by Dr. Jeffrey Lant
For the last four days, I have been engaged with a malady I know well… and so do you: the common cold. It is by far the most frequent infectious disease in humans.
We know that each of us adults contracts two to four infections a year. The average child contracts 6-12. At any given time, one or more of your office colleagues has reported in sick with a cold… or one or more of your children are down with one… or a friend… neighbor… fellow congregant, etc… or you. The minute the person now afflicted with a cold recovers… the indefatigable virus moves on, with split second precision, to its next victim. In other words, within your circles of life the common cold is always present, always flourishing.
Four days ago it became (as was bound to happen) my turn, and the cold immediately took precedence over every other task or consideration, thereby firmly establishing that common did not mean insignificant.
Over the last 100 hours, I have been
* hopeful that my own special procedures would nip it in the bud (they didn’t);
* drowned in fluids of every kind.
* an eating machine with my mantra the one my grandmother gave me over 60 years ago, “feed a cold, starve a fever”; so I am eating and eating and eating more. What was self indulgence a minute before the cold was apparent, now is self preservation.
* sleeping. I am ordinarily a person of unquenchable energies… but in the last 4 days I have found fluffing my pillows too enervating… sleep is the sovereign remedy. I have indulged myself accordingly.
* coughing. My hacks and wheezes are now public property. Try as I might to control them, they know full well they control me and make a mockery of any attempt to control what they do and where they do it. I walk out with my head bowed and eyes down, hoping (but failing) that no one will know that I am a social menace.
All readers of this article will peruse the above list and recognize in my actions, what they, too, do when ensnared by the bug. We are all prisoners, and we are glad to know what others have done not merely to mitigate the symptoms and manifestations, but to eradicate them forever by doing…
We have been told for our entire lives by every general practitioner worth his salt that there is nothing, absolutely nothing that will cure a cold. We hear this… but, secretly, we do not believe this. Our wallets get emptied as we try one medicament after another in the always hopeful but entirely vain search for The Cure to the Common Cold.
We acknowledge the power of the common cold, but each time we confront it we start by being hopeful, optimistic that this bout will be short and sweet, an event which does muddle our life and schedule, to be sure, but does not cripple and bring us to our knees. This time we feel sure the cold will be minimal, under control; after all, we have been here, done this dozens of times before. As a result, our outlook is cheery, optimistic. This time we are sure we will defeat this nonchalant invader.
But we are, as usual, wrong.
The cold is common but its pervasive power enables it to defeat each of us in quite unique ways. The cold knows us; we hardly begin to know the cold. That is to the cold’s liking and satisfaction.
In short order, therefore, our initial (unwarranted) optimism has drained away, leaving us prey to the nagging suspicion that this could be The Big One, the one that strips away our strengths and resources, our energies, and our hopes, strong in only one thing, our grudging respect for the cold, our master, lingering, happy to own us.
At this moment, we call upon the unshakeable, unassailable wisdom of Grannie. She knew, we know, a thing or two about the menace and diminution of colds… and we need her skills desperately, now and at once.
It is chicken soup time, again. But we cannot call upon this proven power until we have assuaged the Spirit of Grannie, for here, as in so many ways, each of us has wandered from the tried and true. We have given insufficient attention (and hasty too) to the many ways that Grannie could help us if only we would remember her, her eruditions, her admonitions, her tried and true practices and ways. We stand abashed before her. We need her so, not just now. We must admit as much; then the rich libation, the succor of grannies worldwide and throughout the ages, will be made, in liberal portions too, to each of us, sinning, but (as always) forgiven.
We gulp this golden liquid down, manners forgotten. It warms… it soothes… it fails, for no matter how deep our belief in this ministration, sadly Grannie has met her match in the common cold. We are left to digest this horrifying, startling fact as best we can.
We have known this before, but each time we learn it anew, we are shocked. This is not the benevolent world we imagined…
And so we descend into the vast wasteland, mandated by the cold, of boredom, listlessness, despair. The cold, secure, owns us. And dictates that time, ordinarily fleet, shall be torpid, unremunerative, dull.
So this condition, over which we have utterly no power or control, continues for 7 to 10 days, our humiliation completed by the frequency and severity of the coughs, sore throats, runny noses, and fevers that assail us and hold us in their thrall.
You have been healthy, the cold proclaims; now you must pay for that transgression.
And so we do, the hours scarce moving at all. All semblance of normality quite gone.
The cold demands as much from all its servitors, and we obey as we survey and go down before the cold’s fearful panoply: conjunctivitis (pink eye), muscle aches, fatigue, headaches, shivering, and loss of appetite. We would sign a document of Unconditional Surrender, but we are never told where to send it. The cold wants no document; it only wants our very souls.
Thus we, and I mean every one of us, wile away the unpleasant, interminable hours. We may, we think we are, moving towards normality and welcome health, but the pace is infinitesimal, or worse.
As penance we remind ourselves of what we must do to avoid this almost unbearable condition in future. We shall not touch eyes, nose or mouth with contaminated fingers. We will avoid spending time in an enclosed area with an infected person. We will stop smoking at once, for that extends the duration of the illness by at least 3 additional days. And all the other good advice we mean to follow assiduously if we are ever released…
… until we one day, one glorious day, a day of joy and merriment, we feel like ourselves again. And life is good. We are coldless.
Of course, we don’t adhere to the many sensible procedures necessary to sharply reduce the number of “common” colds we get, their severity and length. Instead, we simply revert to the insouciant person we were and have always been. But this, you see, is not our decision, for in so doing we acknowledge that the cold itself erases our memories and good resolutions.
Otherwise, the cold, always delighting in our debilitated conditions, might not see us so situated quite so often.
And this would never, never do, for the common cold rejoices in its visits, even if we do not.