Flu season is here. Cue excessive hand-washing, wearing masks in public, and getting peculiar looks from strangers. For example, I was recently standing in line at the pharmacy to find out the requirements for getting a flu shot. This was new territory for me; my doctor hadn't received the medicine yet at the time of my last visit, but he wanted me to get the shot as soon as possible.
Although it was technically autumn and flu season had officially begun, it was still 90 degrees Fahrenheit in the Texas heat, and I was sweating my eyeballs out while wearing a bright, yellow hospital mask. A very inquisitive woman began staring at me with a look of confusion mixed with traces of fear, as I am almost completely certain she thought I was highly contagious.
As she attempted to nonchalantly back away from me while simultaneously trying to avoid making direct eye contact, I smiled and said, “It's not you; it's me. I'm trying to avoid the flu.” The classic break-up line. Only in this instance, I was actually being honest, it wasn't her, it was 100 percent me. I chuckled and went on about my mission without thinking anything of it -- something that I would not have been able to do so easily a few years ago.
Having CF means that we are more susceptible to germs that make even the healthiest person sick. And with mask-wearing season in full swing, I've (finally) worked up the courage to actually tell those around me what I need from them when it feels like stepping into a petri dish of germs every time I leave my house.
I haven't always been as outspoken about my needs and advocated for myself during flu season, but as I have gotten older, I've realized that you can't hold people accountable to expectations that they aren't aware of.
So, without further ado, here are my requests for friends and family this season!
- Please wash your hands. Yes, we were all taught to wash our hands after using the toilet, and that is a habit that I sincerely hope you have carried into adulthood. But during this season, hand-washing more than a few times a day can prevent so many illnesses from spreading. A good way to know you've washed them for long enough? Sing the “Happy Birthday to You” song to yourself twice.
- Please let me know if you are sick. I realize that we don't always know if we are incubating contagious germs, but if you suspect that something fishy is going on in your sinuses or chest cavity, please let me know! A cold or flu for you could spell a 4-week long hospitalization for me, which is filled with strong IV antibiotics and other challenges.
- Please don't be offended if I don't shake your hand or hug you if I see you at church or the grocery store. I saw a demonstration once on how many germs there are on the human hand at any given time, and to be frank, I'd like to keep my germs to myself and vice versa. My distance isn't intended to hurt your feelings -- it is merely another attempt to protect my vulnerable lungs.
- Please understand that the mask I wear is to protect my lungs and isn't meant to frighten you. I know that people who don't know me may be understandably apprehensive when they see me out and about in a mask. But if you do know me, please know that I don't intend to scare you off. You can still come and say, “Hi!” I'm wearing the mask because airborne germs are a real thing and wearing a mask is the best way for me to keep my lungs as healthy as possible!
- Please get a flu shot. I have young nieces and nephews, so I explained to my sister that I couldn't see her kids until flu season was over unless they got their flu shots. She wholeheartedly agreed, and the kids got their shots! I am at an increased risk for catching the flu, so it isn't just me who has to have the flu shot -- my family has to get one as well. Although this can be an uncomfortable conversation to have, it is absolutely necessary!
Thank you in advance for being so understanding and sympathetic to my needs during this time of the year. As I said before, I promise you -- it isn't you, it's me. I want to do everything in my power to help my lungs perform the very best they can, given the fact they are at an increased risk for rowdy infections. Now, everyone, let the disinfecting begin!
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