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Joel Klebanoff: Stuff & Nonsense

To worry is to be. To be is to worry.

The Common Cold

Do you hate the common cold as much as I do? It leaves you feeling headachy, sniffly, stuffy and generally lousy, but it’s not severe enough for anyone other than your loved ones to commiserate seriously with you for your plight—and your loved ones are probably only feigning sincere compassion to humor you. And doctors would likely tag you with a hypochondriac label if you ran to them with so insignificant an ailment.

A big part of the problem is the name used by pretty much all of the non-medical world, along with many medical professionals as well: the common cold. You feel miserable. What you’d really like is for people to make you feel special, but no. You’re merely common. Who the hell wants to hear that?

It’s worse for me than for many other people because I’m single. At some point in my cold I usually have to venture out to buy food and other supplies. There’s no one who will do that for me.

As I bundle up, stuff a cache of Kleenex in my pockets, and trundle out the door, I picture people spying me out their windows as I walk past. I visualize them telling their servants to draw the drapes so the sight of me won’t offend their sensibilities.

“Can’t they keep those commoners off the streets,” I imagine them asking. “He has such an obviously common cold. I wouldn’t want the sight of him to spoil the taste of this fine champagne and caviar. Oh, and tell the cook we’d like to start dinner with foie gras, followed by a lobster bisque, and then move to the pheasant course.”

In truth, I don’t live in an area where that scenario is the least bit likely. It’s a fairly middle-class, downtown neighborhood. Everyone here opens and closes his or her own drapes. Nonetheless, I can’t get that vision out of my head.

Having the “common cold” makes me feel so plebeian, when what I’m looking for is deep, sincere, universal love and sympathy from all of the people of the world.

Clearly, the common cold should fire its entire marketing department. It would get much more respect if it had a more impressive name. How about, instead of the common cold, the royal cold or the regal cold?

Why not? They might not admit it, but kings, queens, princes, princesses, dukes, duchesses, counts, countesses, and all of the other hereditary upper-class twits get the common cold, so why not name it for them? That will allow the rest of us to feel better for having gotten it.

Cold Advice

You often hear a lot of advice about how to prevent, cure or lessen the symptoms of a common cold. One of the most frequently prescribed remedies is “drink lots of fluids and get plenty of sleep.” Sometimes it amazes me how many otherwise rational people will believe and propagate the ramblings of village idiots. This advice could come from no other source because it’s impossible to follow it.

I believe that there is a simple, immutable biological law. Over time, output roughly equals input. I admit that I don’t know much about biology, so I imagine it’s possible that the body retains some fluid for its long-term use but, for the most part, what goes in eventually flows out. And “eventually” usually isn’t all that long relative to the course of human life.

I’m not a bed wetter. So, if I drink a lot of fluids I’m going to be doing a lot of getting up and going to the bathroom. That doesn’t leave enough time for getting plenty of sleep.

And, with regard to all of that peeing, I’ve never measured, so it might be just my imagination, but I could swear that when I have a cold the volume of pee that comes out of my penis (and, thankfully, out of nowhere else) exceeds the volume of liquid that I pour down my throat. How is that possible?

Maybe I was retaining water and the cold somehow released it. Like I said, I know very little about biology, so I suppose that’s possible. But peeing isn’t the only way you expel fluids. You lose some through perspiration, particularly if you are running a fever, and you exhale some water vapor with every breath. All that adds to the volume of liquid leaving your body.

Then there’s your nose. I don’t know about you, but when I get a common cold it usually goes through phases. During one phase I’m legal required to notify the fire department. Then, if the city water pressure isn’t at full strength, when the firefighters are called out, they rush me to the scene and hook two hoses up to my nose, one in each nostril. Every time I get a cold, there’s usually at least one or two days when my runny nose gets that bad.

Considering all of these avenues of outflow, there is no doubt in my mind that, when I have a cold, output greatly exceeds input. I would expect that, given the excess outflow, if the laws of physics hold, I should lose several pounds during every bout of a common cold. But that’s not the case.

When I get on a scale after finally beating back the cold, if I lean as far as I can in just the right direction I might coax the scale into telling me I’ve lost an ounce or so, but that’s about it.

Eat Stuff. Drink Stuff.

Apart from the impossible advice of drinking and sleeping aplenty, if you listen to enough people you’ll also compile a mile-long shopping list of food and drink that are, according to them, supposed to battle the common cold. Over the years, I’ve been told to consume one or more of the following when I have a cold:

  • Chicken soup
  • Consommé
  • Tea with honey and lemon
  • Tea and dry toast
  • Herbal tea (various kinds)
  • Garlic
  • Zinc
  • Echinacea
  • Acetylsalicylic acid (Aspirin)
  • Acetaminophen (Tylenol)
  • Ibuprofen (Advil)
  • Other over-the-counter cold medications
  • Oranges
  • Orange juice
  • Vitamin C pills
  • Vitamin C fizzy tablets
  • Rum
  • Whisky
  • Hot toddies
  • And the hundreds of other liquid and solid supposed cold-fighters that I’ve undoubtedly forgotten over the years

Don’t bother asking me what a hot toddy is. It’s one of the very few of the above remedies that I haven’t tried. When I’m told to drink a hot toddy to cure my cold, I’m usually feeling too miserable to bother finding out what it is. When I’m better, I usually forget all about them. So, I have no idea what a hot toddy is.

