Life Lessons from Being Sick for 5 Weeks and Not Being Able to Work

April 8, 2021


You’re listening to the Sigrun Show, episode number 427. In this episode, I want to share with you my life lessons from being sick for five weeks and not being able to work. I’ve been sick for over five weeks and I haven’t fully recovered yet. Being sick for so long and not being able to work has been difficult for me. I generally think it’s more difficult for entrepreneurs to be sick than those who are employed. I’ve experienced both.
And although I was very sad about not being able to work as an employee, it didn’t have the same effect on me as this sickness has now had on me. There is more that hinges on us to be there for our clients, our team, and maybe more responsibility and guilt too. But being sick for over five weeks and still feeling sick has taught me some great life lessons that I want to share with you. You’ll find the show notes of this episode at
It all started with a sore throat on a Saturday morning five and a half weeks ago. I was instantly worried it was COVID-19 so I got tested and the results were luckily negative. Therefore, I thought it was just a simple cold. The day after I felt it was something more so I started to take steroids, which I have to take when I get that cold because of my asthma. I’ve had asthma since I was 12 years old and I have to take medicine every day in order not to get an asthma attack.
Typically, I get a cold once a year, like most other people and then the asthma medication doesn’t help and I have to take steroids and therefore I always had a backup in my medicine bag. But this time the steroids also didn’t help. Four days later, I was not feeling better and started to get worried. Normally I don’t have to go to the doctor when I get a cold because I have my steroids and they just help. But this time that was not working so I realized I had to seek a doctor.
The local doctor didn’t discover anything serious when he examined me and wanted me to come back the next day. I was not so keen on that because I knew something was wrong with me. It was not a normal cold. Well, he sent me home and I coughed all night and slept less than three hours because I was sitting up in my bed, I couldn’t lie down. I went back to the doctor the next morning and now he realized that this was something more serious and sent me to the emergency room of the national hospital here in Reykjavik, Iceland.
There they did all kinds of including x-ray and didn’t see anything wrong with my lungs besides the obvious lack of lung volume. I had only one third of my normal lung volume to work with. They decided to hospitalize me and I spent one night in the ex COVID ward of the hospital, which was empty because there were, at that time, zero Corona cases in Iceland. I could feel that the doctors were a bit perplexed with my condition as I didn’t improve at all despite all the medication, all the asthma medication they were giving me because I couldn’t really breathe.
The following day I was moved to the lung ward and the doctors there decided to do some more tests and to test all common viruses, including COVID-19 again. I was put into isolation just in case I had some kind of a virus. They had to put a toilet into my room, a sitting toilet, it was very weird and everyone was wearing protective gear. It does make you feel a bit lonely when you’re put into isolation like that, nothing I wish on anybody else.
Well, luckily I was, again, COVID-19 negative, but they found another virus, RS virus, a virus I had never heard of. And now my condition started to make sense to the doctors. I had to look it up because I had no idea what RS virus is. So according to the Mayo Clinic, the respiratory syncytial virus, I hope I say it correctly, causes infections in the lungs and respiratory tract. It’s so common that most children have been affected with the virus by the age of two.
And still, I had never heard of it probably because I never had young children. I got my stepsons when they were three and four. So RS virus can also infect adults, well, I know that now, and older, healthier children. Typically RS virus symptoms are mild and mimic a common cold. So actually most people who get it, they don’t even realize they have it. Normally self-care measures are needed to get rid of it. And since people don’t really know they’re having it, they just think they’re having a cold so just taking a few days off will normally cure it.
But it can cause severe infection in some people, especially in babies younger than 12 months, infants basically, and older adults, people with heart and lung diseases or anyone with a weak immune system. Well, I guess that’s me. Because RSV and Coronavirus are both respiratory viruses, many of their symptoms are similar. That’s why they had to test me again for COVID-19 because I had so many of the similar symptoms.
And actually getting the RS virus means that you’re more susceptible to getting COVID-19, which does make me worried because I was worried before because of my asthma, but now I am more worried and I don’t have my vaccine yet, and I have no idea when I will get it because apparently in Switzerland, they don’t even consider me a high-risk patient. Very weird, I find. Well, reading all of this explained my symptoms very well and I definitely had the severe infection. It didn’t feel like a common cold and self care measures were not enough.
