The Eternal Mystery of the Common Cold

Lifelongnewyorker had a birthday this week — not a significant one, if only those that end in “5” or “0” are significant.  But shift your view a little, and think about the fact that you’ve lived longer than either grandmother and certainly longer than most people who have ever been born, well then you feel old.

Mainly I feel old because one of the things I got this week was a cold.  And despite over 50 years of experience with colds, I am always surprised and uncertain about them.

They no long arrive with the frequency they did when I was teaching, thankfully.  Back then, I could count on three or four a year, beginning in November and ending in April. The last time I had one — a doozy that drifted into bronchitis and left me with a cough for two months — was last January.

Here’s the thing: Colds always surprise and puzzle me, and my reaction is always the same.  “What is happening?” I ask myself and those around me.  I engage myself, my husband, and my colleagues in debate about whether it’s a cold or allergies.  I Google “Is it a cold or an allergy?” and halfway through the resulting pages, realize I’ve read them before.

And the answer is indefinite: only time will tell.

Then, three or four days after the symptoms — scratchy throat, cough, plugged up ears, headache, drippy sinuses — begin, I accept that I have a cold, and that I am very tired.

This time, the acceptance came Friday morning, just as I  finished dressing for work and realized that all I wanted to do was to go back to bed.  I sent off notes, changed some appointments and retreated under the covers.  Toting it up: I slept about eight hours Thursday night; took two three-hour naps on Friday; and topped it off with another nine hours on Friday night.  It’s now nearly noon on Saturday and, if it weren’t for the fact that I have someone working on the roof and Mr.NYer is not home, I would think about another nap.

Which leads us to part 2 of my cold routine.  After sleeping most of a day, and recognizing that I would like to continue lying abed into the immediate future, I say to Mr.NYer, “Do you think it’s just a cold, or am I also depressed?”

Fortunately for me, Mr.NYer knows his lines well by now. He used to get exasperated at my complete inability to recognize that I SIMPLY HAVE A COLD AND IT’S MAKING ME TIRED. Now, he is sweetly sarcastic. “Well, let’s see.  Does depression usually involve a runny nose and a cough? No. You have a cold.”

I would tell you what comes next, but I don’t remember.

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