coffeemakers, water fountains, keyboards and printers.
Sing “Happy Birthday”
It takes approximately 20 seconds of scrubbing with soap and water to fully disinfect your hands.
Rather than counting to 20, sing “Happy Birthday” twice while washing your hands to ensure you’ve scrubbed long enough. Make sure to clean under your nails and turn the faucet off while you wash to save water.The importance of washing your hands frequently cannot be understated. Doctors and nurses vigorously wash their hands after interacting with each patient.
Watch Your Hands
Even if you’ve cleaned every surface imaginable and sang “Happy Birthday” twice while washing your hands, remain mindful of what your hands touch — especially your face.
If your hands are harboring germs and you touch your mouth, nose or eyes, there’s a significant chance germs will enter your body through these orifices. Be extra careful to avoid touching surfaces widely used by the public, such as hand railings, water fountains and elevator buttons.
After public interaction, avoid nail biting, picking your teeth and wiping your eyes, nose or mouth.
Take an Exhale
When a sick person coughs or sneezes, potentially infectious droplets are propelled into the atmosphere and can travel farther than previously thought.
If you’re around someone who is sick and they cough or sneeze, don’t breathe in deep. Instead, take a long exhale as you walk away from the area. Wait a few minutes before returning to the area, giving time for the infectious droplets to settle.
Embrace the Outdoors
The air inside closed spaces recirculates, making it easier for viruses and bacteria to find a host.
“One reason we get sick when it’s colder is because we’re sharing more inside air,” says Shawn Mueller, registered nurse and director of infection prevention and control at Medstar Union Memorial Hospital. Taking yourself outdoors or opening windows during cold and flu season will reduce your exposure to viruses and bacteria. If you work in an office and cannot take your work outside or open windows, consider using an air purifier that neutralizes or kills airborne pathogens.
Opt for Gentle Exercise
Rigorous exercise can compromise the immune system for up to three days after working out.
“After moderate to intense exercise — say, running 40 to 60 minutes without stopping — there is a 72-hour window during which your body is severely distressed, and that’s a time when people are susceptible to getting sick,” says Dr. Scott Weiss, a New York-based physical therapist who treats professional athletes and Olympians.
Conversely, gentle exercise is good for immunity, so not all workouts will make you susceptible to catching colds. If you have an event or vacation coming up that you don’t want to be sick for, avoid vigorous exercise for a week or two before.
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Dodging a cold can be pretty challenging when you’re working in an office. As soon as one person starts coughing, you can usually be sure it’ll get around the office faster than a bad email chain from Steve in accounting.
If that’s not enough, continuous stress has been shown to suppress the immune system.
Related: The Men’s Health Better Man Project—2,000+ Scientific Tips and Tricks For Living a More Fulfilling Life
But that’s nothing compared with what these five doctors go up against each day.
So, how do stressed-out medical professionals who spend all day surrounded by germs avoid getting sick? We asked them to find out.
AVOID UNFORCED ERRORS
Mark S. Wolff, D.D.S., Ph.D.
Family practice dentist in Stony Brook, N.Y.; professor at New York University College of Dentistry
Sure, as a dentist, Dr. Wolff has a bit of an unfair advantage.
“I wear a mask,” he says. “But I wash my hands and use Purell a lot.”
Overdoing it with hand sanitizer can dry out your hands, but hand washing remains one of the most effective things you can do to cut your risk of catching other people’s germs.
Related: The Right Way to Wash Your Hands
Of course, he says, keeping your immunity up is as much about the things you don’t do as the things you do.
“I avoid tobacco, cigarettes, cigars, and chew as they create havoc in the immune system,” he says. “Lastly, don’t tax your liver with too much alcohol.”
GO WITH YOUR GUT
Travis Stork, M.D.
Emergency physician; author, The Lose Your Belly Diet
Diet is a key part of how Dr. Stork keeps his immune defenses up.
He advises to eat foods that are good for both you and for the trillions of beneficial bacteria that inhabit your gut, which play a huge role in supporting the immune system.
“I eat at least one probiotic food every day (think: yogurt, kefir, or sauerkraut),” Dr. Stork says. “I also focus on foods with lots of fiber and nutrients, like fruits and veggies—your gut bacteria love them raw.”
Dr. Stork enjoys whole grains, but avoids refined grains like white bread and pasta, he says. “Too many simple carbs and my immune system craps out.”
Related: The Healthiest Carbs You Can Eat
TAKE A LOAD OFF
Adnan Nasir, M.D., Ph.D.
Dermatologist in Raleigh, N.C.
A lot of people don’t realize that stress can have a significant effect on lowering your defenses. And this is an area Dr. Nasir views as crucial in keeping his forcefield humming along.
“I believe that stress shared is stress halved,” he says, advising that you talk about your problems with friends and colleagues.
Related: 19 Ways to Live a Stress-Free Life
“It helps me to have supportive colleagues who can relate to the day-to-day demands of medicine,” he says.
DON’T LOSE YOURSELF
Prediman Krishan Shah, M.D.
Director, Oppenheimer Atherosclerosis Research Center at Cedars Sinai Medical Center
A 2013 study found that people who derived joy from a deeper sense of purpose exhibited more robust immune systems than those who relied on material pursuits to make them happy.