After the diagnosis was clear, the doctors wanted to send me home. They said I would just have to take some medications and rest, then it will take time and there was nothing more they could do for me at the hospital. But for safety measures, I should be in isolation at home because when you are still coughing, you could potentially infect others. And I was very worried about infecting my father who has had cancer since 2017 and can definitely not get sick, COVID-19 or any other viruses or bacteria, or even just a common cold, it’s very bad for him and even anyone else from my family.
But my sister insisted on picking me up from the hospital. We wore masks and she drove me home and then she went shopping for me, and then I was alone at home battling the virus. For a few days, I saw some improvement. I had a little measurement to measure my lung volume and I was doing that diligently three times a day. And I was positive when I saw improvement, but then on day 12 of my sickness, basically a few days after I was back from the hospital, I realized the improvement had stopped.
For three or four days, it didn’t approve anymore, it got stuck at a certain level. And therefore, my mom suggested I go to the local doctor again. I was still in isolation, but my mom took again, the risk. We wore masks and she drove me to the doctor’s office because I was too sick to drive myself. The doctors sent me to a different facility where they could take another x-ray of my lungs and they got an emergency diagnosis. So I was back in the doctor office after they had taken that picture and turned out now I had pneumonia.
I’ve never had pneumonia in my life and when I read again about RS virus, it actually can cause, and often is followed by pneumonia. So pneumonia can be caused by bacteria and viruses, which is something I didn’t know. Anyway, it felt like being back at square one, I had already been sick for two weeks and now there was something new and I realized I was not going back to work anytime soon because now I had to recover from the pneumonia.
I got antibiotics, finally, which I hadn’t gotten before. But four days later I also felt improvement stopped. So I seeked the doctor again. He gave me more antibiotics because I was running out of antibiotics so he gave me more of the same and he gave me different ones because there seems to be many different pneumonia and many different bacteria that could cause pneumonia and they just wanted to make sure they cover all the different ones. And I was supposed to take this medication for the next seven to 10 days.
After two weeks of being alone at home, my husband flew in from Switzerland to take care of me. That was so nice. He was planning to come later, but moved this flight up by a week. After being sick alone at home and in isolation at least half of the time, it was nice to have company. The first five days he was in quarantine because of the COVID rules. But after that, he could go shopping for us and basically just take care of me and we could watch movies together.
Being sick is one thing, but being alone sick, not so nice. You can do it, but it’s nicer to have company. Overall it took three weeks until I started to feel a tiny bit better. I still have what I call a brain fog, which means I cannot really work concentrated. I could not for instance, have written down anything. I could not script an episode, I could not record an episode. Well, actually I was on the verge of losing my voice the whole time.
And maybe you hear it a bit, I’ve not fully recovered as I say, because my voice is very shaky and I have to be careful. I have lost my voice a couple of years ago and that was not nice. So overall it took three weeks to get a little bit better. I still had that brain fog so I couldn’t do any concentrated work. I forced myself to honor two speaking engagements over Zoom, but there was nothing else I could do that third week of being sick.
After 21 days of sleeping sitting up, I could finally lay down to sleep. That was a huge improvement. And actually when you sleep sitting up, you don’t get a proper sleep and you sleep way less hours. Maybe I was sleeping three, four hours a night instead of getting proper sleep. And when I’m sick, I’m not just sleeping eight hours, I may be sleeping 10 or 11 or 12 and I could not do that. So I definitely felt a huge lack of sleep after those three weeks of sitting up.
And I’m super grateful for my new motorized bed where I could actually sleep sitting up because the bed could allow that with the mattress. And then it felt such a relief to be able to sleep flat again, something you’re super grateful for, whether you don’t even think about when you’re not sick. The first three weeks of isolation or sickness, I watched stupid series on Netflix and spent endless hours scrolling on social media without any bad conscience.
I watched home improvement shows, million-dollar homes, interior design series, and basically anything around home. I bought a penthouse last fall and I’m still finalizing the decoration so I was looking for some inspiration and I got some, but some shows were really silly or stupid. Once I had watched all the home improvement shows on Netflix, I moved on to Apple+ and watched The Morning Show, which I liked.
