The winter edit: Part 2

5 tips to stay well through winter

The dark nights are drawing in and the weather is turning increasingly colder. The harshness of winter fills many disabled people, myself included, with dread. So how can we best prepare ourselves for the months ahead?

We are 80% more likely to catch a cold during winter. Bearing that in mind, here are my top tips to stay well and defend yourself against those nasty winter viruses.

Click here to check out ‘Part 1’, in which I offer my tips to keep warm.

1. Stock up on supplies:
Medication –

• It’s always advisable to keep a stock of essential supplies in your home. Several factors, including adverse weather, can prevent you from getting hold of medicines at short notice.
• All my medications are on repeat prescription so that I don’t have the bother of getting hold of a GP every time I need something.
• As someone with Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy, a common cold for me can develop scarily quickly, and so I ensure there’s always a reserve of antibiotics at home should I need them.
• It’s important to go and get your Flu jab annually and, where relevant, the pneumonia vaccination. Don’t leave it too late to protect yourself from influenza – it takes two weeks from the time you’re injected for your body to build up an immunity.

Contacts –

• It’s good practice to have a List of contacts in case of an emergency. Include medical professionals (e.g. doctors, consultants, physiotherapists and hospital ward/department direct lines) so that you or your next if kin can contact them quickly should you become ill. Keep your list somewhere easy to find, such as on the fridge, and make copies!

2. Nutrition:

• I choose to take supplements including a daily multivitamin and probiotics, in order to boost my immunity. Supplements come in various forms: tablet, capsule, liquid and powder. So if you struggle to swallow pills, there’s always another option out there for you.
• I’m not a fan of water so I drink a lot of herbal teas, such as lemon and ginger, to keep me hydrated and flush out toxins. Both ingredients are naturally antibacterial while ginger also helps ease migraines, inflammation and nausea (the latter being a common side effect of antibiotics). Add some honey for sweetness and to soothe a sore throat.

• I find smoothies and soups are an easy way to get your recommended allowance of vitamins and minerals. It’s really important to eat healthily to aid your bodies defence against all those coughs and colds circulating throughout the winter months. Remember: you are what you eat!

Top foods: lemon, ginger, garlic, onion, kale, cinnamon, turmeric, honey, apple cider vinegar, grapes, natural yoghurt and chicken soup.

3. Cleanliness:

• I keep a little bottle of antibacterial hand gel in my bag (you can buy them really cheaply from most shops nowadays). I use it particularly when out and about or using public transport. It’s a simple way to prevent the spread of germs from surface to surface and person to person.
• It’s stating the obvious but do wash hands with soapy water and maintain clean surfaces within the home. It’s often difficult to prevent all members of a household becoming ill when one gets sick. But simple precautions such as this could make all the difference.
• Grab yourself a few packets of antibacterial wipes and remember to clean phones, remote controls, computer keyboards and door handles regularly. You’d be amazed how much bacteria harbours there.
• Be considerate and try to cough and sneeze into a tissue rather than the air. It’s a good idea to keep plenty of tissues in stock. Please don’t do what my Dad does and carry a snotty cotton handkerchief around with you all day – bleurgh!
• Finally, don’t forget to replace your toothbrush after you have fully recovered from an illness.

4. Physiotherapy:

• It’s beneficial to stay as active as physically possible, particularly throughout winter as immobility makes us more vulnerable to infection.
• I am completely non-ambulant and so this is a major issue for me. Immobility results in muscle decline and poor circulation, which in itself leads to further complications.
• Although I cannot exercise in a conventional fashion, I basically wriggle and move about as much as I can. For example, I flex my feet & wiggle my toes, lean back and forth and side to side in my chair. Don’t be afraid to put some music on, loosen up and just MOVE however you can, for as long as you can.
• If you are able, go swimming as this is the best exercise for those with physical disabilities.
• Remember to pay attention to your lungs! Deep breathing exercises are an essential daily requirement for me. Following the Active Cycle of Breathing Techniques (ACBT) helps to keep me as strong as I can be.

5. Avoid germs:

• I am particularly susceptible to respiratory viruses. If I go anywhere near someone with a cold, 9/10 I will catch it. As a common cold for me can quickly progress into a much more serious condition, I do my best to limit exposure to infected people.
• I avoid overcrowded spaces and public transport when I’m feeling run-down, whilst taking and shortly after a course of antibiotics as this is when my defences are the lowest.
• At times when coughs/colds are prevalent within the local community, I try to stay away from enclosed public places e.g. trains, buses, cinema, supermarket/stores, pubs, clubs etc.
• If you must go out, remain in the fresh, open air (but wrap up warm).
• I always wear a scarf when out and about. When necessary, I can use it almost like a mask, pulling it up over my face. This prevents me from inhaling and contracting airborne viruses.
• Why not add a few drops of Olbas Oil (eucalyptus) to your scarf. That way, when you do need to pull it up over your nose and mouth, you can breathe in the fresh scent and it won’t feel stuffy.

