Getting Sick… while already sick

I have a cold. A throat-tickling, nose-dripping, eye-watering 100 degree fever scorcher of a cold that is making me feel terrible. My muscles feel like lead; whenever I move it’s as if through jello. This is on top of the usual fatigue I already have every day.

I also am getting sinus pain and headaches from this cold, which naturally turn into migraines. Imitrex tablets work unfailingly well for this type, but I hate having to use them. I mean, it’s a cold. But if my face and skull feel like they’re going to explode outward from the pressure, does it really matter?

Every Saturday, I go to a local nano-brewery and serve craft beer for four hours or so. It is a really fun job, gets me out around other adults as well as out of my own head. And the tips aren’t bad either. Last night I was asked to work a bit longer to help the new server, since the manager was going to be at a beer festival all day. I agreed.

How could I call in sick when I so often have to come late or leave early, or miss a shift altogether, because of migraine? I only work there once per week. They are already so accommodating to me. So I packed up a box of tissues, cough drops, extra cold medicine, bottled water, and hand sanitizer and went in to work a five hour shift.

Short term memory is super handy for a bartender. My memory is better than it used to be (being on Cymbalta made it much worse), but depending on pain and what meds I have had that day, I can sometimes have a hard time remembering the second or third things customers say when they place orders. Last night I definitely couldn’t hold on to more than three beer types at a time and our “flights” (a series of sample sized beers) are four types. So I was constantly having to ask, “and what was the other one you said?” It didn’t help that my hearing seemed to have been affected by the cold as well.

Only one patron seemed irritated by my spaciness; the rest were sympathetic, and I was asked a couple of times if I had a headache. “No, actually,” I would respond, “I have a bad cold and some sinus pain though.” And I would feel an irritating prick of shame for being so illness-oriented in my small talk; always having something wrong with me. If it’s not migraine, it seems like it’s a cold or stomach flu, or something else. It adds insult to injury.

There’s also the impact of going to work while sick in the first place. I don’t feel I can call off for a cold because I call off often enough for my primary illness. But as careful as I was, I may have been contagious. Another annoying thing about viruses on top of chronic illness is that it is difficult to determine what symptoms are from what. Is a new med causing that troubling symptom, or a virus? Is a migraine coming on, or is it part of the cold? And colds and other mild illnesses can help trigger migraines anyway, causing a muddy symptom soup.

Finally a very important thing to consider is that many cold and flu medications contain ingredients that can contraindicate or double up on those for migraine. Most multi-symptom cold formulas contain acetaminophen, the common over the counter ingredient in Tylenol. It also is a component of Excedrin, as well as combination prescription drugs like Norco, Percocet, and Fioricet. Taking too much acetaminophen causes liver toxicity. Also, most cough syrups (DM type), decongestants (Sudafed), and antihistamines (Benadryl) also affect the brain’s serotonin similarly to the ways triptans, ergots, and antidepressants do. The closest I ever got to Serotonin Syndrome was because of taking DayQuil and NyQuil with my migraine and depression preventatives as well as abortive migraine drugs. So it is very important to keep a close eye on the drug information labels on your cold medicine, and when sick it can be even harder to remember and keep track of ingredient lists and dosage timing.

In short, we already deal with being sick enough. Doesn’t it seem like we should just get a break from all the other illnesses?

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Migraine.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

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