Mrs. G. and I were still on vacation, simply walking around a small town looking into the shop windows, when out of the clear blue sky, my throat started to hurt. Just like that. This is usually a precursor of something more insidious, as regular people who don’t shout for a living or smoke a few packs a day don’t just get a sore throat. Since I am neither a smoker nor a professional pig hollerer, this meant that a cold was coming. This was not surprising at all, since we were traveling in close quarters with a large group of people, most of which already had a cold.
This particular cold was moving fast, and by nightfall, it felt as if my gobbler was made out of a pinecone. “Gobbler” isn’t the exact medical term, but that’s what I’ve always called it. The actual term is uvula, but that sounds too much like a lady part or a Swedish car to be true.
Fun tidbit #1: The thing that dangles under a turkey’s neck that should be called a gobbler is actually called a wattle, which is also a homonym for something penguins do. No wonder foreigners have a hard time learning English. It’s intentionally complicated.
By the time we got back to our room, I had all of the makings of a full-blown head cold. Meanwhile, my wife started walking around with her hands in her pockets, trying to turn doorknobs with her elbows. She was hoping to avoid the inevitable, but there was nothing that could stop this viral freight train. When she woke up the next morning, Mrs. G. had it too. I hate to say it, but it was better that we both had it at the same time. It just made things easier not having to worry about giving something to the other person when we both had the same thing. Besides, misery loves company, which was some consolation as we reloaded fresh tissues and discarded the old. Between us, we had tissues stuffed into every pocket we had, lugging around a secret cache of Kleenex that rivaled that of at least forty-seven cardigan wearing grandmas.
Fun tidbit #2: Once a person is exposed to the cold virus, it will begin to replicate in the body within fifteen hours. Within a few days, symptoms will manifest and peak within forty-eight to seventy-two hours after that. You could walk through a sneeze vapor and catch a cold, or touch a shopping cart or any of a million other things, but if my wife catches a cold after I have one, she will have my cold. It’s as if I sat in a secret lab and invented it just to give to her. Which I didn’t. If I could invent something, I’d shoot for whatever it is that would make her drain the sink of dishwater when the dishes are done rather than saving it until the next morning. We’re doing OK, Honey. We can afford an extra squirt of Dawn and a sink of water if we need it.
About a week after we got home and with my cold firmly in the rear view mirror, I stopped off at Walgreens for a flu shot. Now I can’t say if this was coincidence or a reaction to the flu shot, but not too long after that, my throat was sore and I started to cough.
By that night, my throat was killing me and I started scrounging around in the cupboard looking for something for a sore throat. There was nothing. Well, I did find an old sticky Sucret that had bled through the paper wrapper, but I couldn’t unwrap it so I kept looking. I couldn’t even find one of those awful red and white mints they give away in restaurants. Anything resembling a lozenge would do. I finally found some Chloraseptic strips that are supposed to be dissolved on top of the tongue like a communion wafer, but they expired in 2007. Eh—what could go wrong?
I opened the little flip-top plastic packet only to find that they had fused together into one big red clump. I toyed with the idea of just sucking on the whole shebang, but I thought I might get Novocain mouth, and I didn’t want to sit around drooling on myself. When I tried to peel off a single piece, the whole wad just crumbled. I briefly considered the idea of just funneling the entire lot of it in my mouth, but decided to go with several hot cups of herbal tea instead, which I drank until I went to bed.
Around 3:00 in the morning, I woke up and seriously thought about digging the package of throat strips out of the garbage and sucking on whatever remnants I could find, but I was slightly worried I would start sucking on eggshells or tangerine peels. I got a drink of water, and went back to bed only to discover that waking up activates the diuretic properties of tea. A lot.
Fun Tidbit # 3. The common cold is responsible for seventy-five to one hundred million doctor visits annually at a conservative cost estimate of $7.7 billion per year. In the US alone, close to three billion dollars are spent on over the counter remedies. That’s a lot of Alka-Seltzer. There’s no way to know for sure, but up to one hundred and eighty-nine million school days are said to be missed annually due to colds, with a proportionate amount of parents missing work to stay home with their sick kid.
Back in the day, we never got to stay home from school with a cold because parents believed with all their hearts that colds were the product of actual cold or the combination of wet hair and actual cold, not some sort of virus. If you had a cold you had to starve it and if you had a fever, you had to feed it, but otherwise, you went about your business as if everything was A-OK. The remedy? Two Bayer baby aspirin, a glass of orange juice and an extra sweater. Hit the road, kid, this is mama’s quiet time.
This line of thinking seems so medieval and flat-earth primitive today that I’m surprised my parents didn’t have a shaman come out to the house and shake rattles over us right there in the paneled family room. If kids got a cold back then, they were given the above-mentioned treatment, a box of tissues that were one part tissue and ninety-nine parts wood shavings and sent off to school. I honestly had sequential years of school without a single absenteeism.
We now know that colds are caused by rhinoviruses. These are microscopic organisms that live in your nose where they are perfectly happy to hang out and make you miserable. They will stay in your body and multiply and every time you exhale, sneeze or cough, you’ll spray them around like a drunken crop duster all over everything and everybody. It’s a microscopic, germ-ridden Ponzi scheme living in your nose.
