I was, by all accounts, a sickly child.
I have no recollection of this, but my mother told me that when I was incredibly young, I had a bout with Scarlet Fever—something that was apparently somewhat common in children with strep throat, though it sounds so archaic, doesn’t it? Like it’s the kind of thing that would have been going around during the same time as the Bubonic Plague, not in the early 1980s.
The first time I can clearly recall being a sickly child was when I was 10 years old and was stricken (for the first of many times to come) with bronchitis—bedridden for days with an organ-rattling cough coming from somewhere deep within my frail body, comforted only by re-runs of “The Frugal Gourmet” and “Supermarket Sweep” on Lifetime, or the stream of music videos played during the day on MTV.
There was the unexplained case of the Chicken Pox when I was in junior high and the lengthy spell of pneumonia when I was in high school. I’d like to say that I went from being a sickly child to some kind of healthy, well-balanced adult, but that’s not entirely true.
People presume that because I am a vegan, I am on some kind of really healthy diet—that is not the case. I just don’t eat meat, eggs, or any dairy, but I will put away an entire box of cookies without blinking and then, maybe like an hour or so later, think, “Oh man maybe I shouldn’t have eaten all of those cookies.”
I will overeat at dinner, only to have a moment of remorse wash over me as I am doing the dishes—“Maybe I shouldn’t have had that second helping, or that eleventh piece of pizza.”
I drink so much coffee that, whenever a medical professional asks me about my caffeine intake, I grow very panicky and manage to stammer, “T-two or th-th-three cups of coffee in the m-m-morning,” which is a goddamn lie and what I should really be saying is, “I walk around with an IV bag of coffee dripping into my body and you can pry my coffee mug from my cold dead hands.”
I don’t get enough sleep. I’d like to say it’s because I deeply identify with that Nas lyric—“I never sleep, because sleep is the cousin of death,” but it’s simply because I enjoy staying up later in the evening to spend time with my companion rabbit, and I also never sleep in—I get up early every day, even when I don’t have to.
And I have to get up during the night to pee at least once because of all the coffee I drank during the day.
I’ve got debilitating anxiety and depression; and a decade ago, I actually thought I was dying but as it turns out, it was only a bunch of ulcerations in the lining of my stomach.
I don’t exercise; I am so willowy that a slight breeze will topple me over and while I have a fair amount of upper body strength because of the kind of work I do, I wouldn’t say I am “fit.” Please don’t ask me to go jogging because my breathing is growing labored at the very thought of it.
So maybe I’m not the spitting image of health as an adult, but I thankfully have grown out of my childhood ailments like Scarlet Fever and bronchitis.
One thing you never grow out of is the common cold.
I’d say maybe once or twice a year, I’ll catch a cold from somewhere—though lately, because I interact with the public so often for work, it seems like it is happening more often than it should be for someone who washes his hands as often as I do and who screams “DON’T BREATHE ON ME” at other people who are sick in my presence.
This most recent cold, which I will relay to you in great detail, I blame on the young woman who was assisting me at Chuck and Don’s when I was purchasing hay. I heard how congested and snotty she sounded as she was ringing me up and I had to really practice some restraint in not yelling “BITCH, ARE YOU TRIPPING? I CAN’T AFFORD TO GET SICK. GET SOMEONE ELSE TO HELP ME!”
Nearly every cold begins the same way—they begin with a very specific feeling, and complete disbelief and denial on my part.
The specific feeling is an itch, or a tingle, coming from my nose. This is long before I’ve blown through (literally and figuratively) an entire box of tissues and long before the skin under my nose is red and raw. No—it’s just a feeling.
When I become aware of the tingle—that is when the disbelief and denial begin.
“Oh that’s weird,” I’ll think to myself when I notice it. “That’s how my nose feels when I’m starting to get a cold. But I can’t be getting a cold. No. There’s no way. My nose just feels weird right now, and I’m sure I’ll be fine.”
It’s by the end of the first day, and into the second day—with the feeling in my nose still present and possibly, by this point, getting worse—that I, deep down, understand what is about to happen. But, with that understanding, I am still repeating to myself, “I’m probably not getting a cold. Maybe it’s allergies—yeah, that’s the ticket. Allergies. I bet the pollen count is really high today.”
