The 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.