My wife, Heather, is a nurse practitioner and is constantly exposed to sick people. As such, she’s jaded when it comes to seasonal maladies. Every day she’s seeing tough cases—diabetes, cancer and the kind of stuff that used to get diagnosed on House, M.D.: “Have you been in contact with any frogs in New Guinea? I thought so. There’s a species there that breathes on you while you’re asleep and causes your ears to turn green six months later.” So when I get the first hint of a sniffle, the clock is ticking until Heather breaks out the term “man cold.” I’m not sure what the standard is for a non-man cold, but I guess I should be glad I haven’t hit it yet. Because if they brought Abe Lincoln straight from Ford’s Theatre to Heather’s office, she would have told him to cut it out with the man cold.
Yes, I get it: Women are tougher and more stoic when it comes to pain and discomfort. But it’s not like I’m faking it—a point I make on Night One of my current ailment, when I’m coughing my brains out at midnight, totally unable to sleep. See, I’m not just being a baby about my sore throaty-woaty. There’s actually a physiological problem, in that there’s fluid in my lungs and my body does not want it there, thus rendering me gross and repulsive to everyone, including myself. As I toss and turn, trying to find the magic position that will stop the coughing, I hear Heather’s voice in the dark. “I think I have a cure for your cough,” she says. “Really?” I ask, suddenly hopeful. “Yeah,” she continues. “I’m going to murder you.” Then she banishes me to the guest bedroom.
I spend my first hour there curled into the fetal position under the covers because the heat wasn’t on and now I’m in The Revenant. Incipient hypothermia does at least take my mind off the coughing, which continues.
Since I’m awake, I have plenty of time to contemplate the strangeness of sleeping in my own guest room. I find myself wondering who the hell has a super-bright clock radio these days. Oh, right. I guess I do. When I get up in the middle of the night to set off for the bathroom, my legs are taken out by a chair. I’m basically a human Roomba, bumping into things until I map my surroundings. The good news is that the next night I don’t hit the chair, because I turn the wrong way entirely and walk into the wall.
But it’s not just the major differences that upset my usual routine. It’s the details, too. In my usual bathroom, the toilet has a soft-close lid. I guess we didn’t invest in that kind of luxury for the guest bathroom, though. When I flip the seat down as I walk away, it crashes onto the bowl so violently that the ensuing concussive blast might be a sonic boom from the leading edge of the seat breaking the sound barrier. All I know is that the toilet must be rubble and car alarms are going off down the block.
Then I go to wash my hands and water sprays all over my entire body because in here we have a vessel sink, which is the type where the entire bowl sits on top of the vanity. It was fashionable for two weeks in 2009 and it’s the very stupidest kind of sink, the genre you find in an unsuccessful sushi restaurant. When I encounter one in the wild I always treat the faucet like a guy on the bomb squad removing a wire from the slab of C4 plastic explosive. Careful, careful, just get a little trickle going … and then it suddenly shoots a Bellagio geyser out of the bowl and directly onto the crotch of my pants. Who the hell has one of these moronic devices in their house? Oh, right. I do. I’m beginning to understand why nobody wants to visit me.
After a few days of incessant hacking and minimal sleep, I drag myself to Heather’s office, where everyone is wearing face masks and looking worried. “We’ve had five positives for flu this morning,” one nurse says. I’m pretty sure I don’t have that, but they test me anyway, just to be safe and because I think Heather enjoys the thought of a Q-tip being shoved up my nose. They also give me a steroid shot, which is supposed to help with coughing but not your personal-best bench press (I asked).
Then Heather sends me home to my guest-room quarantine. Later I find out that the flu test was negative. That’s a relief, obviously. Although the thought occurs to me that, if the test were positive, I would at least have a bulletproof rejoinder to the insinuation that I’m wimpy: The actual flu, undisputed pestilent killer, ravaging my body. But my terrible, terrible symptoms don’t quite hit that level of calamity. Not that they’re not awful and serious. In fact, I’ll bet roughly half the people out there would agree with me: Man cold is brutal this year. ◆
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