I tried watching some few other series on Netflix like one about real estate agent in Beverly Hills, but that was really stupid, really stupid. I couldn’t watch it. In between the series and the endless scrolling on social media, I could check on Slack if my team had any questions for me, or if I had a sudden idea that I wanted to share with them. I was probably a bit annoying because even though I was sick and I had all this brain fog, I got ideas in between and I had to ping pong like team and let them know of this and that.
So yeah, probably both a mixture of being annoying and me feeling a bit frustrated of not being able to be there and do meetings and talk to my team. Finally, after three weeks, my brain got less foggy and I could start to read. I couldn’t read a business book, which is what I would have loved to do to be a bit more productive, but nope, I wasn’t ready for that. So I could read fiction. I could read something that I didn’t have to remember or take notes on.
And it was nice to be finally able to sit in a chair and read a book instead of lying in my bed and watching stupid series. So even if I was reading fiction and not fiction… I mean, fiction and not nonfiction, I felt a bit more purpose driven somehow, I don’t know, than the silly series. Well, the reading went so well that I was reading a book in one or two days. After a week, I had read six books. I basically read all the books I bought around Christmas.
Iceland has what we call a book flood before Christmas. Most books get published just before Christmas, especially fiction books. And that’s where you buy them because that’s where they’re also the best price. And we give books away for Christmas, but I don’t get a lot of books as Christmas gifts so I just buy them myself and then I hope to read them one day. But you know what happens with one day, ah, there is never day one, but in this case it was day one. I could read all the books that I had bought myself or borrowed and actually ran out of books so I had to get some more.
I used to be an avid reader. When I was a teenager I would read all Agatha Christie books. I basically am… I really love reading fiction, but especially murder mysteries. And since I couldn’t do anything else, it was great to be able to read all these books. I guess it was a blessing in disguise. During week four of my sickness, I started feel more improvement.
I would even shower in the morning and dress in regular clothes, so that was huge. And I was able to honor a bonus call in one of my programs, go live on YouTube and attend a Zoom party. I also did about one internal meeting a day and could feel how everything I did just drained my energy. I wasn’t really myself. I should probably not have done that YouTube interview. There’s one thing to do internal meetings, but to force myself to do something more public was probably not a good idea.
Still I was planning to start to work again in week five. Well, that didn’t workout. Having a virus is a bit difficult because you might feel improvement and then the next day it is gone, you’re back… You take, let’s say two steps forward and then one step back, that’s how I’ve been feeling the last five and now almost six weeks. But what happened was that I went to a confirmation.
My niece had a confirmation and it was COVID confirm, less than 10 people. And of course, I wanted to dress up and I wore a dress and then I come to my brother’s house and he doesn’t heat his house as much as I hit my apartment, and I got cold. And I was in my jacket and everything, but when I came home I felt cold so I warmed up with a blanket. Now what happened the next morning, I felt more sick. So all my plans, working in week five with my virus infection went out of the window.
I knew I had a celebration call on the Thursday so all I did was to just rest, rest, rest, do as little as possible to save my energy for the celebration call which was a three hour call at Thursday that week. And I did it without losing my voice even if it was on the edge. So now it’s been over five weeks and yesterday was the first day I was able work more than one meeting a day.
I still have the virus in my body, I can feel it. I’m weak, I’m tired. I started to work with my fitness trainer, but I warned him I feel like an 80-year-old at the moment, and that’s kind of a shame because I just had my 50th party earlier this week and at the moment I feel like I’m 80. And the fitness session was something like, yeah, I just moved my arms, I moved my legs, but it wasn’t really fitness if we want to be honest.
This week I’m planning to work half days and see how it goes. I can feel the energy is very low, but it is a lot easier when you can work from home. And all my meetings are over Zoom. If I had to go to an office and actually show up from 9:00 to 5:00, then I would probably be on sick leave for several more weeks. So I’m super grateful that I have this job, that I’ve created this job for myself. I can work from home.
And even though I don’t feel that the energy is there, I can still be there and start to work a bit. And I’m not a morning person. So I actually when I’m sick, it goes to the extreme. So working half days is going to be better for me. I can sleep in in the morning and get up as late as possible so that I have energy for the afternoon and then I go early to bed and just try to get as much sleep as possible because I have to catch up on all the sleep that I lost when I was sitting up in the first three weeks of my sickness.
