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Strategies to stay healthy this winter

Published December 09. 2013 08:39AM

Who likes being sick?

While I'm not a big believer in beginning an article with a ridiculous rhetorical question, I need you to remember just how miserable a relatively minor health issue like a sore throat can make your workday, how it can sap the joy out of anything you need or want to do afterwards, and how it can keep you from much-needed sleep.

You can't teach without talking and often you need to project your voice powerfully, so I especially detest sore throats. But two or three days of feeling a sting every time I need to say something sometimes even when I swallow is normally not the worst of it for me.

That's because the sore throat normally segues into the sort of nasal congestion that makes my head ache during the day, makes my muscles ache during my workouts, and keeps me from sleeping restfully.

Is there anything worse than not being able to breathe through your nose at night when you're in desperate need of sleep? (Including a columnist who resorts to a second ridiculous rhetorical question in an article's introduction.)

But please acknowledge my liberal use of the word normally.

The battle that I waged less than two weeks ago was far from normal. The sore throat ended, to steal from Eliot, not with a bang but a whimper. Since you'd probably like your next sore throat to similarly wimp out, here's the story.

Two Sundays ago, I woke just before midnight with such a sore throat that I knew it signaled something serious. And it couldn't have come at a worse time.

Monday was the first day of Parent/Teacher conferences, which adds three hours to my typical workday. Furthermore, I like to use Thanksgiving vacation to ride hard on four successive days, something that certainly wasn't happening if the sickness eventually produced significant sinus congestion or god forbid congestion in my lungs.

Because I could tell that this sore throat was for real (I don't like using any medicine unless I absolutely need to), I immediately used a vial of Oscillococcinum, a homeopathic remedy available in most health food stores designed to limit the damage done by colds and flu.

When I woke to prepare for my 5:30 workout, the sting in my throat was, as expected, still there. For Oscillococcinum to be most effective, it must be administered at the onset of the symptoms, which I did, and then again two other times at approximately six-hour intervals.

So I took my second dose, drank my two cups of decaffeinated green tea as hot as I could stand it, and got in a normal (there's that important word again) workout. During the half-day with the students, I needed to suck on sore throat lozenges, but the discomfort was minimal. I took the third vial just before lunch and then saw parents from 12:30 to 3:00 and 6:30 to 9:00.

Before bed, I decided against using another round of Oscillococcinum. I had done that in the past and it had killed the sore throat quickly, kept the congestion from my sinuses, yet produced such prodigious nasal congestion that I had created what is called the rebound effect.

Tuesday morning, I skipped my traditional pre-school workout because no afternoon conferences were scheduled for that day. It was raining by the time I left school that day and a threat of ice canceled the conferences for that night, so I rode my bike inside on a wind trainer.

I rode for 90 minutes, which was about an hour less than my scheduled outdoor ride, but definitely harder than I planned. The cancellation of the conferences allowed me to elevate my legs and take a nap afterwards, two surefire strategies to expedite recovery.

Another half day on Wednesday allowed me to skip another morning workout and get two additional hours of sleep. By the afternoon, I was ready and raring to go hard in a workout. Because of rain and knowing I wanted to ride hard and long Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday, I did, in essence, two weightlifting workouts back-to-back.

First I worked my legs, then my deltoids, and by the time I was done stretching, nearly two hours had elapsed.

Later in the week during those four aforementioned rides, I rode a total of 230 miles, did a great deal of climbing and I'm looking for a polite way to phrase this rid myself of a bucket full of phlegm. Maybe two.

All told, the sort of illness that normally makes me miserable for two or three days and hangs around in one form or another for another 10 was neutralized in no time by the combination of the Oscillococcinum, extra rest, and the restorative powers of the veritable truckload of vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals in my daily diet.

After such an episode, I often say to friends that I "dodged a bullet." But that phrase really isn't accurate.

What I've done is become attuned to the messages my body sends me, and I've learned how to act in concert with them. I share this story not to gloat, but to show that you can to do the same.

All it takes, is interest, commitment, awareness, and the willingness to experiment.

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