Observations from my week with a common cold

Warning: This is perhaps the worst medical advice one can imagine.

office-neti-pot(Please see update at the end of this post.)

I can’t remember ever staying home from the office for an entire week because of a “common” cold. But that’s what I’ve just done. I know it was a common cold because of something uncommon I did after about three days of it: I went to the doctor. Most of the colds I’ve had seem to be a nuisance for a couple of days and then gradually get better. This one, however, slapped me on the side of the head and kept getting worse. So I called my doctor’s office and they were nice enough to work me into his schedule.

One can have a cold, I learned from my incredibly well-read (as in, his answers to questions begin with, “well, the latest literature on that says…) and somewhat geekish doctor (why we’re so compatible), and then have “complications” related to the cold (what was going on in my body). Then, when your body starts fighting one thing, it backs off on fighting something else, so it all becomes a mess and nothing gets better. One can get a flu shot (I did) and still get a cold. They’re not the same thing. That’s about all I can remember from the visit, other than him prescribing an antibiotic that he didn’t want me to use unless the cold wouldn’t go away. (I started taking it immediately.)

The worst part of the last five days, however, was a persistent headache.

head-pain-400In hindsight, I believe the headache issue came from not drinking as much coffee as I typically drink each day–two cups before noon, none thereafter. (Note to self: Drink coffee, even when you’re sick.) However, my doctor explained lots of scientific things that are taking place in my head, which I sum up in the animated GIF I created on the left. (Update: For advertising trivia buffs, I’ve embedded a brief video of some early TV commercials for Dristan and Anacin at the bottom of this post. Like any boomer-generation child, I saw 1960s versions of these commercials so many times, I still believe this is how the inside of our heads look like.)

Here are some things I somewhat recall thinking about during the haze and delirium of the past week.

1. Ginger Ale? Do people drink it if they’re not sick? I don’t. But I’ve had about a gallon of the stuff during the past week. Ginger Ale. It’s sounds so 19th century. And why do we drink it when we’re sick? My wife says, “because it’s clear”? I accept her explanation as she’s my only link to recovery. And what is that taste in ginger ale? It certainly doesn’t taste like that the ginger you get at a sushi restaurant. Maybe that’s because the ginger at a sushi restaurant is probably pickled. I should google that. And why am I sounding like Andy Rooney or Jerry Seinfeld?

2. Who actually dreamed up the neti pot? If you don’t know what I’m talking about, this page on Web MD that has, count-them, five Sudafed ads appearing on it, explains the neti pot and other nasal irrigation devices. The copy on the side of the box mine came in (mine is shaped like a genie lantern) claims neti pot-like devices have been around for centuries. I’m guessing that for most of those centuries, people were polite enough to not mention they existed. The thought of doing a self-administered nasal irrigation is one of those thoughts I can’t think of a reason for anyone ever having. But somehow, they did. And after you get over being convinced you are going to drown yourself by doing it, it actually clears out your sinuses for about ten minutes. During the past week, my neti pot has become something akin to a 2-year-olds’ comfort blanket. (Note: The FDA issued this “update” on the proper use of neti pots after two deaths were linked to people using germ-infested water with them. Synopsis: Don’t use germ-infested water for nasal irrigation. Come to think of it, don’t use germ-infested water for anything related to your health. Perhaps washing your car or watering a newly-planted tree with germ-infested water is okay.) (Second note: I didn’t ask my doctor about whether or not to use a neti pot as I was afraid there might be a lot of literature on it.)

3. My doctor recommended that I use Afrin spray instead of taking anything like Sudafed. I then cracked a joke about Breaking Bad, but I don’t think he’s read the literature on Breaking Bad, so he didn’t get the joke. I have never used Afrin and, after I followed his advice and did, I discovered two things: (1) If you tell someone you’re using Afrin, they immediately tell you about someone they know who is addicted to it. (2) It wired me tighter than Dick’s hatband. I stayed awake for 24 hours straight after my one and only use of it.

4. My wife is married to the biggest “illness” wimp there is. She does an amazing job convincing me of her empathy even though I’m sure she’s thinking I should “just get over it.” She’s very happy I’m finally feeling better.

5. I work with some great people who always get things done whether I’m in the office or not, providing me the ability to do the one and only thing that actually helps one recover from a cold: rest.

Update, Sunday, January 18, 2014: After posting this, I was accused of setting back western medicine by a few decades and eastern medicine, a few centuries. Also, and unfortunately, it aired after I needed it, but this episode of the public radio show The People’s Pharmacy features the awesomely named author, Dr. Tieraona Low Dog, who explains lots of home remedies that work better than a lot of the crap sold at drugstores. Dr. Low Dog (just wanted to say the name again) has a new book called Healthy at Home: Get Well and Stay Well Without Prescriptions published by National Geographic. I didn’t know National Geographic published self-help home remedy books, but I’m guessing they specialize in publishing books that people never open, but refuse to part with, collecting them forever in a stack on a special shelf in a living room bookcase.

Video of early TV commercials for Dristan and Anacin which baby boomer generation children each saw several thousand times (perhaps millions) who were later “Santa Claus” shocked to learn the imagery was a metaphor and that a pounding hammer doesn’t actually exist in ones head.