What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
Back in 2004, when I was an uninsured but reasonably healthy 26-year-old smoker living and working in Manhattan, I temped at various non-profits around the city. Uptown, downtown...wherever my assignments carried me, that was where I went.
During the course of all my temping, I began to notice something peculiar and alarming. As the warm weather turned cooler, and cold and flu season got into full swing, people around me were coming into work sick. I don’t mean a sniffle, a little sore throat, or a slightly rumbly tummy. They came in SICK - hacking, wheezing, tearing, drippy-nosed, and/or constantly in the restrooms.
Now, that would be all well and good if the folks in question hadn’t been a) seriously contagious, and b) permanent employees with FULL benefits, including health insurance and PAID sick days. As a per diem temp, I only was paid for days I worked, so a day out of the office sick equalled a day without pay. Trapped in close-quarter offices, for long hours, with these hacky snotty drippy extras from the set of The Walking Dead, I was a sitting duck.
Welp, I’ve never been particularly good at being anybody’s sitting damn duck, so I did what I always do in these situations - RESEARCH! As always, the internet delivered. I learned that some of my best weapons in my war against Seasonal Contagion were homeopathic, natural, easy to find, and not all that expensive. Behold, my short sheet strategy for staying healthy during Sniffle Season:
1. An ounce of prevention is worth a shit ton of cure. The best way to stay healthy is….to not get sick! (Shocking, I know…) The best way to do that? Get plenty of rest, wash your hands often and try not to touch your face, eat a balanced and nourishing diet, drink lots of water, ease up on your caffeine/alcohol, find healthy ways to manage your stress, spray and wipe non-porous common surfaces (doorknobs, elevator buttons, bannisters, toilet flush handles, telephones, and so forth) with Lysol - all of that.*
More important than that, though? Load up on Vitamin C. I mean, if you are gonna be around sick people - or kids in any state of health - LOAD. UP. Get 1500% of your RDA until the sniffling dies down, and 750% of it thereafter. The good thing about Vitamin C is that your body gets rid of whatever you don’t need.
I recommend Trader Joe’s Oranges And C. Chewable, delicious wafers of health and ick prevention, $6. Zinc and VItamin B are good, too, so get them. A caveat: if you are loading up on Vitamin C, especially if it is derived from calcium ascorbate, drink at least 80 ounces of water a day. Too much Vitamin C can cause bladder stones. You know what you don’t want? Bladder stones.I also recommend at least 2 cups of green tea, which helps break down urine chemically and helps keep mineral deposits from forming. Bladder stones are EXTREMELY painful to pass.
2. Feeling something coming on? Don’t you let it! To prevent a cold from settling in, right when you feel the first signs of it (tickle or itch in your throat, sometimes cough, general malaise, etc.) take a healthy piece of fresh ginger a bit larger than your thumb, peel it or just chop if you can't peel, and drop it in a pot of boiling water (about 2 cups). To this mix add about 1/2 cup of chopped scallions and about three whole sticks of cinnamon.
Boil for fifteen minutes and let steep and cool for another 15. Strain out the food bits. When it's cool enough to drink, knock it back. Don't sweeten it, don’t ice it, just gulp it. It’s medicine, not delicious. Do this optimally the minute you start feeling sick, but definitely at least once before you go to bed in a 24 hour period. Wrap yourself up in warm sleep clothes and blankets, and hop on into bed. Make more tea in the morning, and take a good vitamin supplement with your Vitamin C.
3. Got sick anyway, huh? It’s okay. We’ll fix you right up. If all of your due diligence and effort fails, and you get sick anyway, or if your cold moves down from your head (sneezing, nasal congestion, mild fever) into your chest (coughing, sputum, higher fever), OR if it’s not a cold at all but the flu (AAAAAAAGGGGGGGH!) -- a good way to a nurture your immune system and heal is with a li’l something I call Shafiqah’s Mystical Magical Garlic Cure.
To make it, you'll need at least 8 cloves of fresh garlic, at least half a white or yellow onion (red doesn't seem to work with this, don't know why yet), and 1/4 cup white vinegar OR the same amount of lime juice. I also add other things, like celery, parsley or cilantro, and salt and pepper to taste, but the garlic-onion-acid base is what really seems to be key.
Mince your garlic, dice your onion and let them marinate in the vinegar or lime juice in a covered non-reactive bowl at room temperature for 30 minutes. Add optional ingredients (salt, pepper, celery, parsley, cilantro, avocado, tomato, whatever) after the initial marination and eat half in the morning. Since this is all pretty intense in concentration, it's a good idea to have it with a nice cup of hot green tea.
Refrigerate the remaining half, and eat it at night before bed. Give it at least an hour to digest ESPECIALLY if you get reflux! If I have the flu, I combine the garlic cure with lots of green tea, clear soups, rest, and Vitamin C.
A caveat: if you're going to do the garlic cure, CLEAR YOUR SOCIAL CALENDAR. I usually take chlorophyll a day before and continue with it until the garlic is out of my system but you will smell like garlic. I am not even playing. There's no way around it. The good thing is you're sick, so you're prolly not out and about and things. Also, if you have the flu and it does not respond within 24 hours or worsens, see a doctor if you can. It might be serious.
4. Don’t be intimidated by alternative medicine. Most of us have heard of the preventative health benefits of things like echinacea and goldenseal, but there’s a whoooooole world of other medicine out there. I happen to be a huge fan of and advocate for Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM). I have an acupuncturist and naturopathic doctor who is trained in TCM, and about a decade of self-instruction (RESEARCH!).
A GREAT book for brand newbies is Letha Hadady’s “Asian Health Secrets.” It’s not the best or most informative source for info on TCM, but it is accessible and engaging, and a good place to start. A caveat: the best way to use TCM is with a TCM specialist. Before I started seeing my acupuncturist, I just sat and had a talk with him about what I wanted to fix. And it was free. Consultations aren’t always free, but they’re often reasonably priced, so. Get one.
5. There’s nothing wrong with the pharmacy, so if you wanna just go and grab yourself some QuillTussin? No judgment. As far as I’m concerned, traditional and alternative medicines can hang out in your house, and your body -- provided nothing is contraindicated for anything else. Also, if you’re insured, get your doctor’s visits in, and whether you are insured or not? If you feel really sick, go to the ER. It might save your life; take it from a swine flu survivor.
That’s how I do it. I won’t say I never get sick, but it’s a much less common occurrence than it was before I started taking care of myself this way, and it’s usually a hell of alot less severe than the folks around me. It’s gonna be a looooong cold and flu season, so take care of yourselves out there.
*DISCLAIMER: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.