I guess the signs of an incoming cold (or sinus or other various and assorted respiratory infections) vary for everyone. Maybe your nose starts running, just a little at first. Your head feels stopped up, maybe your throat starts to get that prickly feeling and you think to yourself, uh-oh. You're in denial. "It's just my allergies." you assure concerned co-workers, who shoot you side eye every time you blow your nose or sneeze. Your nose starts dripping more, and since you are still in cold denial and not yet willing to stuff tissues in every available pocket, you start surreptitiously wiping it on your sleeve, or if you're really desperate, your shirt collar. The throat tickle worsens and suddenly doing anything other than sitting still and nursing a throat drop causes you to have a coughing fit of epic proportions. The side eye from co-workers continue, as you try to assure them, in between coughing fits, that it's still just allergies.
Then there comes a moment - and again, this is probably different for everyone - in which you are forced to finally admit to yourself, but most definitely not anyone else yet, that this is a cold. For me it's usually a sneeze, a huge sneeze with a lengthy buildup. The kind of sneeze where you sort of involuntarily freeze and contort your face around until you sneeze violently, usually expelling an alarming volume of mucus that you are then forced to wipe somewhere. After this sneeze - and I never know it before, but I always know after - I know. I know I'm in for at least a few days of moaning, whining couch sleeping, tissue-littered floors and early, clumsy attempts at natural remedies followed by an enthusiastic embracing of modern medicines, as you ditch the Echinacea and Vitamin C for Alkaseltzer cold and Nyquil.
Because justice is so poetic, often times this moment occurs while I'm at work. I sneeze THE sneeze, try and wipe the snot on my office chair or somewhere on my sweater, and then have to decide: do I admit to these good people that I have been lying through my teeth for two days about allergies so that I can leave and go home? Or do I stubbornly cling to the lie and soldier through, germing up my desk, my phone, my pens, my keyboard, until I can stagger out at 4 o'clock and drive home in a haze of sinus pressure? I find it's better to just 'fess up as soon you are willing to admit that this is more than an allergy attack. Just find your boss, and say something charming like, "I really thought this was just allergies, but I just keep feeling worse as the day goes on. I think it might be--" at which point the recipient of this speech interrupts with "Just go home! Go home and feel better." And then they go through all the motions of helping you pack up and gather your things, and as they lead you towards the door, someone else is approaching your workstation wearing a surgical mask and carrying a spray bottle of undiluted alcohol to sanitize your stuff. And their stuff. Because we've all seen those Mythbusters episodes about sneezing.
The next step is incredibly important: if it can at all be avoided, DO NOT GO HOME YET. Even if there are children to be picked up, even if you feel like hell, do not go home without stopping and picking up some essential supplies. Yes, you're tired and you're sick, but the truth of the matter is that if you go home now, you will not feel like going to the store later. I don't care what you tell yourself, you won't do it. And around 10PM, when you're miserable and your nose is completely raw from blowing it on paper towels (or baby wipes, like I did once), you'll wish you had stopped at the store, but now it's too late, and maybe the kids are in bed and also, you don't feel like going. Maybe you'll be lucky and there's someone else who will go for you, but never assume.
These are good, handy items to have around the house all the time, but maybe you've run out of them for some reason. Possibly because I'm not a very good adult, I never think about tissues if I don't actively need them, thus I rarely have tissues in the house. So the following is a list of things to make your cold experience a little better (your list might be different from mine, so feel free to add, but never, ever subtract):
- Vitamin C
- Hot Steam Vaporizer (you might be tempted to skip this, but don't do it! they have many benefits)
- Vapo-Oil, or some other product that you can put in your vaporizer
- Tissues with at the VERY least lotion. Even better with lotion and aloe, and BEST with lotion and Vick's scent
- Neti Pot (if you're like me and can't take sinus meds, this is a lifesaver!)
