RECOVERING FROM PROFOUND ILLNESS OR HOSPITALIZATION
Last month I wrote about my experience in contracting the H1N1 influenza virus, one that caused me to be hospitalized for 3 weeks, 2 of those weeks of which I was unconscious and intubated! At the time of this writing, around 300 deaths had been recorded in Los Angeles County that were related to the H1N1 virus. During the month of January and February, many families had to some extent, been affected by the virus which produced symptoms of body aches, fever, dry coughs, and various degrees of pneumonia. Many people with the flu were bed-ridden and unable to function in normal activities of work, school, and recreation.
Recovering from a profound illness, whether you were hospitalized or at home, require a strategy, discipline, and patience. I had spent the last 8 weeks using the following plan to progressively pace my return to normal daily activities of work, recreation, and family responsibilities.
Week 1-2: Nutritional emphasis, Range of Motion, and Restoring Breathing
Being hospitalized or being in bed for prolonged periods is hard on the body. Periods of inactivity typically causes the spine to become rigid and muscles to atrophy. Physical activities during the first few weeks are very limited, which means most of the recovery process will come from restoring nutrients lost during the period of illness. Boosting multi-vitamins, probiotics, antioxidants, re-hydration, and increasing caloric intake and protein intake are essential in this phase. Most of the physical activities during the first few weeks of recovery involve a daily regimen of stretching and restoring spinal range of motion in all directions with an emphasis on trunk extension and stabilization. Breathing exercises should also be performed multiple times a day in order to return elasticity into the lungs.
Week 2-3: Circulation, balance, and waking up dormant muscles
Low levels of activity include walking, increased time to stretch, and even light weight-lifting are helpful in restoring muscle and function. In addition, all nutritional and range of motion exercises should be continued from weeks 1 and 2 while physical activities are gradually increased in order to exercise the cardiovascular system. Learning how to balance and perceive body position in space is called proprioception. Supervision and guidance by a Physical Therapist or Athletic Trainer can be helpful in restoring proprioception during this phase.
Week 3-4 and beyond: Restore strength and function to body parts
Depending on ability and resources, a supervised return to exercise is crucial for the next several weeks or even months, in order to fully recover from prolonged periods of inactivity or illness. Using your bodyweight as resistance and combining proprioceptive exercises will help to rapidly restore normal range of motion and return to activity.
The above guide has been helpful in setting a pace for my recovery to normal activities. Some people may need more time to recover depending on their age, previous activity and health status prior to illness.