The Curious Case of the Common Cold

I feel like death warmed over.  If you’ve never heard that saying, spend some time in the Ohio Valley near Steubenville, Ohio.  It’s a common, cryptic observation used when people feel lousy.

Do I feel rotten because I am seriously ill? Well it feels serious, but the embarrassing truth lies in a personal weakness.  I actually weather serious physical issues pretty well.  I come of solid, sturdy stock.  When I was about 12, I watched my mother who’d just fallen down a set of over 20 concrete steps and sustained a terrible gash on her left leg, climb those steps with the aid of a neighbor.  He simply held the dreadful gash together as Mom made her way up the Stairs of Demented Laundry Practices.  That “gash” required 75 stiches inside the wound and 150 on the outside. Awful, you say? Absolutely! But it taught me the inner steel of the woman.

At 17, I visited my father’s hospital room after several frantic hours of not knowing anything except he’d been injured in the boiler room of Wheeling Steel in Yorkville, Ohio. (Yorkville, by the way, is the next town over from Tiltonsville, Ohio.  Anyone who loves poetry or football will get the reference to “Autumn Comes to Martins Ferry, Ohio” by James Wright, a famous poem that amazed me the first time I read I knew it captured a sense of my childhood and youth.)

Anyway, I had afterschool band practice, and the woman who provided my way home mentioned casually, “Sorry to hear about Paul.  Must have been a bad accident. Ambulance and everything.” I hadn’t heard anything.  I rushed into the house when I got there looking for a note of some kind.  Some indication of what had happened. Nothing. Nada. Zero. So I phoned my grandparents: no answer. I phoned a close friend and all she had heard amounted to the same nothing. I finally went next door.  All Mae Moore, one of the sweetest and most generous women that I knew, could only repeat the gossip.  She could tell me that Mom had run out of the house, pulling my brother with her and they’d peeled out of our gravel drive without a glance for other cars. That alarmed me. Mom’s driving had legendary status.

Finally, after two hours of worrying and impotence, she came slowly into the house. “Twana. I didn’t leave you a note, did I?”

Wow–that did not sound like Mom at all.  She never admitted she had neglected to do something obvious.

“Is Dad okay?” I asked.

“He will be.  He’s a strong man.”

The truth terrified me.  A pipe conveying superheated steam had burst, catching Dad in the chest. The weather, in the low 30’s F, meant he wore layers and layers of warm clothing.  Although he worked in the boiler house, he spent a great deal of time out on the landing and barge platform on the Ohio River, coping with incoming coal, and outgoing steel.

All those layers kept him from dying instantly, but they also absorbed the hot steam/water and kept the scalding fluid on his body.  He’d been shipped to the hospital in Martins Ferry–the place where Mom had given birth to us 3 kids.  When I finally saw him, a wire cage over his bed kept the sheets from touching his scalded body. He grinned at me, “Boy, the devil had me marked yesterday.  I’m good though. These ladies,” he gestured at the nurses, “are taking care of me.”  He’d already become a favorite.

He came out of that episode with minor scars, and no pain meds that I knew of.

S0–sturdy stock seems a bit of an understatement, huh?

I myself went through multiple surgeries on a destroyed ankle.  I’d slipped off a curb and shattered the blighter.  I rarely complained, although I discovered I am not a woman to get hooked on prescription pain killers. They gave me the personality of a rabid Tasmanian Devil. I snarled, I snapped, I lost my temper multiple times daily. Then one of the doctors happened to mention these rare side effects.  I might have turned into a witch, but I didn’t complain.  My husband nipped my self-pity in the bud when he observed, “You know the doc said on a bell curve, you’re in the tiny ‘worst that I’ve seen’ part.  If you’d slipped and broken your neck and had the same kind of odds, you’d be paralyzed and I would have to deal with a wife who couldn’t turn her head.”

Leave him to give me a dose of admittedly harsh reality, but a good reality check nonetheless.

So, when I say I feel like death warmed over, I expect most folk think I have a terrible disease, or have hurt myself again. Nope. I have a cold. My head hurts, my throat burns, my nose drips, my body aches from the coughing, and I can barely see my eye color due to the bloodshot whites and red swollen eyelids.

I think of the amazing surgical magic my orthopedist did on my ankle. I look at how long older people live and suffer because technology can take care of an array of treatments. I think of organ transplants and brain surgery, AIDS research, and controlling typhoid, malaria, and the Bubonic Plague.  Then I wonder: what’s the deal?  Why can’t they kill the common cold? Why haven’t they inoculations to prevent getting one?

I watched the aging film, Independence Day last night–how do the valiant citizens of earth wipe out the invading aliens? They use a virus–probably no more complicated than the common cold.  And didn’t the old The Day the Earth Stood Still  destroy the invaders with the common cold? 

So, I’m going to square my shoulders, brush my unwashed hair, change out of pj’s and face facts. There is nothing common about a cold.  It’s just a soothing name for a nasty bug capable of wiping out alien invaders. I’m ready, governments across the globe. I am strong. I am brave. I am infectious. Call me, heads of state, if an alien invasion happens in the next couple of days. I’ll happily sneeze on them and therefore prevent the use of nuclear weaponry.

Mom used to tell me, “You’ve plagued me all day.”

Little did she know, my body took that as a call to arms. When cold germs swarm, I usually do not fall ill.  When I do, though, I know my cold is the worst cold in the world and I should die from it–and come back warmed over.  That just makes me wonder. How does anyone know exactly how that feels?

Lousy cold, I grumble, selfishly ignoring my husband and sons who have far worse symptoms.  I’m just going to Google “death warmed over.” I know someone, somewhere has the details of how this is worse than a cold.

Excuse me while I sneeze.

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About twanabiram

Writer, English professor on leave, mom, Believer, singer, reader, guiltily addicted to Frontierville on Facebook.
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2 Responses to The Curious Case of the Common Cold

  1. Steel says:

    heh know how ya feel, getting over a cold my self. Not to be nit picky but it was War of the Worlds (by H.G. Well doing what can be considered a stunning critige of British Empire building.) that the martain invaders died via cold. The Day the Earth Stood Still not so sure, never watched the flick.

  2. twanabiram says:

    I was told–very kindly–that it was “War of the Worlds” in which the aliens die from human germs/viruses. Wouldn’t you just know it? Yet more aliens!

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