The Struggles of Cold and Flu Season in the Dental Practice

  • by Zeynep Barakat, DMD, FAGD
  • Nov 20, 2017, 08:00 AM

Along with pumpkins, leaf peeping, ciders and all things wonderfully fall, comes another seasonal norm — the flu. Some of us eagerly line up to get poked by a dose of antigens every year, and some of us dare not go near it for fear of getting sick. The irony is we all get sick at some point, including dentists, albeit to various degrees of severity. The common cold, being very different from the flu, can seem so … common. In fact, it’s so common that many don’t even think we should do anything different in our lives when we are struck by it. Life goes on as usual. So what if your nose is runny, you’re sneezing, you’re coughing and your voice is barely there? Deal with it, right?

Well, a couple of weeks ago, I thought I could “deal” with it. I woke up to a very sore throat and couldn’t speak without my dry throat putting me into a coughing fit. Then, like clockwork, came the sneezing, sinus headaches and earaches. I did not go into work that first day, but it did not get any better. Thankfully, I did not have the fever or the body aches influenza can so cruelly cause. But it felt like my head couldn’t stay vertical without sending me off into multiple sneezing fits, and my scratchy throat felt like it had yarn in it.  So I did the next best thing any sensible health care provider would do: I took some medicine and went to work. After all, my patients were waiting, and rescheduling them is neither an easy nor a pleasant task.

And what an ordeal it was. I must have gone through a box of masks, and that was just in the morning. I had to stop my procedures several times to pull my head up, clean up and remask, wash hands, then reglove again. As soon as I lowered my head to work, the entire cycle would start up again. Then, when I was chatting with patients, I would get into a coughing fit and leave the room, wash hands, remask and come back into the conversation. The lozenges, herbal teas, and soup helped, but it felt as though I had already lost the battle.

I won’t get into the history of the common cold and its effect on lost work time and on health care costs. Let’s just say that it is a large number. In a perfect world, if one person in an office has a cold, they would stay away from others until it had passed. Not only would that help minimize the spread of the virus and thus prevent more employees from calling in sick, but it would also ensure that those with reduced immunity would not end up hospitalized as is so often the case. But who could take three to four days off without facing serious financial implications due to the time away from work? Wouldn’t we be mocked anyway for staying home because we had a cold? It’s a conundrum that has yet to be resolved, even in the medical community. From my own perspective, it was an extremely unpleasant experience that I wish never to be repeated again (mostly for the sake of my patients). But I, too, worked through it and did not stay at home to recover. I do respect the miracle of the human body and its intricate machinery; and if it is malfunctioning, I like to stop and reboot. If we don’t do it for our own sake, we should consider doing it for our patients, our staff and those unfortunate people who are defenseless — for the common good. 

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