I’m almost 60 years old. I haven’t kept a strict accounting, but I think I average about one common cold a year. Some years two; some years none. Over those decades, I think I’ve tried all of the above home remedies except, as I said, hot toddies. Often, I’ll consume more than one of the above nostrums during the course of a single cold. My conclusion: none of them is worth a damn.

Maybe I should try a hot toddy next time, but I doubt it will change my conclusion.

It reminds me of an episode of the 1960s television show The Beverly Hillbillies. Daisy Moses (known principally as Granny) has a concoction that she guarantees will cure the common cold with just one spoonful. After a half-hour of Granny trying to push her cure, at the end of the show we learn that the remedy protocol is: take a spoonful of the potion, get in bed, and seven to ten days later your cold will be gone.

I think the same formula holds for all of the other common cold cures that people recommend.

If you have a common cold, you have my sincerest sympathies. Take heart. If it really is the common cold, you’ll probably be feeling better in no more than seven to ten days, no matter what you do. And if it turns out that it isn’t the common cold, well, at least you can take comfort in knowing that you are indeed someone special.

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Categorised as: health


  1. Janene says:

    You’re right. The common cold needs to fire its marketing department. It has absolutely no cache. As for hot toddies? Have to say, you’re missing out, though a big dose of NyQuil will give you the same effect. 🙂

    • Thanks.

      Your comment got me thinking. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it while I was writing my post, but my day job is in marketing. I wonder who I should pitch my services to.

      I guess I should try hot toddies. I use over-the-counter remedies like NyQuill occasionally, but only if I’m really desperate. The side-effects warning labels on most medicines, even non-prescription medicines, scare the hell out of me. I assume that hot toddies don’t come with warning labels. I’m good with it as long as I remain ignorant, so please don’t tell me the dangers of hot toddies.

  2. Have to agree with you, Joel. The only real remedy seems to be to wait until the virus grows tired of making us miserable

  3. Take two aspirin and some of Granny’s spring tonic, and call me in the morning.

  4. I really can’t remember the last time I suffered a common cold. I’m sure it has something to do with the Rum on your list. You take it to avoid the cold and it seems to be working. Should I walk past someone on the street with a cold – single people like yourself venturing out to buy your shopping when ill – I immediately have to top up on my Rum medicine. It works a treat, more potent that a hot toddy.

    I have a solution to you peeing problems. Buy a real nice fancy porcelain potty and put it by your bed and just don’t knock into anything and all will be well. This will reduce the time and distance during the night, although you may have a full bowl by the morning. Gross, but handy, ha ha ha.

    As usual, loved the post.

    • Thanks! Clearly, I should be drinking a lot more rum. Although, now that I think about it, you say that you can’t “remember” the last time you had a cold. Isn’t it possible that you frequently have colds, but the rum is affecting your memory? Then again it is not the cold, per se, that bothers me. It’s the feeling miserable. So if the rum lets me forget I’m miserable, that’s just as good. Rum it is!

      As to the porcelain potty, great idea! Just a couple of issues. This would reduce the problem as it wouldn’t take me as long to go pee, but it wouldn’t eliminate it as I would still have to wake up. And, second, I think I need the time it takes to walk to the wash room to wake me up enough to be able to gain control of the faculties I need for a steady aim. Otherwise I might spray it around the room.

      • Ah yes, good point. Rum and memory don’t always work well together, ha ha ha.

        Oh, I can settle the potty tip for you. Get a hose attachment that you fit in place before you go to sleep. That way, you can just relax knowing that your pee will automatically flow directly into the potty whilst you sleep. No getting up involved and no spray problems. I need a trademark for this one, although the first product may not be able to deal with people who toss and turn throughout the night!

  5. There is a worse situation that being male and alone when sick (including with the common cold): that’s being a single parent to small children who are likely also sick (if not the source of your cold).

    Bad enough that you can’t just go to sleep when you need to because you have to watch the children, bad enough that, if you do have to fetch things from the store, you have to cart the children with you.

    But frequently, since children don’t suffer in silence, they are miserable, cranky, crying, easily enraged, whiny, with fluids coming from nearly orifice and, if they have weak stomachs, possibly barfing as well. Dealing with that when you are already miserable, well, definitely something to be avoided if possible.

    • The problem with being someone who jokes around a lot is that people often think you’re joking when you’re being serious, but I’ll try anyway.

      My heart truly goes out to you. We’ve never met and we’ve only communicated through blog comments. So, the love and care you give your children is probably beyond my imagination, but I do know that it deserves my respect. I hope you and your kids are well. And always will be.

      • Fortunately, they’re relatively hardy, which makes it even harder when they are sick. I’m very lucky that I have not spent long periods of time with my children in the hospital – I don’t know how parents do it. Two of my children have had close brushes with death, but both recovered quickly (traffic accident with one, tylenol overdose with the other). I’m always exceedingly grateful, whenever I think about it, that the times they were in danger were relatively short and they both came out completely unscathed in the long run.

        Even so, I don’t mean to make light of being sick and alone. And it was my choice to have children, one I don’t regret. Still, when *I’m* the one who’s sick, if do sometimes long briefly for having no one else to be responsible for.

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