Remedy < Disease.

coughThe average cold lasts five days. That’s according to something I read somewhere so it must be true even though whenever I have a cold it feels like it goes on for five years. Even from an objective viewpoint that seems ridiculously short and it also occurred to me that’s probably the average time with cold medicine. I have a theory about cold medicine. I don’t think it makes you well and in most cases it doesn’t. It just treats the symptoms which is the problem. I think cold medicine drags out the cold making it last longer than it would if you just did the natural thing and curled up in bed for five days. People seem to have a problem with that, mainly, I think, because the second or third day you’re going to run out of fresh sheets to blow your nose on. But like I said cold medicines treat the symptoms: the runny nose, the coughing, the aching head and body. These symptoms are not directly caused by the disease itself. They’re caused by the body’s response to the disease. Our bodies are smart enough to know when unruly neighbors have moved in and need to be evicted. Let’s put it even more forcefully: our bodies know when an enemy has slipped in and it becomes necessary to go into attack mode. All that excess phlegm is the body’s way of clearing out the intruders. Coughing and sneezing are the body’s way of expelling what doesn’t belong and those wads of mucus are the graveyards of germs and the brave antibodies and the white blood cells that bravely fought in our defense. That’s why it’s so important to keep drinking and taking vitamin C when you have a cold. You’ve got to keep your precious bodily fluids topped up so the expulsion and continue and vitamin C does, well, it does something. That’s why whenever I get a cold I take about two billion milligrams of vitamin C a day. I don’t just pop vitamin pills like they’re candy. I take it like they’re candy and it’s the day after Halloween only I don’t need my parents to check any of my stash because my throat already feels like I’ve swallowed razor blades, but that’s another story. Every cold is a battle and hot tea and orange juice are the only things standing between you and your lungs turning into the Somme. Whenever I come through a cold I like to think there’s a tiny monument placed somewhere along a major artery: “This plaque commemorates the brave leuokocytes who gave their nuclei against the viral threat. Lest we forget.”

And that’s the problem I have with cold medicines. They stop the coughing, they dry up the runny nose, they even remove the aches. I feel like cold medicines aim for the wrong target—and even then they miss. Cold medicines don’t just put me to sleep. They put me into a coma and I wake up the next morning feeling even worse than before. I get those dry, hacking coughs that sound like a goose being goosed. At least with a wet, phlegmy cough I feel like things are moving, being cleared out. And that’s true of blowing my nose too. At least when my nose is running all it takes is a good blow to clear out the junk. There’s a feeling of intense relief that comes when I blow out a two or three pound mass, the kind that leaves me feeling like I’ve blown my brains out but in a good way because now my head is empty, for about ten seconds anyway and then the sinuses start to seize up again. Cold medicines deprive us of that. They make us just carry around the cold that much longer. Those cold medicines that are designed to get you through the day are really the worst because they encourage you to take your disease-addled body out into the world. Hey co-workers, the holidays come early this year and I’m giving you all influenza! At least the night-time cold medicines provide some relief and in that respite it’s possible to sleep. And if there’s one thing the body needs while your antibodies are charging across Pleural Fields it’s rest. Rest provides strength and speeds recovery. Without it you might get one of those colds that lasts five years.

12 Comments

  1. halfa1000miles

    I always find it weird that something says “stops the cough” and is also an expectorant. How does that even make sense? If you have something to expectorate, shouldn’t you have something that makes you cough MORE?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That is really bizarre and makes no sense. If it stops the cough it’s an inpectorate, right? Although now I realize I missed an opportunity by not calling this post “What To Expect When You’re Expectorating”.

      Reply
      1. halfa1000miles

        Damn. You’re right. That title would have rocked. You still get major props for the afterthought.

        A cough suppressant that’s an expectorant. Nonsensical.

        An inpectorate sounds like an inpec’s advanced degree.

        Reply
  2. Michelle

    Timely – I’m just at the tail end of a cold. And it’s been longer than 5 days – tomorrow marks a week since I woke up with a combine harvester in my throat. The worst part for me is the clogged up sinuses. I’m sure I must have freakishly oversized nasal caverns because it’s astonishing / revolting how much snot comes out of them during a regular cold.
    We try to avoid medicines in general, with the boys too. Especially with fevers, because as you say that’s how our bodies fight off stuff. Panadol if they’re in pain too, for sure. But what I hate the MOST about cold season is how some parents bloody well know their kid is sick but dose them up with medications to mask the symptoms then send them off to school like nothing’s wrong. And then infect the rest of the class. Prep last term was like a petri dish; one day there were 10 kids away sick. 10 out of 28!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      I’m glad you’re at the tail end of it. For me they always seem to come on when the weather changes, although around here the weather has been changing freakishly with it going from high summer weather to late fall weather and now back to high summer. Avoiding medicines really seems to be a good idea because it trains your body’s defenses. As Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill me makes me stronger”, although sometimes that which does not kill you makes you weak and vulnerable to something worse.
      Parents sending their sick kids to school is really irresponsible. In the workplace we also have to deal with coworkers who sometimes insist on coming in even when they’re sick. I try to be a good employee but I’ll stay home a couple of days to rest rather than risk making myself sicker and passing on something to everybody else in the office.

      Reply
  3. Sarah

    Christopher, are you sick? I’m just wagering a guess. 😉 I smiled my way through this post, and love your description of how much Vitamin C you take. Actually, I really needed to read this. I am a cold medicine ADDICT whenever I’m sick; you would truly be disgusted. It’s a problem. I definitely take the “more is better” approach and drug myself up to the point where I have this constant whooshing sound in my ears, like I’m listening to the ocean inside seashells. You’ve definitely made me reconsider how I handle the next illness to come around. I think in Germany they condone taking shots of whiskey and then curling up in feather duvets and letting it all sweat out. At least, I think that’s protocol. I’ve heard it thrown around as an idea once or twice. I’m going to skip all of that and take your advice for the next one…including staying at home!

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Am I sick? Have you read my Halloween stories? I’m about as sick as they get! I’ve also been battling a cold lately. And maybe the “more is better” approach is better, at least if it allows you to keep going. Maybe I’m allowing myself to slack off too much from my responsibilities. If I couldn’t get away with crawling into bed and putting the sheets over my head for a couple of days I think I’d dose myself to the gills and keep going even if it meant prolonging the disease.

      Reply
  4. mydangblog

    I think you’re right. I’m allergic to a LOT of medications, and can’t take anything really for colds or coughs. I find that just resting and taking oil of oregano mixed with white wine does the trick for me. I’m all about the natural remedies.

    Reply
  5. Moonwatcher51

    A most entertaining description of flu/cold and flu/cold symptom management. I do all that and balance it out with scotch, hot water and honey. You may not get rid of the cold faster, but at least you feel comforted. Good luck with your campaign.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Scotch is an excellent remedy–in fact I do sometimes resort to an old family cough medicine that’s basically honey, whiskey, and lemon juice. If nothing else it helps me sleep.

      Reply
  6. Ann Koplow

    I don’t have a cold, Chris, but I plan to reread this curative post the next time I do.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      It may be too much to hope that you never have a cold, but right now you have more than enough other things to worry about so I’m glad you don’t have a cold at the moment.

      Reply

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