Sunday, December 12, 2010

How Close Do You Get?

It's the start of cold, flu, sniffle, cough, wheeze, drip season. We may be stocking up on echinacea and Sambucol and neti pots. At the first sign of a throat tickle we may start gargling with salt water. Nasal congestion may drive us to boil water seasoned with eucalyptis drops, cover the rising steam and our heads with a towel, and breathe in the pungent fumes. We may even have a few containers of hand sanitizer displayed around the house to be used after touching...well, anything.

Why such precautions? Because we may live with a partner whose immune system is compromised. Sometime the compromise is so severe, that the partner may barely have a white blood cell left to combat infection. Or the ill partner may already be dealing with complicated symptoms, ones that don't signify immune system danger, but are strong enough that a cold, on top of the other condition, could push him over the edge

So, when you or your sweetie has some form of chronic condition, and the well partner comes down with a cold, what do you do? Do you avoid each other for the duration of the cold? Does the cold-holder stay at a friend's house? Do you talk, but not touch?

I remember one winter when my pain condition was on an unstoppable wild ride, and Richard came down with a hacking, dripping cold. Having Richard read to me or stroke my hair or hold me was just about the only source of solace I had during those dark days and nights. But the thought of coming down with the flu, on top of daily pain, was just too much to risk. So we set up a buffer zone between us. We agreed that the bedroom was mine alone, and that we would not be in the same room at the same time.

Two days of this isolation did little for his cold but served mostly to shroud me in deeper melancholy than I was used to. Not only did I cry over my physical pain, but I felt such an encompassing sense of loneliness. My pain was augmented by gloom, and I had lost my best buddy and comforter. And Richard was also suffering. It broke his heart to see me so bereft, and he had lost his main caretaking job -- one of the few things he could actually do to soften my pain.

We decided that hugging was more important, and more powerful, than bacteria. We crossed the buffer zone and held each other. I didn't get sick, and chances are, the comforting contact was more healing and preventative than gallons of antibacterial disinfectant.

What do you do when the well partner comes down with a cold? or flu? Do you take any precautions? Do you keep apart? Do you carry on as usual?


Hayzell said...

Just this week I got the most horrible cold and struggled with making sure my hubby didn't get it. We agreed that hugging was okay but no kissing on the lips. Instead he kissed the back of my neck. We also used a lot of anti-bacterial soap and I tried not to sneeze in his direction. I think you're right about how important intimacy is for well-being. Support is more than words: it's hugs and physical touch too.

Baffled said...

We've already had two rounds of colds go through my house. I'm the one with CFS.

The first cold came in with hubby. He doesn't usually get sick and he got a doozy. We never kiss on the lips but touching is ok and kissing cheaks, necks etc is ok. Everyone washes hands. He was banned from using my computer keyboard and we slept in different bedrooms. I also use a different phone from him. I was shocked when I didn't get sick.

The second cold came in with me after a visit to the local library. The only thing I can think of is that someone that was sick must have handled a book or movie that I picked up. I got horribly sick very quickly. Now, two weeks later I am still on antibiotics, still coughing and still have lung congestion. Again I didn't kiss hubby on the lips but other touching is ok. We did share the bed this time around. He is still fine.

I am trying to be much more conscienctious about washing my hands before I touch food or my face. I don't go out of the house often so I can't believe I managed to pick up a cold that wasn't transmitted via a family member.

Bad Caregiver said...

If I'm sick, I'm not allowed anywhere near him except to bring him food. I'm also not allowed near him if I know I've been exposed to someone who's sick.

Patrick@Caregivingly Yours said...

When our daughter was a pre-schooler and Patti's MS meds involved immune suppressants this question was dramatic. Hugging our daughter put her at risk. We took a best of possible worlds approach and Patti would simply have to stay with her parents every other month to enable her to resist and rebuild her system.

Caregivingly Yours, Patrick

Barbara Kivowitz said...

How interesting all your responses are. This is an issue (and part of the couple illness experience)that rarely gets talked about. Yet I think it is one of the big things couples wrestle with. ow to find a way to be close when the well partner comes down with a contagious bug. I appreciate hearing all your solutions.