Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tissue Issues

I've had a cold since April 13, our last day in Paris, so I'm coughing my way into Week 3 now. (I also brought home a couple of souvenirs I wanted. I'll post a photo soon.)

I do what I can to avoid getting sick since my colds always drag on for weeks or months. I avoid overexercising, getting chilled, public transportation, crowds, churches, children, hand-railings, hand-shaking, social kissing (unavoidable in Paris; always awkward here), hugging people who aren't my husband, sharing glassware, and absolutely everything on an airplane.

All that is usually successful. This is the first cold I've had in a few years, so I shouldn't complain. But I'm going to anyway. Don't feign surprise.

Cats hate coughing. I've never had a lap cat who put up with it.

I always get the same horrible cold; it's always severe, never mild. It begins with swollen glands and a pervading sense of doom. Then my sinuses try to suffocate me. My nose becomes fully blocked and  runny at the same time. I spend the first days at home, breathing through my mouth, having stuffed tissues up my nose because it's hands-free and more efficient.

Doctors say we should avoid nose-blowing as much as possible during a cold because it just makes our sinus passages more swollen and inflamed. Just blow one nostril at a time, gently and occasionally, they say. As if we have a choice. Well, they can go to hell. We're already there, and we're using tissues two or three at a time because one is a joke.

I take as much Sudafed as I can stand, which leaves me wired, tired, and dry-eyed. But it occasionally allows me the use of my nose for a few hours. I take Fisherman's Friend cough drops. This vile, old-fashioned remedy stops a cough. The lozenges look like flat, dingy pebbles and are pure menthol, an acquired, addictive taste. If you try them, you'll hate the first two or three and you will love the rest.

Menthol is appealing when I have a cold because, aside from those lozenges, everything I eat tastes like fish blood. Or how I imagine fish blood tastes. I have no theory about this, except that the Cold Fairy likes to add insult to injury.

I pile books next to the bed. I stay up all night reading until I doze off from exhaustion. It's the only way, since I don't have a working nose. But sleeping gets scary around Day 4 or 5. That's when I get cough-variant asthma. This means that suddenly — usually when I'm sleeping — I'm coughing so violently that I have to hold my ribs and worry about passing out. This goes on continuously for up to 45 minutes — or until I remember my Albuterol inhaler. Since I only get a cold every few years, it takes me a little while to get up to speed after I've unexpectedly woken up dying.

Cats really hate coughing.

Until last year, I got monthly allergy shots (cats, trees) for about 18 years. The nurses at the clinic helped me through my colds, allergy attacks, and asthma, giving me breathing treatments and free inhalers, and, if I was lucky, a few weeks of prednisone pills. Besides helping me breathe, they gave me amazing energy and an abnormal urge to houseclean — ordinarily a repulsive activity. After two weeks on those pills, I could inhale and exhale deeply, without coughing, and I had a spotless house. (I'm going to the allergy clinic this week so, if you read here about how I've been scrubbing under the bookcases, you will know.)

Cough, cough.

A couple of weeks ago, I was so tired and desperate to breathe normally that I took a late-night shower and inhaled hot water deep into my sinuses. It burned like crazy, but it helped for a while. So I dug out a NeilMed nasal irrigation kit that an allergy nurse had given me years ago. It is made by a California company, but the doctors who patented it were not very hip about its packaging. It is so covered with ads, slogans, and stray bits of information — in lots of fonts, sizes, and colors — that I'd kept it just because it was funny:

I see a bit of blank space, Dr. Mehta...

I mixed some warm solution in the squeeze-bottle, braced myself, and inhaled it. It was fine. It helped for a couple of hours. It's easier than a neti pot; I failed with those, even with a nurse coaching me. With this bottle, you just need to bend forward a bit and look down (over a sink, in the shower) and breathe through your mouth. (You can also pretend you're a high-school science project if it makes you less grossed-out.) Anyway, it's not like drowning or inhaling pool water. It doesn't sting. Just don't buy the NeilMed pre-made solution packets. Go online, pick a recipe, and mix you own solution of a little salt and baking soda. Do not let Dr. Mehta and CVS charge you $16.99 for 100 tiny packets of same. Dr. Mehta must be richer than many small countries by now and we shouldn't encourage him; his graphic-design sensibilities are too terrible. And ignore his suggestion that the entire human population should be in the habit of rinsing their sinuses daily for proper hygiene, like flossing. No, no no.

Yesterday, I did laundry and, for the second time, encountered yet another Bad Thing about Colds: the tissue that makes it into the washing machine from a pocket. It's hard to feel stupider than when you're wasting a ridiculous amount of time again, picking at soggy bits of white lint that have burrowed into wool socks, terry towels, flannel sheets, and black tees. I don't get sick often enough to be in the habit of going through my pockets. Yesterday, I gave up and threw the mess into the dryer, where most of the lint blew into the filter. That was great.

Maybe everything goes away if you wait long enough... and blow hot air at it. But you're still here. Would you like a disgusting cough drop?


  1. I hope it's almost over for you. I too avoid other peoples' germs like the plague. Even yesterday in the grocery store I held my breath when a woman near me was coughing and I stood in the longer checkout line to avoid her.
    Reading your post has given me the urge to wash my hands.
    Reading your blog makes me feel less neurotic. And like I'm not the only person ever to hate cilantro.

  2. Feel better and, um, no thanks for the cough drop, as yummy as you make it sound, I'll pass this time.


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