I really hope this was helpful! If so, please share this blog post so that others can benefit too.

I’d love to hear from you – what do you do to stay well throughout winter?

Lost time

I’m back- finally! As you may know I was struck down with a particularly bad lower respiratory infection during the New Year period, and was consequently ill for over a month. Until a few days ago I was unable to leave my home throughout that time. So unfortunately, 2017 has not begun how I had hoped or expected.

Anyone with muscular dystrophy will know a cold is never just a cold for us. I dread the British winters and the circulation of unavoidable viruses it brings. For me, sneezing and a sore throat inevitably and rapidly develops into a full-blown chest infection. Bring on the 24/7 NIV (non-invasive ventilator), regular nebulisation, antibiotics and inhalers.

At times I’ve had no choice but to admit defeat and blue-light it to hospital. But stubborn as I am, if I think I can cope with the resources I have within my home, that is where I choose to remain.

I have noticed over the past few years the duration of my illnesses have become increasingly prolonged. I missed the entire summer of 2015 to a chest infection which lead to pleurisy. From the end of May to the end of July, I was stuck in my living-room, sat in the armchair night and day with my trusty vent keeping me going. Several GPs and physiotherapists attended but despite their best efforts, none could offer any productive help or advice – nothing I wasn’t doing or didn’t already know.

I was exhausted mentally and physically, but despite my ongoing struggle I couldn’t help but feel guilty for putting my parents, whom I live with, through the experience. They have no choice but to watch helplessly and with desperation as their youngest child battles with her failing body. “What can I do?”, they ask. But there’s nothing they can do. I always tell them I’ll be fine, it’s just a matter of time.

Having thoroughly depressed you with that cheery and fairly pointless update, I’ll bring this particular post to a close. Now finally on the mend, I intend to resume where I left off with the blogging. ‘Oh goodie!’, I sense you cry with enthusiasm. I realise I’m more than likely rambling away to myself here but writing serves to make me feel purposeful, perhaps even contributory in some way.

January has for me been lost forever and I can’t get that time back. It’s so frustrating being unable to do… anything! Even just going out for a ride in the car is a major highlight for me right now. When all you see day after day is the same four walls from the same seat in the corner of the room, cabin fever soon sets in.

Today, seeing the first daffodils of spring starting to emerge filled me with much needed optimism. There will doubtless be future episodes of ill health to contend with. But for now I plan to recharge, re-energise and refuel. Bring it on!

Flu jab: Get yours today!

Well it’s upon us again; flu season is here. Every year my parents, brothers, carers and I have the Influenza shot which is free of charge here in the UK, courtesy of the NHS.

For as long as I can remember I’ve had the flu jab to protect myself through the harsh winter months. It’s important that not only I am vaccinated but that those closest to me are too. My immune system is much weaker than average and my condition makes it considerably more difficult to overcome respiratory infections. The common cold will hit me hard and can rapidly develop and deteriorate. It’s therefore very important that I am not unnecessarily exposed to the flu virus.

As I have aged, my declining respiratory function has become the most concerning symptom of my disability. Ullrich congenital muscular dystrophy causes muscle degeneration and scoliosis. So not only are my lungs squashed and unable to expand as they should, the muscles that make them force air in and out are slowly wasting away.

Over the years I have had to fight recurrent chest infections, several bouts of pneumonia, pleurisy and a large pneumothorax requiring a chest drain. Many long, drawn-out days have been spent in hospital trying to overcome serious complications that resulted from a simple, everyday virus.

For this reason, I implore and encourage you to go and get the flu shot. It takes no time at all and I promise you it’s completely painless. There are fables floating around that will attempt to make you believe the flu jab can give you the flu. This is not the case at all. Yes, the vaccine contains a small dose of the inactive virus which triggers antibodies, which within two weeks will guard you if and when you’re exposed.

Like all viruses, Influenza strains change annually which is why it is essential to ensure you are vaccinated every year. I visited my local pharmacy, without appointment, a few weeks ago to get mine. If you haven’t already, don’t delay, go and get yours NOW!

For more information on the Influenza vaccine visit the NHS web page here.