Then, the congestion starts.
Perhaps you’re familiar with this kind of congestion—the kind that moves from one nostril to the other, with very few moments of reprieve, throughout the day.
It’s usually around this point when I will timidly say to my wife, “I think I am coming down with a cold.” And admitting it like that—you may as well just be saying “fuck it,” and opening your arms wide to welcome all the other afflictions, like sinus pressure, coughing, and a general feeling of malaise and disorientation.
I’m pretty confident that nobody handles the common cold gracefully. Most of the time, it brings out the worst in a person—moping around, feeling miserable.
I will be the first to admit that I do not handle the common cold very well. The expressions “big fucking baby” and “overdramatic” could be used to describe my overall aesthetic as whatever I am stricken with at the time runs its course. I will make statements like, “I wish I could remember what it was like to feel well,” or “What’s it like to be able to breathe through both nostrils at the same time? What a luxury that must be,” as I blow my nose one more time, eviscerating the tissue in the process, chew on another zinc lozenge, and slurp another large gulp of tea.
I will be so certain that I will never feel well again, that from behind my pile of rumpled and destroyed tissues, I’ll be crafting my last will and testament, looking to get a clergyman on the line to stop over to perform last rites.
“You should try to go to bed early,” my wife will suggest through these difficult times I face in my illness; “Maybe you should stay home from work,” she’ll add—both ideas I usually scoff at openly.
Why would I want to do those things? Why would I want to try to take care of myself, and why would I want to not put others in harm’s way?
As I entered day 10 of my cold, much to my surprise, I am not on my death bed. However, 10 days of a cold is, like, at least nine days too many. The most severe of the symptoms subsided after a little over a week—the feeling in my nose and throat like I swallowed a bunch of chlorinated swimming pool water has faded; the pounding sinus pressure on my face has dissipated; and, for the most part, I can breathe out of both of my nostrils.
Despite these improvements, there have been some symptoms that have lingered. That very focused and painful congestion has now just become a very loose and irritating stuffy nose I can’t seem to shake, along with an intermittent sore through that I attribute to the sheer amount of post-nasal drip I am currently ingesting.
On the 11th day, I did what I probably should have done in the first place, which was pony up my $40 co-pay and head to the doctor—who, as expected, after taking a short look at me, strongly suggested that I wait it out a few more days.
“GIVE ME A MOTHER FUCKING PRESCRIPTION FOR A MOTHER FUCKING ANTIBIOTIC,” I wanted to shout after he was done examining my nose and throat—and he wound up giving me one (without me even having to ask), only to use if I “felt like I really needed it after waiting four more days.”
Four more days is a lifetime to someone who has already spent over a week not having full capacity of their nostrils. And after spending yet another day snuffling incessantly, I headed to the pharmacy with the hopes of some kind of relief in the form of an antibiotic the size of a horse tranquilizer.
As I was paying for my prescription, the pharmacist pulled me aside to explain to me the things that were clearly printed on the bottle—take twice a day for 10 days, take with food, et. al. She did mention that it may upset my stomach, and that I shouldn’t be surprised if that happens.
“Good to know,” I responded.
So what is worse—having a constant stuffy and snuffly nose for a few more days, or violently shitting out everything in my digestive system?
Considering that I can barely remember what it was like to be “well,” maybe this is it, you know? Maybe this is how it always was, and I’m just remembering the state of my health wrong. I mean, I can’t even remember how many zinc lozenges I’ve had today, and the bottle specifically says you aren’t supposed to take more than 12 in a 24-hour period of time.
Maybe I was never able to perfectly breathe through both of my nostrils, and I just have this vague notion of what it might be like to do that—like being on the cusp of remembering a dream you had.
Maybe I’m perpetually mildly congested, always complaining about it, and now violently shitting all I’m going to get.
Kevin Krein has been operating the award winning music blog, Anhedonic Headphones, since 2013, and he contributed the back page column to the Southern Minn Scene magazine for roughly three years. His writing has appeared on Bearded Gentlemen Music, Spectrum Culture, and in River Valley Woman. Whether he is congested or not, you may find him complaining on the internet, saying things that are ‘disturbing and mean.’: @KevEFly