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Why the 'Sniffles' Are Scary When You Have Lupus


I woke up this morning with “the sniffles” and immediately felt a sense of dread and a sinking feeling deep in my stomach. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not a drama queen germaphobe looking to create needless excitement in my life. On the contrary, I’d give anything for a little less drama and excitement, especially when it comes to my health.

You see, I’m one of the 1.5 million Americans with lupus, an autoimmune disease where your body becomes “confused” and the immune system turns on the body itself and begins to attack, well, you. To combat this, for many of us, we take powerful medications that essentially tell our immune system to “knock it the hell off!” For me, it’s involved seven years of steroids, chemotherapy and a new biologic agent delivered by IV.

All of these medications suppress the immune system to hold back the lupus, but unfortunately make me vulnerable to all sorts of infections. I have a choice. I can separate myself from the world – hide away, be like the “bubble boy,” live in fear of microscopic demons that can wreak havoc on a system so gone awry that it can’t sense friend from foe.

But that’s not me. I’m a mom, a wife, a teacher, a friend, an aunt, a daughter, a sister and a social creature. I can’t hide away and let fear rule my world. So I do the best I can. Washing my hands constantly, keeping hand sanitizer handy, avoiding sick people as best as I can. But, the inevitable happens and I get sick.

Which brings me back to this morning’s bout with “the sniffles.” Why fear a simple cold? Come on, everyone gets a few colds a year, you’re thinking. Maybe a day in bed watching “The Price is Right” and some chicken soup, a few days of feeling run down, some tissues and all’s good.

For me, “the sniffles” can quickly progress into an upper respiratory infection. Like in a few hours quickly. The usual progression means by the next morning it’s moved into my chest and within 24-48 hours the “sniffles” has now met my asthma and kicked off a new case of bronchitis. If we don’t get the antibiotics, inhalers, increased steroids and more on board, things usually progress to pneumonia within a few days. Sometimes even with the extra medications, rest, fluids and all the matzo ball soup I can get in it still means a trip to the “white coat hotel” (a.k.a. hospital) for treatment. Sometimes it means inpatient treatment for IV antibiotics and steroids and round the clock respiratory treatments.

Suddenly I think of everything I have planned for the next few weeks. Personal plans – events with my children I’ve been looking forward to that I don’t want to miss. I’ve missed so much in their young lives already due to illness. Work plans – I just started working with my new chorus. I only have so many rehearsals before my winter concert. I only have so many sick days in the year and I can’t use them all up the second month of the school year – again! One bad sickness can blow out my allotment of sick days for the year and often does.

Or, it can simply be that with the weather changing and allergens in the air my nose is responding in kind. For now I will wait, push the fluids, rest and pray that tomorrow brings a clear nose and bright new day because I just don’t have time for “the sniffles” right now. Not with lupus.

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Thinkstock photo via monkeybusinessimages.