Well, how long will it take? RS virus seems to be something that can take a long time for some people, not if you’re super healthy and don’t have any prior condition. But my doctor, my local doctor tells me this can take months until I fully recovered. That is a hard pill to swallow, but I will make the best of it. I’m a very positive person, optimistic. Even when the worst things are happening, I am optimistic, my glass is half full.
I believe in the best in people. I believe that I can get through this, and at some point I will be fully recovered. But also I’m seeing positive lessons in this because when something happens there must be something we can learn from it, there must be some good in it. And that’s what I see. And I want to share these life lessons with you. So first of all, you cannot control everything.
I am definitely what you would consider a control freak. And getting sick is tough. It is very difficult, but it is something you cannot control. And in that moment, the only thing you can do is focus on getting healthy. And that often means doing nothing, absolutely nothing or watching stupid series on Netflix or reading fiction, or getting some treats, doing something that you would normally not do. And I have also been scrolling through social media and had no bad conscience about it.
And I have decided to look at this time as a gift, as a gift to do things that I otherwise would consider totally nonproductive, silly, stupid, and now they are a gift. I am allowed to do them and they are actually what serves me the best in this moment. The second lesson is your health is your number one priority. I know it’s easy to say it, but one thing is to say it, to know it and then to actually do it.
And despite having a chronic illness and maybe actually because I have a chronic illness, I haven’t really put my health in the first seat. But actually in the first or maybe it was the second week of my sickness where I could barely breathe, I ordered myself a Peloton. And I’ve actually got a confirmation date for the arrival in Germany now I have to hire a company to transport it to Iceland. That will be an adventure. But I am determined to take my health more seriously.
Now, while I’m sick, I cannot do so much. I cannot even go out for a walk. Although I did a 1K walk the other day, but then it got minus seven degrees Celsius, and I’m not going out of the house when it’s so cold. But when the weather gets a bit better, I will definitely go out for walks. I will do it slowly in the beginning and then make it better and longer, and of course, I’ll start my fitness sessions and will take it slow.
But it is what happens when you’re not sick, how can you build your immune system? How can you take your fitness level to another level and take your health more seriously? My third lesson is you are not as indispensable as you think. We sometimes think we’re the only ones who can do certain things. And especially when you’re an entrepreneur, you are the founder, you’re a CEO, you’re a coach. You think you are the only one who can do the things you were doing until we can’t and someone else has to do it for us.
One thing I was determined not to do was not to cancel anything for my clients. So when I realized I couldn’t do all my coaching calls, I asked my team to step in and it worked beautifully. Now, if you don’t have a team, that’s of course going to be difficult, but it’s something you need to start to think about. What will happen when you get sick? Do you have someone to step in for you, maybe even a fellow coach friend that you can trust?
I said to my coaching clients that my team will step in for me, for my higher end mastermind red circle, I also had my team step in for me, but of course, once I’m back and fit enough, then they’ll get some bonus time with me. But in that moment, when I got sick, it was super important for me not to cancel any coaching calls. I couldn’t do any podcast recordings or internal meetings with my team. I couldn’t even send a voice message, my voice was on the verge of going away and still things continued without me and the world did not fall apart.
My team took over and ran the business without me. No coaching calls got canceled, podcast episodes went out every week and overall my clients got taken care of. And yes, this is possible even with a small team. So it’s something to think about if you don’t have backup measures in place. My fourth lesson is you can actually prepare for this, and this is kind of an obvious next lesson from the last lesson, even though I didn’t plan on getting sick or I didn’t even plan on going on a four or five week holiday, and I wouldn’t wish this sudden sickness on anybody and for so long, it’s actually interesting how well my team and I were prepared.
First of all, having a team is super important, even if you just have one or two people on your team. Second, making sure there’s backup for everything is crucial. So one or two years ago, we started to make sure there’s backup. Actually last year, I would say we really implemented it well. I told my team, “When you go on holiday,” and I asked actually everyone to go on holiday for two weeks last summer after my whole…
We did a lot around COVID March, April, May, and then we had a big launch in June. So in July, August, I told my team had to go on a two week holiday, each team member. And I told them, “When you go on holiday, you need to make sure there’s someone else on the team that can do everything that you do. And that doesn’t mean it’s one person that steps in, it could be many different people.” And so gradually because everyone went on holiday and everyone had to find backup, we were able to figure out who would step in in case someone is sick.