“This is what helps me keep my immune defenses strong,” Dr. Shah says, citing a genuine love for his craft.
When he succeeds in helping a patient get well and recover, that’s a significant source of positive reinforcement, he says.
GIVE YOUR BODY WHAT IT NEEDS
Ted Epperly, M.D.
President and CEO, Family Medicine Residency of Idaho
One of Dr. Epperly’s key strategies for avoiding illness is keeping up with his regular workouts. “Exercise is important to my immune system and my mental health,” he says.
Of course, there’s a line to be toed—overtraining can have the reverse effect when it comes to immunity—which is why Dr. Epperly places just as much emphasis on rest as he does on pumping iron.
“It is important for me that I try and get at least seven hours of sleep per night,” he says.
Dr. Epperly also believes that a good sense of humor can go a long way: “It helps me keep things in perspective.”
Why doctors don’t take sick leave
Concern about letting down colleagues
Keir Shiels, a paediatric registrar at Queen’s Hospital, Romford, says that he has worked while ill to avoid making colleagues’ lives more difficult. “When you ring in an hour before work, and nobody is there to cover your shift and you know they will have to find someone at short notice, it’s a pain for everyone, and so you think twice about taking sick leave,” he says. He believes that doctors who are starting out in their careers are particularly prone to viewing being off sick “as some sort of moral failure and that you’re letting your colleagues down.”
Clare Gerada, medical director of the Practitioner Health Programme, a health service aimed specifically at doctors,2 says that the feeling of letting people down applies to patients as well as colleagues. “If I was sick now, how would I leave a morning surgery when 25 patients are there to see me and there is nobody to cover you?”
Hopcroft says that doctors may see themselves as being difficult to replace at short notice. “Doctors often have very specific roles: replacing a cardiac surgeon isn’t actually as easy as replacing a staff nurse and so may obviously impact on the threshold of that person to take time off sick,” he says.
Self employed GPs must also consider the practical aspects of taking time off sick, he adds. “Being self employed, and working in relatively small teams with appointments booked ahead, being off has a significant impact on our immediate colleagues,” he says. “There are also the financial and logistical implications of finding locums, too, all of which means we try to avoid being off sick when we can.”
For some doctors, not taking time off sick is simply because they enjoy their role so much they would prefer to be at work, says Hallstrom. “Doctors are highly motivated in their work and highly rewarded emotionally,” he says. “It’s a way of life.”
With cold and flu season in full bloom, many of us are now dragging our coughing, sniffling asses to the doctor for recommendations on how to get better. But of course, doctors, being human beings, are also susceptible to sickness, perhaps especially so since they have to deal with infected people and their bacterial leftovers all day long.
It raises the question, since we turn to doctors for help getting better, where do the doctors themselves turn? To find out, I asked an assortment of doctors of varying specialties how they treat themselves when they come down with the sickness.
Ian Nelligan, primary care physician: I’m actually sick right now. My first and foremost go-to is to not infect others, so I called into meetings today instead of going in person. I did see one patient today, who absolutely had to be seen, but I try not to spread it around. Hand hygiene, coughing into my sleeve, coughing into my elbow — those are tricks to avoid the spread. By hand hygiene, I mean washing my hands frequently, before and after touching anything, and then wiping down surfaces I’m interacting with and trying to limit others’ exposure to that. Then of course, always get a flu shot, which I did as soon as possible.
Beyond prevention, the treatment for the common cold is symptomatic, so you treat whatever symptoms are the most bothersome to you at that time. Kind of the baseline for all common colds, regardless of your symptoms, is hydration, hydration, hydration and lots of rest. I like hot water and lemon, which has a little vitamin C and is soothing for a sore throat.
I’m a big fan of vitamin C and zinc. Those are two supplements that boost the immune system. There’s not a lot of medical evidence about it, but…
From a symptomatic approach, as I mentioned, find a cocktail of over-the-counter medications that treat whatever symptoms are bothering you the most. If that’s a cough, use a cough suppressant. If your stuffy, runny nose is bothering you, use a decongestant, etc.
Robert McLean, rheumatologist and president of the American College of Physicians: When I feel a viral illness coming on — and this would be typically a respiratory tract virus — I do several specific things to make sure my body is strong enough to fight it off efficiently:
- Ensure that I’m as well-hydrated as possible by drinking lots of fluids in the form of water — at least six to eight large, 16-ounce glasses per day.
- Ensure that I’m getting enough sleep and force myself to go to bed at least one or two hours earlier than normal.
- Treat myself with simple over-the-counter medications for symptom relief of achiness — a couple of ibuprofen or naproxen two or three times per day — or decongestants for nasal or sinus congestion.
To decrease the risk of getting others sick, I more frequently wash my hands, have no intimate contact and avoid the sharing of drinking glasses or eating utensils.
Anthony Rossi, dermatologist: I believe in prevention, so that’s first and foremost. I get the flu vaccine every year. Regular sleep cycles and exercise also help to maintain a healthy immune system — there’s even some data to show that athletes mount a more specific immune response after vaccination.
If I do get a viral syndrome, like the common cold, I turn to vitamin C and zinc. There have been many studies on this, and while they may not be perfect, there’s evidence that an increase in vitamin C intake can shorten the duration. This most recent study published shows, “Regarding vitamin C, regular supplementation (1 to 2 g/day) has shown that vitamin C reduces the duration (in adults by 8 percent, in children by 14 percent) and the severity of . Considering zinc, the supplementation may shorten the duration of colds by approximately 33 percent.”
Jamin Brahmbhatt, urologist: I rarely take days off — I think last year was the first time I took a few days off after I got the flu. I’ve even come in barely able to walk after running a half marathon. Taking an unscheduled day off for me is difficult: I usually have six or seven surgeries and more than 20 appointments scheduled in the office on any given day, so me taking a day off can inconvenience a lot of others.
I can manage the common cold with medications. If I have a cough, I wear a facemask. I wash my hands more than usual, but I already wash more than the average Joe. I also go for fist bumps, rather than handshakes. If I have the flu, like I did last year, I stay home. When it comes to the flu, it’s best to stay away from others to avoid spreading the virus. My job is to help patients get better, not get them sicker.
Jeaneatte Raymond, psychologist: I give myself permission to “be sick,” and that means easing up on the daily routine. For example, skip the morning exercise routine, slow down and remove things from the “to-do” list that can wait. That in itself is very relieving, because it removes a layer of stress that would otherwise make you more sick, because stress compromises the immune system.
I also try to listen to my body more keenly and let it guide me — if a headache and sore throat make me feel delicate and frail, I use a blanket for comfort and often a heating pad with a massage function. When I’m unsteady on my feet as I get out of bed, I know I have to call clients and cancel appointments for the day. As soon as that’s done, it’s like a huge weight lifted off of me, and I can take care of my body without guilt.
Alex Klotz, doctor of physics: Disclaimer: I’m not the “real” kind of doctor, but when I get a cold, I know it’s already too late to do anything to get rid of it, so I basically have to strap in for one or two weeks of feeling like crap. I can try to mitigate how crappy I feel by staying hydrated, trying to get a good night’s sleep, taking throat lozenges to numb the pain and so on, but mainly it’s just having the mindset that I have to deal with the symptoms until my body fully recovers.
Generally, as I’ve gotten older from teens to 20s to 30s, the common cold has gradually become more debilitating. When I was younger and really into lifting weights, I’d try to lift the sickness away as the first sign of an oncoming cold, but that was probably dumb. Interestingly, my father, who’s the “real” kind of doctor, gets sick maybe once every 10 years, if that.
Matthew Zaremsky, doctor of mathematics: When I’m sick, I just ingest as much water and vitamin C as I can and hope that helps. But honestly, these days, with two little kids, I’m just kind of sick all the time and don’t have the time or energy to care. Sorry, that answer had nothing to do with being a math professor, but I can’t really think of a math-related solution to being sick… Actually, strike that. In mathematical research, if you can manage to reduce a problem to a different problem that already has a solution, then you consider your work to be done. So if you get sick, just recall the last time you were sick, you eventually got better, and so mathematically speaking, you’re fine!
Ian Lecklitner is a staff writer at MEL Magazine. He mostly writes about everyone’s favorite things: Sex, drugs and food.
In case you’ve somehow managed to miss the infectious sneezing on your commute, or the constant coughing in work, flu season is officially here.
Which, of course, means that most of us will spend the next couple of months dodging the sniffles at every turn.
In spite of our best efforts, however, it’s pretty much inevitable that you’re going to be struck down at some point this winter.
So how do you give yourself a fighting chance? Well, try to follow the rules doctors live by.
The easiest way to catch a cold or flu is obviously when it’s passed on by touch so we need to be extra vigilant about washing our hands.
This includes washing them properly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Harvard Medical School advises that along with your hands that you ensure to clean under your nails and rinse under running water. It also advises that you dry your hands thoroughly.
It is also recommended to carry a hand sanitizer with you when you’re out and about.
Catch up on shut-eye
A demanding work schedule and the festive season means that we have a tendency to burn the candle at both ends at this time of year.
Not getting enough sleep, however, can actually weaken your immune system. The Mayo Clinic reports that people who don’t get quality sleep are more likely to get sick after being exposed to a virus.
Boost your vitamin take
Whether or not you’re a fan of supplements you need to increase your vitamin intake in winter to help to fight off infection.
We’ve all know that vitamin C can boost our immune system but ironically the one vitamin that we can’t easily get in winter is the one we need to fight colds. Research has shown a link between low levels of vitamin D and an increased susceptibility to infection.
The National Institute of Health recommends getting 600IU a day. Increasing your zinc intake is also recommended.
Clean your phone
According to the experts, you should clean your phone at least once a week with antibacterial wipes.
The Remedy reports: ‘We tend to think that our cell phones only accrue our own germs, but many people place their cell phones on common surfaces such as chairs or restaurant tables.’
Cut down on sugar
Too much sugar can cause inflammation by attacking the white blood cells which fight off infection.
The American Heart Foundation recommends no more than 6 teaspoons per day for women and 9 for men.