Thought Leadership

Illness for dummies

By Colin Walls

I am not very good at being unwell. You might say that getting sick does not take any skills – it just happens to you. There is only the possibility of having skills to to avoid it. However, some people seem to be good at handling the situation when they find themselves sick. They cheerfully take to their beds, as if it is just the place they would always rather be. I equate extended periods of time in bed with backache and all-round discomfort. These diseaseophiles seem to just know what to do and have all the necessary pharmaceuticals at their fingertips and/or have a rich library of home remedies involving lemon, ginger and possibly brandy.

My lack of ability to handle being sick is ultimately a blessing, as it comes about through lack of experience – I rarely seem to be unwell. I get colds and suchlike, but generally carry on regardless. I am not used to having plans disrupted by some annoying bug…

About 2 weeks ago, I retuned home from a business trip. I was weary, but nothing worse – traveling is always tiring and I think it gets to me more nowadays. After a couple of days, I started to exhibit some cold symptoms and thought nothing of it. But I rapidly became worse with a high temperature and stiff joints. It looked like I had contracted ‘flu, so I did a little research. Many people say that they have ‘flu when it is just a bad cold; the diseases are quite different and there are various ways to differentiate. One factor is duration: a cold is normally gone in a week or so; ‘flu always takes more than a week and can debilitate the patient for up to 3 weeks. I am very careful with online health research, but trust the NHS website – it is in their interest to keep us well-informed so that we do not bother doctors unnecessarily.

At the time of writing, I have the impression that I am on the mend – the end seems to be in sight. It has been well over 20 years since I was last this sick. As I work from my home office, I have not taken any time off sick per se, but my productivity is not great. Apart from being shivery and having all the head-cold symptoms [lots of nose running and a very disruptive cough], I feel as if something has gone wrong with the pleasure centers in my brain. In fact, I seem to have lost my sense of smell, which affects my sense of taste. The result of this is my enjoyment of food and drink is very limited. As a “foodie” this is a bit of a shock. Coffee just does not taste nice. I am a big tea drinker, but that does not provide the usual comfort. Beer, wine and chocolate – some of my favorite things in the world – hold no appeal.

There is a physical toll from being sick, of course. It will take me a week or two to get back to full strength, I expect. I have been wondering about the mental/emotional impact. We lead a very busy lifestyle, the disruption of which disconcerts me. Lately I have needed to cancel 3 trips to see movies, 2 theatre visits and a couple of social meals. Also, I was due to give a talk at a camera club this week, but that needed to be cancelled; they were understanding, but I felt bad about it. We are lucky enough to have quite a large house. This means that I can relieve my wife of the necessity of putting up with my very disturbed nights [long paroxysms of coughing, leaving little time for sleep, waking up feeling sweaty and wretched] by sleeping elsewhere and not having to resort to a sofa. All of this is getting me down. Perhaps I’ll need some therapy when this has passed.

I am thinking of marketing a range of symptom-reducing pharmaceuticals under the brand “Just Make It Stop!” They will sell, believe me.

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This article first appeared on the Siemens Digital Industries Software blog at