As a youngster, catching a cold meant languishing in a warm bed, the smell of Vick’s wafting in the air as Mom dispensed chicken soup and Popsicles with a healthy dose of sympathy. Cherocal cough syrup loaded with codeine kept me nicely sedated for days and, my every need met, I had only to burrow under a Pooh-Bear quilt, the rest of the world be damned.
As an adult, it didn’t take me long to realize that illness no longer afforded such perks. The world did not stop because I had the sniffles. You want chicken soup, Jayne? Get it yourself. There was no paid sick leave for the self-employed, and the FDA had taken all the fun out of cough syrup. With no attention, no sympathy, and no avoidance of daily responsibilities, getting sick had gone from a nice respite from worldly demands to a major inconvenience.
Through my thirties, there were colds I could pretty much always count on: The Christmas cold upon the day of my return from visiting family; the all-systems-can-now-collapse cold upon completion of each script assignment; and the smoking cold, which slapped me down whenever I got up to more than four or five cigarettes a day. In fact, on my thirtieth birthday I had the last cigarette I would ever smoke for just that reason. The onslaught of a burning throat and clogged nasal cavities occurred almost immediately with the inhale of my first cigarette of the day and proved to be so Pavlovian that even now, just the smell of cigarette smoke can quite literally make me retch.
As I grew older and began to subscribe more and more to the theory that I was the creator of my life and not its hapless victim, I began to question the purpose of illness altogether. Without any perks, what the hell was the point? And so it was that I identified the stress factors associated with both my Christmas trip and the timely completion of a writing assignment and eliminated them and the resulting colds from my life. Damn, I felt powerful.
I’d love to report that the decades since then have been cold-free, but about once a year, despite a deep dish of hot denial, the relentless rhinovirus will knock me on my (size 4) ass. It’s that cold that you never see coming. It seems to hit without reason. It is the “shit happens” cold, and there is no defense. The wise thing to do when that first tingle in the back of my throat signals “incoming” would be to cancel plans, rest and let nature takes its course. But, like the empty gas tank that I’m sure will run on a concentration of sheer will, I am always certain that I can beat this thing if I just… try… hard… enough.
My stubbornness knows no bounds, but resistance proves futile, and the fact that this particular cold at this particular time seems to be “going around” does not dissuade me from considering it a personal failing.
Ah, to be six years old again… for just a little while.