My father-in-law gets a cold every winter like clockwork. If you ask him how he feels some time between December and March, he will inevitably say, “Oh, I’ve got my winter cold”. It’s not exactly that he likes having a cold in winter; it’s just that he expects it. We develop a strange, grudging fondness even for unwelcome-but-regular visitors.

Now, Art and I both have colds. As a matter of fact, Art is over on the sofa right now alternately coughing and swearing. It’s not really a surprise, since everyone we know has had a cold within the last two months, and everyone we don’t know, as well. Last week we were at a restaurant and I witnessed our waiter turn away from the table to sneeze. I saw that he tried to cover his mouth and nose, which I appreciated, since he was carrying our food.

The form of the winter cold is always fascinating. I guess the viruses keep mutating, so you’re never quite sure how they will manifest. Art has been coughing for two weeks, and I’m pretty sure his cold had its origin in Connecticut where we visited with his family for ten days. His mom’s cough sounded exactly like the one he is sporting here in California. My cough is a little different than Art’s. Art and his mom have the “dry” type of cough. The kind where it sounds like a bad actor trying to pretend to have a cough. My cough, on the other hand, has a subtly different nuance. It starts out dry, but ends up by squeezing my chest uncontrollably into a wheeze. My mom’s cough, on the other hand, was more of the rattling type. Thank God, she’s over it. (Mom has other health concerns, so she can’t afford to get a common cold). I think maybe my cough is a hybrid of the coughs on both sides of the family.

My older sister had a cough for quite a few weeks, but she seems to be over it now. She described her own cough as a “dry little cough”, and she didn’t seem to have any other symptoms. However, her “dry little cough” lasted for months, so she was finally forced to take drastic action and consult with a doctor.

Oh, that’s another thing about colds. Everybody says, “It’s just a cold”. Well, they’re right – it’s not a life-threatening disease. On the other hand, everybody gets fairly miserable with a cold. It disrupts your sleep and the sleep of anyone within earshot. It makes you feel kind of lousy in general. And it puts a crimp in your social life to boot, because (if you have any sense at all) you don’t want to spread it around. And yet, so few people seem to do anything about their colds.

Sure, you can go to the drugstore and get a dizzying array of nostrums and remedies. There’s anything from decongestants to cough suppressants to homeopathics. Conventional wisdom is, you can take the medicine and the cold will last two weeks, or you can not take the medicine and it will last a fortnight. If everyone were convinced of that, no one would buy the medicine to begin with. But here is the confounding part. Everyone buys the medicine. And almost nobody takes it.

I have observed this in certain people who shall remain nameless. If you look in their medicine cabinet, on their nightstand, in their refrigerator, in their kitchen cupboards, or on the bathroom sink, you will notice every conceivable kind of cold remedy. Typically, though, they take one dose immediately upon purchase. The verdict is: “It tastes awful”, or “It makes my stomach queasy”, “It makes me drowsy”, or simply, “It doesn’t work”. Then there is the aging hippie objection: “Look at all these chemicals! I’m not taking this stuff!” There are logical answers to all of these objections:

It tastes awful because it’s medicine. It makes you queasy because you took it on an empty stomach. It makes you drowsy because you’re supposed to take it at bedtime. It doesn’t work because you have to take the recommended dosage (not the child’s dosage) and wait at least half an hour. If it’s a homeopathic remedy, you cannot expect one dose to do much of anything. Homeopathics, if they work at all, work after repeated doses, in my experience. And as for all those chemicals, well, that’s the stuff that’s supposed to cure you. Furthermore, if there was a real magic bullet out there, no one would buy anything else, and everyone would know what to do, and you’d never see anyone with a cold because they would have taken the magic bullet at the first sniffle.

I have another theory about why people tend to be so slow to help themselves with colds. People can’t believe they’re being brought down by a common cold. They tell themselves that if they were “any kind of a man/woman” they could lick this by sheer force of will. They don’t like to feel vulnerable to tiny microscopic organisms, so they try to defeat the illness by sheer force of denial. But just to hedge their bets, they buy the medicine. This puts us into the realm of superstition. Has that ever worked for anything?

Anyway, I’m taking everything I can get my hands on. I’m living on hot soup. Pretty soon I’m going to tie a necklace of garlic around my neck. After all, being the nice Jewish girl I am, I want to be cough-free by Christmas.

© 2004, Robin Munson

 Category: Humor Robin's Nest

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