Helping Others Understand the Stress of Having an Acute Illness While Chronically Ill

Helping Others Understand the Stress of Having an Acute Illness While Chronically Ill

recharged and rewired,brittany foster

It might be just allergies.

It’s probably just a cold.

It might be just a little bug. 

For those who don’t battle chronic illness every day, it’s hard to imagine what an acute illness actually does to those who are chronically ill. I never will know what it is like to have symptoms of a cold, take some Mucinex for a few days, and be done with it. I don’t know what it’s like to have a “little bug,” get nauseous a few times, take an anti-nausea medication and go about my day. I can’t imagine what it’s like to continue with my daily routines with a headache, take Tylenol, and wait for it to pass. For my entire life, all I have known is that acute illness takes a toll on my physical health and leaves me running on empty.

With PH, it is so important to recognize when your body is under more physical stress. Whether it is abnormal tightness in your chest, more fatigue, nausea, light-headedness, low blood pressure, or headaches, these are signs that your body is warning you. For me, what started out yesterday as cold symptoms during the day quickly turned into a deep cough throughout the night, followed by more coughing and tightness this morning. After being evaluated by my pulmonologist, I left with antibiotics and steroids for bronchitis. Our acute illnesses can, unfortunately, progress rapidly. It’s so important to be able to recognize when your body is experiencing different symptoms or if they are more than what is considered your version of normal.

Why do you go to the doctor so much?

It’s not always an emergency.

Why do you make a big deal out of something so simple?

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has heard these remarks. Of course, upon hearing someone say this to you, it might make you feel extremely upset. You may feel invalidated and misunderstood. You may start to question your own sanity, wondering if you are overreacting or “being a hypochondriac.” Most of the time, these comments are made by those who don’t have firsthand experience with chronic illness. It saddens me to think I actually am envious of those who think my “common cold” symptoms can be cured with some tea and over-the-counter medications. I am jealous of those who can’t fully grasp why a trip to the doctor or ER is something I have to do when I feel my body on the brink of collapsing from exhaustion.

To those who have a hard time understanding what our bodies are like, think of it as a car running almost on empty, and you have just enough gas to get to your destination. Most of us with PH are given the equivalent of a quarter tank of gas, if we’re lucky. Think about driving with this quarter tank of gas, knowing it’s enough to get you where you need to be. On the drive, you come across problems. You are stuck in traffic for almost an hour, take a 15-minute detour, get lost for 20 minutes, and then have to backtrack and turn around. These obstacles empty your tank. You pull over and wait for your tow truck, unable to make it where you wanted to go.

(Photo by Brittany Foster)

The reality for those of us with PH and chronic illness is that we fight for our health EVERY SINGLE DAY. Like the car analogy, we are running almost on empty. Those who do not have chronic illness are able to give their bodies a break. They are able to refuel their tanks with rest and relaxation. Their bodies are ready for the detours life throws at them. Our bodies, unfortunately, never get a break. Our lungs, heart, vascular system, gastrointestinal system, and all major bodily systems are working overtime every minute of every day, which is why we begin most days with a quarter-tank.

As soon as an acute illness enters our body and puts more strain on us, our energy becomes completely depleted. We become like the drivers who must pull over and ask for help. Don’t be ashamed of asking for help and getting properly evaluated for any acute illness when you have a chronic illness. You deserve to get back to your own version of normal. Even if your tank is only one-quarter full, it still beats being pulled over on the side of the road waiting for assistance!  


Note: Pulmonary Hypertension News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Pulmonary Hypertension News or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to pulmonary hypertension.


  1. Dave says:

    Don’t know who really wrote this but it’s awesome. It say’s pretty much what we go though every day, Thank You Dave

    • Brittany Foster says:

      Thank you so much for reading this Dave. Your comment means a lot to me and lets me know that others can truly relate to my writing which is why I love doing this. Keep the fight!

      🙂 Brittany

  2. Joan Ely says:

    Thank you so much for writing this great article,I totally can relate to it. People don’t understand what people go thru with a chronic illness. I don’t know how many times someone has said to me you look great!

    • Brittany Foster says:

      It’s so hard for others to truly understand what we go through on a daily basis. I’m hoping this anology can give them some clarity. Even though it doesn’t do it justice unless they actually walk in our shoes. Thank you for reading and being able to relate! Wishing you the best

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