Even though we weren’t thinking really of sickness, I was more thinking of making sure this backup during holiday. So we practiced that. And in November and December, because my team has been growing so much and roles and job descriptions have shifted, we actually had to write job descriptions. We had job descriptions for a few people, especially those who were hired in the last one or two years, but those who have been on team longer, their job descriptions, if they had one, had completely shifted and changed.
So I took the time and I really… it was like pulling teeth, I admit it. I wrote job descriptions for every single team member, and I had two meetings with each person. And actually we started this process first by everyone tracking their hours. Normally we don’t track hours on my team, but last September I asked everyone to track their hours for a month or so. I think we did it even for two months and then we stopped it and then people had a clear overview of what they did and could submit that to me.
And a part of it helped me write the job descriptions. And then we could really clear on goals for each person, so key performance indicators, the measurements we put into place. Since we’re not tracking hours, we need to be tracking what are people actually doing and what is the goal that they’re trying to achieve? So when I hire someone, for instance, around run my podcast, their goal is to increase the downloads of my podcast. When I hire someone for social media, their goal is to increase followers or increase engagement or reach.
So this was all clarified and yes, it was like pulling teeth. It was a lot of work and I didn’t enjoy it, I’ll admit it. But before Christmas everyone had a job description, everyone knew their numbers. So without thinking about me getting sick or being away for so long as I did now, those job descriptions did help us a lot now. They helped us super because there was much more clarity in what everyone needed to do, and at the same time we were looking for three roles in the company.
We were doing all that work last fall and I realized there were three roles that we desperately needed to hire for. And you know what? I hired these people in February. And they started to work on the team middle of February, or 1st of March. When did I get sick? 27th of February. It sounds like there is some serendipity there because I get sick just after I’ve hired the three people that I thought were missing on my team and actually having these three people on the team while I was sick was super good because the people who were already on my team could delegate to these new people, and I finally hired an integrator and she started full-time 1st of March.
And poor her, she had to really jump into the deep end and the net is supposed to appear. Yes, maybe, maybe not. But yeah, it’s been a great test for my team. They’ve really stepped up. Everyone on the team has done the best they could to step in for me. And it’s been amazing to see what they’ve been able to achieve without me. Basically, they ran the business and I have been able to work on my recovery.
Of course, there are things that didn’t go as smoothly as I hoped for or couldn’t go smoother because I wasn’t there and I hadn’t fully delegated it, but that was a wake up call. And I see that more in a positive light than in a negative light because now I can work on improving those things. Not that I’m planning to get sick again, no, definitely not. But my goal is that my business runs without me. Now we have proven that my team can do it.
There’s a few things I want to make sure we do even better so I can actually maybe go on a four week holiday and not even communicate over Slack with my team. We’ve done the pre-test for it and it worked brilliantly. So super grateful for my team. Lesson five, you can be sick and still be there. If I hadn’t shared on social media that I was sick, nobody probably would have known. When I was the sickest and could barely breathe, I could still comment and reply on social media.
When people heard I was sick, they told me to relax and sleep and get off social media, but actually social media was my connection to the world. I loved being able to see what people were doing and comment and reply on posts from friends, family, and clients. Being sick doesn’t mean that you’re too sick to be there for others. And I think that’s something interesting. You probably don’t know what’s going on for someone else unless they share it. That was an important lesson.
We never know what’s going on for someone else. They can be super active on social media, they can be there, everything looks hunky-dory, happy and they might not be able to breathe like I could barely breathe while I was the worst. Lesson six, allow yourself some slack. While I was the sickest. I would allow myself things that I don’t normally eat or drink. To be honest, I felt sorry for myself.
When I say that to my family, they laugh. It’s interesting when a 50-year-old, yeah, I just turned 50, I have to repeat it many times, I barely believe it, I felt sorry for myself. I felt sorry for myself. Yeah, and that’s okay, that’s okay. And of course I made sure I was eating healthy, my mother and sister took care of that. They were shopping for me and my mom was cooking for me. But I also had some treats that I would normally not allow myself because yeah, why not? I was sick and I wanted to take care of myself.
