Yesterday was the first day of my summer vacation so, of course, I came down with a 100 degree fever.
This seems happens to a lot of people: we push ourselves through all manner of storm and stress without slowing down and then, BOOM, we fall apart after it’s all over. I know people who had to cancel a trip to Hawaii because of an ill-timed illness just like this.
Why does it work like that? Why do so many people get sick on their long-awaited vacation?
I’m not prone to illness (I haven’t needed to take a sick day all year), but it’s no mystery how I wore myself out this time. For a teacher in my position, the weeks before graduation are the most stressful of the year as I scramble to certify (or deny) potential graduates before they can walk across that stage. Every year there are triumphs and tears, angry parents and elated parents, and, paperwork, paperwork, paperwork.
I go through a similar cycle when writing. As I’m approaching the end of a book, I feel a rush to get those final chapters on paper. Actually, it’s a lot like graduation in that it’s such a huge turning-point, when everything has to be completed and started. It weighs so heavily on my mind that I figure as long as I can’t sleep anyway I might as well get up and do something about it.
So that brings me to right now, and, if you’d like to know, I’m still feeling miserable. Luckily, I didn’t have stomach trouble or sore throat or many of the other cold symptoms. My problem is that there seems to be no way to sit that’s comfortable, and I fluctuate between being too hot and too cold. The biggest trouble is the lethargy: I keep thinking that I should get up off the couch, but then I don’t. So I just sit there thinking it’s a fortunate coincidence that I don’t really have anywhere I need to go.
Or is that coincidence? We all know how germs are transferred, but I haven’t heard a cough in months or seen anyone so much as a sniffle. It’s summer, after all, and we’re as far from cold and flu season as we can get. So where did I pick up the germs that gave me this fever?
My guess is that I’ve had it for a while, and my immune system has been holding it at bay just well enough to deal with it later. It takes a lot of energy to battle an illness—as evidenced by the fact that I’m so freakin’ exhausted after doing absolutely nothing—so the immune system bides its time until the resources are available, like the way your computer only scans for viruses when you’re not using any other apps.
Somehow, I must have sent out a signal that it was finally okay to relax, and my system said “Great! Let’s take care of that overdue cleanup.”
When you think about it, that’s pretty amazing. All those tiny little T-cells and leucocytes and whatever other things we have to fight infection seem like they shouldn’t be that smart. After all, they don’t have brains, and we can’t make a conscious decision about using them, so you’d think their reactions would be automatic and immediate, with no alteration in their programmed behavior. And yet, they’re part of such a miraculous system that they can work in harmony with the rest of us, detecting our mood and perceived stress, biding their time while we’re busy and then swinging into high gear when we’re not.
It makes me see how amazing the human body really is… even though mine feels awful at the moment.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go drink some fluids and go back to sleep. If I’m lucky, by tomorrow I’ll actually be good for something.
Sechin Tower is a teacher, a table-top game designer, and the author of Mad Science Institute. You can read more about him and his books on SechinTower.com