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Peterson: Common colds getting way too common

Published: Friday, Feb. 7, 2014 12:07 a.m. CST

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OK, I’ve had it. Cold No. 3 – or No. 4? – this season has settled into my head and chest. I’ve had it. Really.

It used to be I’d get one cold a winter and be done with it. An inconvenience, but no problem. It’s to be expected.

This winter of my discontent has brought with it flu-like symptoms, a stay in the hospital and three or four colds. I’ve lost count. That shouldn’t happen.

It leaves me feeling weak and tired. My head is like a balloon about ready to pop. I have a sore throat. I have the sniffles and a cough. No fever, though! Small favors, indeed.

The common cold is the bane of medical science. Something so simple yet impossible to cure, other than it running its course.

My dad claims not to have had a full-blown cold in 20 years, ever since he started taking big doses of time-released vitamin C. He takes one a day, and if he feels something coming on, he takes two a day.

My good wife found a bottle of vitamin C at the drug store that doesn’t come flat out and say it is time released, but the bottle says it provides “24-hour immune support,” so you make the inference. The 500 mg tablets come in an orange jar with a splash of blue, the team colors of the Denver Broncos, and I’m not sure how much confidence I have in their defense against the common cold. Or the Seattle Seahawks.

There’s nothing common about the cold. It’s a virulent little sucker that saps you of your strength, just enough to make you feel miserable but not enough to make you stay home from work, where all sorts of germs lurk, and where you probably picked up this bugger in the first place.

By the time you realize you have a cold, you have passed the most contagious phase, and you are unlikely to pass it on to someone else if you take the proper precautions of coughing into your sleeve, blowing your nose, not breathing on anyone else and not touching anyone else. Easy enough to accomplish. Just keep your distance.

Employers don’t give you enough sick days to cover the duration of the common cold, especially if it hits three or four times in a season. You are expected to tough it out, and take the proper precautions against spreading it.

It used to be so simple, “Starve a cold, feed a fever.” But WebMD – my source of choice for free professional advice – says the “good news” is never starving either of them. You are supposed to feed them with all sorts of good foods: broccoli, beef liver, kale, mustard, collard greens and beets, in addition to orange juice – not oranges – tangerines, watermelon, carrots, cantaloupe and peaches.

Starving a cold must come from the fact that your taste buds are in disarray. Nothing tastes quite right, so it seems to make innate sense to avoid food. If it tastes bad, it must be bad, or so your system is telling you.

But whether it tastes good is beside the point for me. I have an appetite through thick and thin, good health and bad. I always want to eat something, if not everything. And that’s why I weigh more than I should by a decent margin.

If starve a cold were the remedy, by now I probably would be much closer to what I should weigh, which according to the body mass index is next to nothing, or 100 pounds less than I weigh now, whichever is less. I would be a bag of bones. But the body mass index sadists would be happy.

I thought – mistakenly – that all this water I have been drinking since November would ward off any colds, drowning the germs in a half-gallon of water a day. Sometimes, I look at that quart bottle of water and think there’s no way I can drink it all – it’s just not worth it – but before you know it, I’m on to the second bottle, if feeling a little waterlogged.

It all about hydration, and I was under the mistaken assumption that the water would wash away the germs that found home in my lungs and other internal organs. The common cold germs are doing a luxurious backstroke in all that water, rather enjoying themselves, as if they were at an indoor water park in the middle of winter.

Cold No. 3 – or No. 4? – has left me pining for spring. I’ll blame the cold weather and deep snow. And groundhog Woodstock Willie says we have six more weeks of winter. Enough time for cold No. 4 – or No. 5? Gadzooks. 

• Dick Peterson, who lives in Woodstock, is a mental-health advocate. He is a freelance writer and a former Northwest Herald Opinion Page editor. He can be contacted at dickpeterson76@gmail.com.

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