Time For Convalescence


In the past it was taken for granted that any illness would require a decent period of recovery after it had passed, a period of recuperation, of convalescence, without which recurrence was not only possible, but likely to happen. For the really debilitating diseases convalescent care was the primary treatment, reaching its height in the many European sanatoria for tuberculosis patients. What ever happened to the idea that we needed time to recover from illness? My patients often arrive on my doorstep wanting a natural treatment to make them feel better instantly, even after the doctor’s prescription failed to get them back in the swing of things within hours. In fact, natural medicine takes longer to provide results, but not because they take a long time to work. Instead it is because the process of recovery from illness is part of the effect of the herbs you take. In other words, herbs will work slowly, almost imperceptibly, so that your body heals correctly, not necessarily quickly. The last thing you want is a chronic condition, nor one that keeps coming back, like the monthly cold all through the winter.

In fact, it can actually take the body months to feel fully restored after an illness. In the past it was taken for granted that any illness would require a decent period of recovery after it had passed, a period of recuperation, of convalescence. You were encouraged to not get back to a normal routine too quickly, and everyone took it for granted that if you didn’t rest enough for healing to take place, you would be back in bed within days or weeks. For the really debilitating diseases convalescent care was the primary treatment, reaching its height in the many European sanatoria for tuberculosis patients. That is because it isn’t just about eliminating the illness, it’s about allowing the energy your body creates to be used for repair, restoring hormonal levels, building new tissue to replace damaged tissue and down time for the immune system to reset itself.

I believe this is the beginning of autoimmune disorders. Not allowing sufficient healing, so that an opportunistic secondary infection occurs and now you have two things your immune system is trying to handle at the same time. If you still refuse to give in to your body’s need for rest and recuperation, then an autoimmune cycle will take place and begin a chronic series of debilitating symptoms, conditions and even disease processes. And all because you didn’t let yourself convalesce...

Convalescence fell out of favor as powerful modern drugs emerged. It appeared that penicillin and the steroid anti-inflammatories produced so dramatic a resolution that all the time spent convalescing was no longer necessary. Then, as healthcare provision became generally more effective and public expectations increased, pressure on hospital facilities led to shorter stays, whilst the increasing stress of the modern working rhythm ensured that most people now could not consider time off to convalesce after a bout of the flu.

A good convalescence is a marvelous thing. It rounds off an illness and gives it meaning; it makes the sufferer stronger for having had it. In a way no vaccination could, it arms and strengthens the immune defenses and provides real protection against recurrence, possibly forever. It is probably the only strategy that will allow real recovery from debilitating disease, fatigue syndromes, recurrent infections and states of compromised immunity. Convalescence needs time, one of the hardest commodities to find now.

So how long are we talking about. Well, for a good two week flu, I say 4-7 days of convalescence, which means once you are feeling better you begin the convalescence period. For longer chronic illnesses or the length of time since someone felt "good", a good standard is to allow 3 months’ treatment for a problem of a year’s standing and a month for every further year. Generally in trying to treat chronic illness through convalescence, we will use relatively smaller doses, less robust remedies and more tonics.

There are four essential features of convalescence:

Rest - This is by far the most important element. It should include maximum sleep to give the body time to repair. In fact, historically there were such things as "sleep clinics" for people that were almost constantly asleep at the start of convalescence. Rest also means less activity: if work has to be done, it should be in short stints, switching frequently between different activities. You need to pace yourself, go to bed early, sleep late and not to do anything that is not absolutely necessary.

Exercise - The flip side and necessary addition to rest, is exercise. Essentially the body needs to have some short periods daily of exercise, particularly anything aerobic to dissipate adrenaline which is constantly generated during the day in response to perceived stressors common with illness and convalescence. Worry is a huge factor that can trigger high levels of adrenaline. Exercise in the evening will encourage better sleep at night. No more than 15 minutes each day should be done, and at first only a minute or two may be possible. This way you will not be debilitated further, which can simply undo all the good that is done with convalescence.

Diet - the main purpose of your diet during this time is to nourish the body and feed the repair and healing the body needs to accomplish. Stimulants such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine or sugar should absolutely be avoided during this time. Vegetables, especially root vegetables, cereals, fish and eggs are really a good basis for a nourishing, non-challenging diet. Chicken stock soups are the traditional food of convalescence and can be filled with many nourishing vegetables. This is also the chance to change your relationship to food. Take time to eat slowly, really pay attention to the act of eating and the food you are eating. See how each type of food makes you feel. Listen to your body during this time.

Natural Medication — There is a key contribution to the convalescent patient that herbal medicine can make, regardless of conventional treatments they need to maintain. A range of herbal remedies have been directed to facilitate the process of recovery, to drive the healing process. Many of these are essential tonics that are directed towards the system or body tissue that is healing. Milk Thistle and Dandelion Root for the liver, Hawthorn for the cardiovascular system, Mullein for the chest, St. John’s Wort, Damiana and Ashwaganda for the nervous system with hormonal symptoms, Sweet Fennel and Cardamon for digestion, Peppermint and Linum B6 for the bowel, Echinacea Premium and Astragalus for the immune defenses, Chaste Tree for the female reproductive system, Saw Palmetto for the prostate.

Also, if recovering from a surgical procedure, you want to minimize scarring and this is the time to do that with Cataplex E directly to the skin and taken internally, essential fatty acids such as Black Currant Seed and Linum B6, and especially Dermatrophin PMG which helps to support healthy epithelial tissue reproduction and restoration.

Another consideration after surgery is eliminating any residual pharmaceuticals and anesthetics from the system. Livco and Livaplex are two of the best for this, as well as herbs and foods to enhance bile production and liver detoxification such as choline, garlic, egg yolks and Globe Artichoke.

If recovery is from febrile or a fever disease, sustaining warming remedies like Yarrow, cinnamon and Sweet Fennel may be indicated. Recovery from low-grade assault on the immune system, chronic viral or fungal infections, conditions marked by swollen lymph glands, or persistent sore throats would need Echinacea Premium, Picrorrhiza or Wild Indigo. Digestion is often in need of support, whether from cooling bitters or warming aromatic digestives. Cleansing should be managed and mild with Meta Fiber, Cholacol II and Lact-Enz.

Finally, as you begin to return to a normal routine, be sure to add adrenal support such as Rehmannia and Eleuthero and anti-oxidant formulas such as Vitanox to help support the body through its’ first few weeks of real world function. Pay attention to any symptoms that occur during this time and treat them immediately as it may indicate some elements that need a bit more convalescent time.

Many times, part of the treatment for recurring or chronic disease is to return to the cause and allow the body the treatment and convalescent time it never received at the time disease first occurred. It’s very much like a credit card. You can borrow time to run out and return to your routine, but you will have to pay the time back later...