Man, there’s nothing I hate more than being sick. That feeling that some gremlin has gone in and scraped your throat raw and then started pouring some gucky fluid down your nasal passages; the throbbing headaches; the gunky crust you find in your mouth in the morning – it’s all just … demoralizing.
I seem to remember that when we were kids, scientists talked about being on the verge of curing the common cold. Whatever happened to that? Have they all given up to tackle something easier, like AIDS or cancer? Seems like somebody could make a fortune alleviating these grisly symptoms that befall so many people so often every year. (An Australian company, Biota Pharmaceuticals, made a stir early in 2012 with the announcement that its new antiviral medicine vapendavir attacked the rhinovirus, but it’s not scheduled to come of out of FDA testing until 2016.)
I sense that I wasn’t the only person sick in America last week, based on what I heard from colleagues. I’m actually sure of it because I gave my cold to my wife, which made me feel worse than I already did. You’d think being married to a physician, I would get sick more often, but I don’t. It’s usually just once a year, which is great, but makes it that much more disheartening when it happens.
There are advantages to being sick. When that first scratchiness starts in my throat, that’s permission to send someone out for expensive pints of ice cream, either Haagan-Dazs or Ben & Jerry’s. Then I like to try sleeping it off, like a bad fraternity party, which means bringing out DVDs of old TV shows like M*A*S*H and Friends. I throw in a random disk and then let those familiar voices lull me in and out of consciousness.
And of course, being sick is a great excuse generator. That appointment you really didn’t want to keep? You have carte blanche to cancel and look like a saint because you didn’t want to spread your germs. That assignment that was due? You couldn’t finish it. You tried, but your head felt like it was going to explode all over the keyboard. You still get points for trying to drag yourself out of bed and over to the computer.
But even those meager advantages don’t make being sick anywhere near worthwhile. What I hate most is the feeling of powerlessness. You’re just going along, living your life, and without even knowing it, you pass through a swirl of some other clod’s germs (although I fear I may have played the part of the clod on more than one occasion last week). You weren’t even burning the candle at both ends, weakening your immune system with all-nighters, like when you were young. You get your rest.
And then, through no fault of your own, your body has betrayed you. You sneeze unbidden. You try and fail to stifle coughs. No matter how often you blow your nose, there’s still something up there that you’d like to climb in and drag out. You can’t make the lousy feeling or those disgusting excretions go away. You’re stuck with them for the duration. It’s like having distasteful relatives not only come to visit, but sleep with you in the same bed.
Eventually, though, you wrest control of your own body back from the germs and the crud and the phlegm. You revel in being able to inhale and exhale without making slurpy noises. Life returns to what passes for normal, and you’re damn grateful for it.