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All About You: COVID-19 and me: two crucial lessons

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EDITOR’S NOTE: Motivating employees to work safely is part of the safety professional’s job. But who motivates the motivator? In this monthly column, veteran safety pro and professional speaker Richard Hawk offers his entertaining brand of wisdom to inspire safety pros to perform at their best.

My wife felt the symptoms first. She tested positive for COVID-19 and only suffered minor discomfort for a few days. I, on the other hand, was laid up for weeks.

At first, my symptoms included a fever, body aches, a mostly dry cough, dizziness, clouded thinking and fatigue. Most of my symptoms went away by the fourth day, but – frighteningly – the fatigue got much worse. Merely walking into the kitchen to get a glass of juice exhausted me. Besides dreading the possibility of having to go to the hospital, I was fretting over becoming a COVID-19 “long-hauler” – someone who suffers symptoms for several months. (Fatigue is the most common symptom to linger.)

I feel much better now. Although I still tire more easily than I used to, I’ve resumed my pre-COVID daily activities (except for vigorous exercise). What a relief!

I’m sharing this harrowing experience because it’s helped me appreciate two crucial lessons. One involves a misconception that safety and health professionals have to deal with regularly: that a mishap (in this case, a disease) “won’t happen to me.” Sure, it may happen to someone on the news or a co-worker, but not me! So I was shocked when my wife and I contracted COVID-19. We were careful, especially at first, but over time we let our guard down some. I know I stopped washing my hands as often as I should have and went shopping just to get out of the house. This is a good lesson for all of us about any hazard. None of us is immune.

The second lesson, like the first, I’ve understood intellectually. But this experience made the lesson hit home emotionally. For nearly 30 years, I’d been blessed and hadn’t had a severe illness or injury, so I forgot what it was like to be laid up with a sickness. Now, I deeply realize how much my health determines the quality of my life.

My appreciation for the value of my health has soared. I’m going to show this appreciation by removing a few of my habits and activities and adding some new ones. According to Jasprit Takher, associate program director of internal medicine at MountainView Hospital in Las Vegas, “There are three key things that healthy people do every day: exercise, maintain a nutritious diet and get a good night’s sleep. However, it’s not a one-size-fits-all equation.”

After reading Takher’s thoughts, I created three headings in a new document: “Exercise,” “Diet” and “Sleep.” I then split my daily habits into two categories: those that “contribute to” and those that “take away from” the three key factors for health. To date, I’ve eliminated the “take away from” habits.

Here’s an abbreviated example of my list for “Sleep”:
Contribute to: Firm mattress, keep the room cool, light-blocking curtains, drinking warm herbal tea, etc.
Take away from: Go to sleep at different times each night, watch TV and phone before going to bed, check phone/email when I wake up in the middle of the night, eat just before bedtime, etc.

The habit that probably did the most to take away from a good night’s sleep was checking my phone in the middle of the night. Sometimes I got carried away and would end up staying on it for a while, enough so that I’d be wide awake by the time I put down the phone. Although it’s been tough, I’ve left it alone for the past week or so. Also, I’ve been hitting the sack around 10 p.m. every night, and I don’t eat after 8 p.m.

Even if you don’t write out a list, it’s still worth the effort to consider ways you can contribute to your health and well-being. Then, of course, you need to follow through. As a reminder to cherish my health, I’ve posted a drawing of the spiked coronavirus on the corkboard above my desk. Below the drawing is a quote from the famous showman and wealthy businessman P.T. Barnum: “The foundation of success in life is good health: that is the substratum fortune; it is also the basis of happiness. A person cannot accumulate a fortune very well when he is sick.”

This article represents the views of the author and should not be construed as a National Safety Council endorsement.

Richard Hawk helps safety professionals become better leaders through his keynotes, workshops, articles and books so they can create vibrant safety cultures. His popular “Mindfully Safe” keynote teaches employees how to focus better and improve their situational awareness, a key skill to preventing incidents. To contact Richard, visit makesafetyfun.com.

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