15 students and 2 professors from the University of Iowa have shared the experience of jet lag, a condition that occurs when there is rapid travel over many time zones. We have traveled across 12 time zones and from Iowa to Thiruvananthapuram, in Kerala, a state in the southwestern corner of India.
Why might it be important for professionals in health care to experience jet lag? It is the only time that healthy people will experience the disorienting effects, loss of circadian rhythm, malaise, and total bodily dysfunction of people with serious illness.
Let’s look at the similarities between jet lag and the malaise of chronic illness:
Loss of control
Change in bowel habits
The students described what they have been feeling:
“My head was foggy, my temper was running short, I couldn’t concentrate, my bowels seemed to have stopped working, I was bloated, had no appetite, and my body suddenly felt like it weighed 400 pounds.”
I also felt disoriented as to what time it was. I had a hard time focusing on conversations and thinking straight. I went to sleep around 6 pm and woke up at midnight thinking it was morning.
…it felt like there was a cloud or fog over my brain and I could tell it had affected not only my memory but also my personality and mood. The tiredness has led me to feel little emotion, for about 24-36 hours .
In an abstract presented at the ASCO Palliative Care in Oncology meeting in November, researchers measured circadian rhythm disruption in patients with metastatic colon cancer to determine if symptoms were more prevalent in patients with disrupted sleep cycles. Half the patients had disruption of their sleep cycles and those patients had more prevalent fatigue, anorexia, pain and appetite loss.
The students claim that they are over their jet lag. Not so, for this professor. I am relieved that this is temporary. Having these symptoms makes me aware of the types of distress our patients have with little hope for relief.
And now for your moment of Zen…from today’s home visits: