A significant part of how we interpret the world around us is through contrast. Good things don’t seem quite as beneficial without the bad with which to compare. And so it is with health – at least for me. The fact that the human body manages to juggle the myriad responsibilities necessary to keep us alive is impressive by itself. And the ability to do so completely unguided by conscious action on our part is even more incredible. But the thing that comes to mind whenever I’m experiencing (or having recently experienced) illness is just how uncommon it is for our bodies to falter in their duty as ‘protector of the realm.’
As a personal note, I had a mild version of the flu that lasted several days recently. The experience was unpleasant, as you’d expect most flu experiences to be. And it’s easy to lay blame on the environment, the person you suspect gave it to you, or your own immune system. But I think we give far too little credit to the strength that our immune system (and human physiological systems in general) demonstrate all the time. Sure, we only notice the flaws when we get sick. But why don’t we recognize the amazing self-regulating human body for what it does for us at every other moment in our lives?
The tendency to remember the outliers and the times our immune system didn’t work as planned is largely to blame. We take our immune system for granted (and the incredibly complex chemical and biological interactions that constitute it). But when we get ill, it can serve a non-biological function as well: reminding us of how important our immune system is for the rest of the time we aren’t sick.
Fittingly, my appreciation for my immune system became important enough to compose a blog post about only after I had the flu. I probably had a general appreciation for my immune system matching my overall fascination with the natural world and the systems behind it. But that appreciation became much more acute in reaction to when it wasn’t able to hold off the flu.