The tour guides for this festering manifestation of illness are people who have colds already, and trudge off to work or school, leaving behind a layer of cold slime on everything they touch or breathe upon. They go out in public even though they feel horrible, because they think this is what they have to do, as if this is China or something. They soldier on and go to work or school, and give it a drippy twelve percent effort, which is beneficial to no one, and they infect every other living organism that crosses their path—especially me. I have a decent enough immune system, but I am constantly rubbing my eyes. I think it’s a tic or something, but it’s a direct route for cold viruses. I may as well go into a nursing home and lick the handrails.
Since the cold virus is transmitted by coughing, sneezing and exhaling, here’s what you should do if you encounter one of these hearty souls who insist upon pushing through their cold: Flail at the air around yourself with both hands (which are preferably covered with bright red wool mittens) and scream “GO AWAY RHINOCEROUS VIRUS! GO AWAY!” while pointing at the offender. Nobody will think you’re crazy. Not at all, because nobody wants to get a cold and most people will treat people with a cold as if they have a fist sized Ebola monster dangling off the tip of their nose. If the U.S. government truly wants to guard our borders, they should line them with rows of snot-nosed preschoolers. Nobody would cross that line.
Fun Tidbit # 4. A cough releases an explosive charge of air that moves at speeds up to sixty M.P.H. A sneeze can exceed one hundred M.P.H. If somebody does either of these in your direction, you should be Ninja quick and leap out of the way. Nunchucks will not stop a cold virus. Only red wool mittens can do that, although a well-placed throwing star might save the next guy so, you know, pay it forward, Grasshopper.
When I woke up the next day, my sore throat was mostly gone. Wow! The tea really worked! I was naively optimistic. My head still felt a little stuffy, but not that bad. When my wife got up, I croaked out a “g’mornin.”
“O-o-o-o. Do you have a cold?” she asked.
I thought about this before I answered. If this were just a reaction to the flu shot, it would pass in no time at all. If it was a second cold right on top of the one I just had, that would make me appear weak, and if this was the original cold coming back to haunt me, that would just sound nuts. By the time I had sorted all of this out, she was already dressed, the bed was made and she was planning lunch.
As it turns out, I don’t know what it is. I feel fine, but I’m going thorough Kleenex like mad and I’m sneezing a lot. I don’t feel as if I’m contagious though, so my money is on it being a reaction to the flu shot.
Fun Tidbit #5. There is something called a photic sneeze reflex, and it affects eighteen to thirty-five percent of the human population. What is it? Well, you have it if looking at the sun makes you sneeze.
My wife and I each have electric toothbrushes with a two-minute timer. Each night before going to bed, we more or less start them at the same time, and while Mrs. G. is fanatical about using up all two minutes, I will sometimes quit a little early. I brush at least three times each day, and I floss regularly, so I figure a few seconds aren’t going to cause all my teeth to fall out of my head. Even so, I feel guilty about it, so on most nights; I push on for the entire two minutes. If I feel as if I’m going to bail out early, I develop a case of tooth brushing wanderlust so she can’t see me cheat.
Well, about thirty seconds into my brushing, I felt a sneeze coming on and it did not feel as if it was going to be diminutive. This had all the makings of a historically atomic sneeze, as I could feel the tickle going all the way up my nose, past my eyes and into my brain. I tried to hold it in while the clock was ticking on my toothbrush, but there was no stopping this thing. I pulled the vibrating brush out of my mouth and let fly what was quite possibly a world record sneeze. It was easily a 5.5 on the Richter scale.
The carnage was devastating.
The mirror looked as if somebody threw a bag full of marshmallows, shaving cream, Cool-Whip and suntan lotion into a propeller on the other side of the bathroom. Everything in front of me was speckled with fluoridated foam. Meanwhile, the toothbrush was still pulsating and spraying the same pasty mess backwards at me. It was a slapstick twofer. I shut down the toothbrush, and from what I could see in the mirror, my face and glasses were covered with tiny little sonic blasts of cool mint and baking soda. I was stunned. My wife, however, took it all in stride.
“That wasn’t even close to two minutes,” Mrs. G. said as she calmly spit and rinsed.
I just sort of stood there until she left, looking like Shemp after being blasted by Moe with a banana cream pie. I cleaned up the mirror and myself and put the toothbrush away. Sometimes, you just have to know when to call it a night.
Fun tidbit #6. With only thirty seconds of use, a handkerchief has been found to contain fifteen thousand germs, so I have no idea why anyone would carry one of these roiling snot blankets in their pocket. That’s why Kleenexes were invented in 1924. Use a Kleenex once and then toss it and everything it contains away.
Not so with a handkerchief. You have to carry a loaded handkerchief around all day in your pocket, and then when you need it, you have to search through an entire day’s worth of nose treasures for a tiny little dry area. At the end of the day, you have to toss it in the same washer as the clothes you plan on wearing. Does that sound like something a sane person would do, Mr. Booger Shirt? If you still use a handkerchief for blowing your nose, your best bet is to burn the thing in the same hellfire reserved for demons.
So beware—a cold can sneak up out of nowhere, so you better stock up on Kleenex and Ninja stars or at the very least, red wool mittens. You never know when an evil cold virus will leap out in your direction.