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The summer my body almost shut down

A post shared by David Chen (@davechensky) on

“How do you have enough time to do everything?”

More than any other question, this is the one people have asked me the most over the past decade or so. When I was a younger man in my twenties, I overflowed with energy. I’d jog, bike, work, stay up till late at night using Lynda.com tutorials to teach myself how to use editing programs and take classes to learn the principles of photography. Even recently, I managed to direct The Primary Instinct while holding down a full time job.

Now I’m a bit older, and I find I don’t have quite the same amount of energy for getting things done. Nevertheless, life is for living! This summer, I still felt i could pack my days full of work and movie screenings and podcasts and still come out the other side better for it.

That principle was put to the test when my body almost shut down as a result of a series of illnesses. To be fair, this has been a stressful summer. I started a new, exciting full-time job at a large company. I hosted three podcasts simultaneously, two of which had pretty significant audience (i.e. over 100K listeners). I moved out of my apartment that I’d been living in for five years. I was going at life at a non-stop rate — at least, as non-stop as someone in my line of work can get.

Typically, I get sick once a year or so. I often come down with the flu during winter. It’s usually pretty debilitating, and it takes me out of commission for a few days, but its impact is quite limited and I move on with my life.

I was stunned when in mid-July, during the dead heat of summer, I seemingly contracted the flu again after getting it just a few months prior. After a brutal week of recovery, I felt things were better. I was lucid and felt good enough to go into work, even as I still coughed violently and felt generally miserable. The fact that Seattle was inundated by smog from wildfires significantly aggravated my condition and further slowed my recovery.

Roughly three weeks afterwards in early August, I was at work and waiting for my ride home one afternoon when suddenly I felt dizzy and cold. I barely made it out of the car and into bed. The flu-like symptoms returned with a vengeance, incapacitating me for several more days. It was time to see a doctor.

My primary care provider told me that he thought I contracted a sinus infection while I had the flu, and just never beat it. He prescribed me steroids, antibiotics, decongestants, and a few other things to get me back on my feet. Within two weeks, things were back to normal, even though I did get temporarily worried that the sinus infection had not been extinguished.

I thought that was the end of it, but three weeks after that in September, I went into work one morning and started feeling chills and aches and pains all over. It was like the flu, but much worse — a sort of illness I had rarely experienced in my life. A couple of hours later, I could barely move. My co-workers told me I was pale. I was confined to bed once more.

I went into see the doctor the next day, who told me that I likely had viral gastroenteritis (i.e. a stomach virus). One thing he said that will stick with me: “Sometimes, something like stress is all it takes to breach the immune system. Once that happens, the results can be all-encompassing.” There was no prescription for viral gastroenteritis, other than getting rest, drinking lots of fluids, and taking it easy on the stomach in terms of foods.

It’s now late September and I feel a lot better. I hope I’m out of the woods now, but I’m not going to count on that quite yet.

I realize that everyone has their own health struggles, and that overall, I’ve been pretty lucky for most of my life to not have to struggle with chronic conditions that are debilitating or life-altering. That said, 2017 has been the worst health “year” of my life. I’ve never had so many illnesses in such a short period of time, nor have they felt quite so agonizing.

I’m grateful to everyone who has done things to take care of me and express concern for me during this challenging time. These events have really made me re-asses my life goals and my capacity to accomplish them. If I’m to take any lessons from this summer, they’d be the following:

  • If you keep pushing the limits of your body and mind from a stress perspective, there may come a time when it can no longer take it.
  • Online connections and friendships are wonderful but when you get sick, it’s only the people who you know “in real life” who will be able to help you.
  • Whatever enjoyment you get out of the productive activities in your life, it’s not worth it if there there are significant negative health implications as a result.
  • People aren’t grateful enough for the ability to eat and pass food normally.

Take care of yourselves, folks.

  • abefruman

    Short story. I like it.

  • Dave Glanz

    FYI Dave, the full post shows up in Feedly. I’ve seen that kinda thing happen before with other blogs – not sure why.

    That said, glad you made it through your rough summer – and thanks for sticking with the podcasts! Here’s to a better fall (a much nicer time of year, if you ask me).

  • Leigh W.

    I’m glad you are feeling better, Dave! I remember you saying on one of the pods that you were moving (already knowing you were sick and starting a new job) and I could not believe you were also getting a podcast out. You are extremely dedicated and we appreciate it, but taking care of yourself is more important! I had a similar experience when I was 25 and in the span of a couple months I bought a condo/moved, broke up from a long term relationship, and my company was acquired which led to org changes, moving offices, etc. I got shingles (rare in young people) and parvo and a sinus infection all in a row. The doc asked me if I was under a lot of stress and I said I didn’t think so, but then afterward I realized that yes, that would probably be considered extreme stress! Prior to that I had been working full time and going to school full time, so I was “used to” it and just thought I could handle it. The limits of what we can handle definitely change as we get older so please take care of yourself and make sure you plan for some down time!

  • Kommerzschlampe

    Hey Dave! I’m a Slashfilmcast listener since episode 4 and I’ve been on board with everything you did creatively since then. Yes, I actually paid for it, if there was a chance to do so, no matter how … uncommercial it was 🙂 Playing cello to a pole dancer? A spoken word-movie with some old character actor? A short documentary about a yo-yo player? Weird. Yeah. And I love it for exactly that.

    What do I want to say? I’m never really sure if you’re aware of how many people actually follow and appreciate whatever it is you decide to do, Dave. You’re an interesting person with ideas that transcend ‘mainstream’ concepts and you put a lot of work and time, money and dedication into realizing them. That’s impressive. Cheesy? Anyway. I hope you’re feeling well now and that you enjoy moving on. Just don’t kill yourself about it, please 🙂

    Love, Eli

    • David Chen

      This comment means a lot to me. Thanks for sharing it!

    • Thanks for sharing this, Eli. It means a lot.

  • kamenhaven

    Might be time to consider using supplements to boost the immune system?