Last year I spent Thanksgiving alone—I saw my parents (and my wonderful niece gave me a surprise visit) but I missed the usual Thanksgiving dinner, which consists of 40 relatives. All my aunts, uncles, cousins, and I are close—we also live in the same state. This year I hope not to miss Thanksgiving (or Christmas) but I’m not sure if it’s safe to go. I’ve barely recovered from a nasty cold that only exacerbated existing problems with my ears and nose. Like my other friends with Myasthenia Gravis (MG), Lupus, and other illnesses, I have to weigh the joys of being with loved ones against the risks of getting a cold or the flu, which can lead to relapses, hospitalization, and weeks (or months) bedridden. This leads me to today’s WEGO question as I continue blogging for National Health Blog Post Month:
- Be selective: This year I want to do something special for Christmas with my friend Carol who has lupus and just had major surgery. I’m not hosting my annual Christmas party that I throw for high school friends. My friend Carol is going to be bedridden for a long time. I know she can’t celebrate Christmas with her relatives, who live far away, so I’m going to make sure she has some kind of celebration. I can’t do both the splashy dinner party and holiday with Carol. You can’t do everything; choose what’s most important.
- Learn how to celebrate a holiday by yourself: Nobody wants to celebrate a holiday alone. Please don’t think I’m suggesting that chronically ill people lock themselves up from their family and friends. What I am saying is this: 1 in 7 people have the flu. And 1 in 4 people don’t cover their mouths when they sneeze or cough. (Even when people are asked about their health, not every guest/relative is forthcoming about things like whether they’ve recently had the flu.) The chances that a person with a compromised immune system can get sick from a holiday dinner or become hospitalized from getting “the common cold” are great. It’s taken me two weeks (that included a hospital visit) to recover from this cold. Twice last year I almost relapsed because of the flu. (Scroll down for tips on celebrating alone.)*
The Complexities of This Decision
I asked my MG group about this and seven members said they have missed holiday gatherings to protect themselves from the cold, flu, and pneumonia. Nobody wants to be alone. I love my family but I also don’t want to die. For some people with compromised immune systems, contracting the flu is a life or death issue. Two MG Warriors shared differing perspectives on staying home:
“I spend many holidays alone or wearing a mask because I have a primary immune deficiency as well as lupus and MG. Most of my family understands that I cannot fight infection, so they respect my decision to stay home. What I don’t get is when people insist on exposing others to their germs. It ends up placing the consequence of pain and suffering squarely on the shoulders of the fragile…”
“My opinion is if you work and are in places where you are exposed to germs then you should be able to be with family for the holidays…If its just that you don’t feel good or feel up to it because of how you feel then that’s a bit different. I just wish I had a family for Thanksgiving to enjoy a turkey feast. My mom is 89 and in a nursing home…I have brothers but they spend the day with their in-laws. I am divorced for the last two years…and to top it off my son goes with my ex…So my suggestion is if you have family, to make the best of it while you can…”
* 3 Tips on Celebrating Alone:
- Always have a program: Last year SOAPnet had a General Hospital marathon where they aired Thanksgiving episodes from different eras of GH. I watched the marathon after I prayed and read my Bible, which is what my family does at celebrations before eating. This year, if I stay home, I’m going to be watching Carol Burnett’s Greatest Hits on DVD. Creating an agenda gives you something to anticipate.
- Dress up a little: Last year I was in pajamas and congested, but I did shower, put on makeup, and brush my hair. And it made me feel good. Never underestimate the power of a little eyeliner.
- Cry if you have to: Let it out. It’s not normal to get an infection from a paper cut or celebrate a holiday alone. I make peace with the situation by acknowledging the absurdity of it.
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