Lesson number seven, you can and should ask for help. You don’t have to be sick to ask for help. But when you are sick, you should definitely ask for help. Being in isolation at home alone was no fun. But with all the support I got, my sister checked in me twice a day, my mother too. My sister went shopping for me, my mother would bring me home cooked food so I didn’t have to just live on delivery. Friends of mine also checked on me and they would have shopped for me or brought me food if I had asked for it, but I already had the help I needed.
And then my husband flew in to take care of me, and that was so special. And you should always ask for help when you need it, sick or not. Lesson eight, what doesn’t kill you make you stronger. Now that sounds a bit cliché, but with this experience, which isn’t over yet, because I still feel sick, has made me mentally stronger. Even though the physical strength isn’t there and it will take weeks, hopefully not months, I’ve realized that I’m capable of more, that my team is capable of more, that my clients are capable of more.
There are things I have not made a priority, which will now be a priority for me in my personal life and my business. It’s like having a reset. When you get seriously sick or something dramatic or drastic happens in your life, it gives you an opportunity to reflect and see, “Is there anything I want to change?” And there are a couple of things I want to change. Maybe not crazy things, but it is the time. Maybe it’s my age, just turning 52 and getting seriously sick at the same time, it’s a little time for a reset for myself.
Lesson number nine, what you’ve been putting off becomes more important. There are a few things I want to do in my personal life and in business that I haven’t done that I’ve put off and I’ve put them off for too long, and now these things have become more important to me. Actually they’ve become a top priority. So I’ve rearranged my calendar. I’ve asked my executive assistant to rearrange the calendar.
So after I’ll get more healthy, I’ll start to actually, it’s not to work less because actually I see all of this as work, but shifting my priorities and having more time to think, more time to reflect, more time on brainstorming and idea creation and less time in meetings. And this often happens when you’re growing a business, you start to get your calendar fills up with all kinds of things you need to do, and I need space, now I need space. And I’m going to take that space and make sure it’s protected in my calendar.
Now I need the space to heal. So actually I will use the space to sleep in in the morning and just slowly start the day because that’s what I need right now. But once I feel better, I’m going to use that space in the morning to work on things that haven’t been a priority but are a priority for me now. And last but not least, lesson number 10, enjoying none productive things that make you happy.
People are obsessed with productivity and you are probably bombarded with books, courses, ideas, people posting on social media, what you can do, wake up at 4:00 AM in the morning. But to be honest, does that really make people happy? Do you know that Tim Ferris actually doesn’t live like he preaches? He’s come out to tell us that. I don’t think anyone can be so productive forever or so long. And is that the goal of life, to be super productive and just do things that move you forward?
Maybe just being is important. And yes, maybe sometimes you have to get sick to realize this. And of course, I realized it before and I often do things where I don’t think are productive like playing golf for four hours. I love playing golf with my husband and step sons. And I do that in the summer and I don’t think that’s something productive, I think it’s something to enjoy with a family and keeps me away from the computer and social media and allows me to enjoy nature.
But being sick this time also brought me back to reading, reading fiction, reading martyr mysteries, reading books where I will actually, after three weeks have forgotten what I read and it’s okay. It’s just okay. I used to be an avid reader. I would read about five books a week when I was a teenager. And then I read less and less and sometimes only one or two books for a whole year. In 2007, I made myself a goal of reading 26 books, and I did. But then I started to slip again.
And the only books I’ve read in the last years have been non-fiction, business books. And yeah, I have enjoyed many of them, yes I have. But I’m not reading them for leisure or pleasure or I’m not reading them maybe to fall asleep faster and being sick now and being able to read all these fiction books, reading about all these murder mysteries, actually, I find a lot of joy in that and I’m going to make sure I continue doing that. And maybe just maybe one day there will be my own murder mystery book. Yes, this a little secret you need to keep for yourself.
So these were my life lessons, my 10 life lessons and a bit of a description of my sickness, the RS virus that I didn’t know existed. I still feel sick, I feel weak in my body and my voice is shaky, but I’m on the route to recovery, and I know I will fully recover hopefully sooner than later. And maybe you’ll learn some life lessons here too, and maybe you can prepare in case you get sick, that your business continues running without you. Again, I’m super grateful for my team and I dedicate this episode to team Sigrun. You’ll find the show notes of this episode at Thank you for listening to the Sigrun Show, see you in the next episode.

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