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Cold comfort 

You don't beat a cold, you beat a virus with a cold. And some DVDs. And some toast.

Forget Gaza. Forget HIV. Forget global warming and the recession, too.

It's January. And that makes it time for the Western world to pipe up about what we really see as the greatest challenge of our time---the common cold. Or, more precisely: When are you bastard researchers going to find a cure for this mo-fo?

Comedian Wanda Sykes did a funny bit at Montreal's Just for Laughs Comedy Fest (check youtube.com), joking that the cures to all serious diseases were only stumbled across by accident on the way to developing Viagra. Her answer for why there's no vaccine for the cold? It doesn't have anything to do with the penis.

Naturopathic doctor Sarah Baillie takes a different tack. No one's figured out a cure for the common cold, Baillie says, because the cold is the cure.

What now?

"We've labelled it [that] you 'get' a cold. What you get is a virus. And the cold is the response to it. It's the body's immune system responding."

Snot is mucus that traps germs before they go farther in. Sneezing expels viruses from the nose. Fever makes the body inhospitable for bugs. Fatigue is a way of forcing people to take it easy.

And, you know, I can wrap my head around all that. I've written in this space before about how much better it would be for all of us if we just learned to accept the occasional cold. If we admitted happy defeat and holed up in bed with an Arrested Development box set, a box of tissues, a jug of water and an attentive caregiver bringing alternating doses of hot buttered toast and soup.

Baillie says there's even more to cold recovery than going to bed. A cold generally lasts three to five days, if you're in pretty good health when the virus gets its toe-hold. But, she says, if it hits when you've been eating poorly or have a history of eating poorly ("too much sugar, for example, too much alcohol, too much caffeine, not enough anti-oxidants such as vegetables, not enough protein---protein is the backbone of the immune system---and too many carbohydrates) or "if you're entering that cold from a place of deficiency---exhaustion, stress, burn-out or even just tired" it takes longer to get better.

"I don't know if the symptoms would be worse," she says, "but they will linger."

OK. So here's my question: What about when your cold goes away but one little nagging symptom hangs around like the last guy at the cocktail-party shrimp ring?

I mean, let's say you're up. You're about. You're right as rain, really. Except for the honking cough following you around like the smell of frying fish on a wool sweater. Or, let's say, the fluid that's crept into your ear and won't go away---a fluid that's robbed you of half your hearing, sets you off-balance and makes you feel like you've thrown back four Tanqueray and tonics for breakfast every morning for two weeks. (Can you tell I'm speaking from experience here? See, my annual over-Christmas cold has come and gone. But the fluid in my ear has hooked up his satellite cable and a password-protected wireless connection and settled in for the long haul. If you see me on the street approach with caution: I may fall over at any moment).

Why? Why? WHY won't it go away? And why is it so frustrating? I'm talking beyond the physical inconvenience of a lingering cough, loitering ear fluid or those last seemingly never-ending post-nasal dripdripdrips. It's difficult not to take them personally. You start to feel those hanging-on symptoms are colonizing your body out of spite.

The frustration, of course, is cultural.

Society's "productivity mantra," Baillie says, "doesn't give you much longer than a day-and-a-half to get well again." And even in a best-case scenario---where you're healthy to begin with and you listen to what your body is telling you and head directly to bed---that's not long enough to bounce back.

The lesson? Remember who's in charge.

"These viruses are smarter than we are," says Baillie. "They are stronger and smarter. When we become immune to them, they just mutate."

Idiot humans can't manage such adaptability.

So, I guess if you can't beat 'em? Join 'em. Preferably in bed, with an Arrested Development box set, satellite TV and a solid wireless connection.

Send chicken soup and bad romance novels to Lezlie Lowe at lezliel@thecoast.ca.

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