- Neti Pot Saline Packets
- Convenience Foods
While you are at the store, you should pick out some food items that can be easily cooked and/or eaten. Go ahead and get some soup, but if you want Hot Pockets, get those as well. You will lose your sense of taste fairly soon, so it's not really going to matter. Plan on drinking lots of water, but also grab a special beverage for your sick days. Ginger ale is always good. Get orange juice if you want, but OJ gives me heartburn. Once you have obtained everything on the list, go home.
1) Put on comfy pajamas. Go with a light weight pajama, because you can always cover up with a blanket if you get cold.
2) Pick your sick spot. Maybe this is your bed, maybe this is the sofa - but decide where you will hold your court of sick. It's usually best if this spot has access to a television and decent natural light for reading. Prepare your sick spot with comfy pillows and your favorite blanket. If you are a responsible person, place a small trash can nearby for litter. If not, throw your litter on the floor - screw it, you're sick. Make sure there is a place to hold a drink. Find books you might want to read and place them nearby. Put your new, soft, vick's scented tissues nearby.
3) Prepare your vaporizer. Instructions will come with it. Don't add too much salt, but be as heavy handed with the Vapo-oil as you would like. I'm not happy until the entire house smells like Vick's. If someone were to approach my home, I want them to be able to smell the Vick's from the porch - sort of an olfactory plague cross. The vaporizer should be close enough to be helpful, but not so close that it steams up your glasses or obstructs your view of the TV.
4) Go into the kitchen (bathroom, back porch, wherever), blow your nose and use your neti pot. Is it gross? Absolutely. Uncomfortable? Yes. Helpful and possibly able to shorten the duration of your cold? Totally worth it, then. Use distilled water so you don't get any weird water bugs in your brain (true story; google it).
5) Take your vitamins. Wash them down with a decent amount of water.
6) Fix yourself some dinner. Maybe you're still willing to go for the soup, but maybe the Hot Pockets are calling your name. Whichever, fix it, eat it. It's probably best to eat it in the kitchen or whatever passes for your dining area - if you bring it to your comfy sick spot, you might be too lazy to remove your dishes and then you'll just feel gross.
7) Lie back and settle in. Shove tissues in your nose, if it feels too drippy. Take off your pants, if that's what feels comfortable. Wallow in your own filth and misery. Think unhappy thoughts. Remark to yourself about how unfair it is to be sick when you have to work the next day. Do the same a couple of days later, when you're complaining about how unfair it is to be sick when you're off the next day.
8) The duration of an illness can be lessened with rest, so rest.
A note about those saints of the sick, caretakers: If you have someone around to help you with things, awesome! Good for you. But be true to your sick self, and considerate for that someone. Are you the kind of person that really just wants to to be alone when you're sick - to sleep sans pants on the sofa with one leg thrown over the back, mouth gaping open and snoring like a chainsaw? Maybe you can excuse that someone from having to be around for that. Different people have different ideas of what taking care of someone else means. For one person it could be leaving soup on the front porch, ringing the doorbell (which is hopefully clouded in vapo-oil haze, if you're doing it right) and running away to their car to avoid your germs. This is acceptable, because who wants to get sick? Other people might think it means sitting with you the whole time. If you're cool with this, it is also acceptable. You should never feel the need to dictate how someone helps you, though. Demanding someone sit with you while you watch TV and hack and sneeze and fart into the couch cushions is never endearing. Accept offers of help graciously, if the help is needed, but don't expose innocent people to your germs because you are feeling lonely and want someone to wash your dishes.
Follow the three day rule. If you're not better in three days, go to the doctor. But do wait the three days, if you can. Use your common sense here. Don't get dehydrated or ignore troublesome symptoms.
And if your old mom is anywhere around, just know that you can call me - day or night, regardless of the hour and how germy you might be, no matter how old you are, and I'll gladly come and take care of you. I'll put a hand on your fevered brow and then make a fuss over you. Feel better, my love. And remember that this, too, shall pass.