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Taking Time to Recover Properly

I am sometimes slightly shocked at how quickly people go back to work after they have been ill, although I really should not be shocked because I am like that myself! However, Traditional Chinese Medicine (and common sense) should make us think twice before rushing back into the fray. In Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) we speak of something called a ‘retained pathogen’; when we are ill with something like the ‘flu, bronchitis or gastroenteritis, we have been ‘invaded’ by a pathogen, i.e. by a disease-causing external agent. (Whilst related to things like viruses and bacteria, a pathogen in this sense is a somewhat broader concept, so that the pathogen can still be active even when the virus or bacteria is no longer traceable.) Getting better involves throwing off that pathogen and recovering from the damage it has done. However, if we do not allow ourselves to recover fully, the pathogen is not fully expelled and lingers within us as a ‘retained pathogen’, causing recurrent symptoms for months or even years. And indeed often we see patients with chronic health problems which seem to have started in this way.

It is tempting to blame modern life on this tendency not to recover fully, although I can’t help wondering whether a medieval peasant farmer whose crops needed bringing in, or whose cattle needed milking, or who had just noticed some rapacious Vikings heading his way, would not have responded in just the same way. Wealthy Europeans did use to resort to spas and sanatoriums to recover from serious illness or injury, but no doubt the more economically challenged did not have that luxury.

However, it seems to me that there is often a harshness in the way we treat ourselves, in the way we drive ourselves back to work, and this is combined with a sort of arrogance and unwillingness to recognise our limitations. Conversely, if we are able to acknowledge that we need to take the time to recover properly, we are acknowledging something fundamental about our nature – we are not superman or superwoman; we are a human being whose health and well-being is contingent on a variety of conditions. If we are able to acknowledge this, it is in fact not only a relief, but strangely empowering. It is a wise and kind person, in fact, who recovers properly from an illness.

And even from the economic point of view, it can be one hell of a false economy to rush back too quickly if you end up one year later with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Written by Vimalaprabha

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