If the first bout with the common cold on any given year doesn’t arrive shortly after the clock strikes twelve on New Year’s Eve, it will most certainly bide its time until the following weekend. Having fallen back into the regular routine, one is hoping to rest from the madness of the holidays and the necessary return to normal life, and there it is: the sudden realization that, yes, one is equipped with a nose, and that one is tremendously aware that it feels larger and more ineffective than it did before. Welcome to the first cold of the year, the one that will make you wish you hadn’t tossed every bottle of expired syrup you had, and that you could lounge in bed basking in your misery rather than be outside braving the elements. Three nights I’ve spent feeling like the next morning is when all the nagging little symptoms blossom into large, wide-winged moths and nothing materializes…why? Because (insert creepily ominous music) it is J who has to wake up on Saturday morning happily begging for someone to pay attention to his nose.
The grocery store, the convenience store, the department store, the drug store…they are full of products intended to give your home an aroma of your choice that will transport you to a sandy beach, the Amazonian jungle, a Swiss chalet, a field of wildflowers. There are candles, sprays, infusers, potpourri, plug-ins, fan-equipped plug-ins, cardboard teepees that emit scent when one hits a button, small plastic towers that spit fragrance into the air when they sense motion nearby…and yet, in spite of all the inventiveness invested on this endeavor of making our homes smell like a Tahitian dream, nothing is more potent, pervasive and easily absorbed by all that surrounds one small dab of it in 2800 square feet of home than Vicks VapoRub. If the makers of Glade, Febreze and such could create the same effect, they would have a lot of satisfied customers. From the moment that J asks for Vicks, we know the house will smell like someone has a stuffy nose.
Yes, we woke up to a broad smile at the foot of our bed. Very much like the Cheshire Cat, J was waiting patiently for us to wake up so he could inform us of his stuffy nose. Still tangled in the cobwebs of sleep, I thought I’d heard a sneeze and a sniffle, but I’d told myself it could wait. I guess I must’ve stirred because, with a louder sniffle attached to it, the bed jarred significantly. If you’ve lived in California, the bed jarring can be unnerving and we sat up to see, not the room swaying and the fan about to fall on us, but rather J’s teeth gleaming at us. NOSE!!!!! What? NOSE!!!!! and a sniffle. Your nose?, I asked dumbly (“no, lady, the neighbor’s nose…the neighbor’s nose two doors down and across the street. Of course my nose!,” J’s look seemed to say.) And then came the one word I was dreading: “Vicks?” J formulated it as a question, but it was more with the meaning of “now? or later?” than “do I need it?” I nodded…and our lovely son bounced out of our room as if following the Pied Piper of Hamelin’s happy tune.
J is far from being a masochist, but he does enjoy the attention he gets when he’s sick. At the first sign of a sniffle, he rejoices thinking of the Vicks, the blankets, the humidifier, the vaporizer, the constant coddling he will receive on his way to being healed. Of course, there are times when he is sick enough to be miserable and there is no pleasing him, but this cold is just enough to make him feel like he just won the lottery. The same people who will switch to a sterner tone under regular circumstances will actually negotiate when he’s got a cold. Instead of resisting a request for noodles 50 times in a row, we might give in after 25…15 if he summons the Bugs-Bunny-facing-Elmer-Fudd’s-shotgun look…and don’t think he can’t or won’t because J can and will.
Why is it, I wonder, that men get sick and they regress? Don’t get me wrong, gentlemen readers, I am very fond of my husband and my sons, but they are a lot more high-maintenance than I am when sick. Yes, you are all capable and strong, determined and full of vim and vigor; you can operate heavy machinery, pee standing up, burp and fart so that the rafters shake, watch several football games in a row, lift furniture, work on mechanical parts of a vehicle…but catch a cold of the garden-variety sort and you are pretty useless. Nothing personal. You’re all awesome…but your wives, girlfriends, mothers, sisters, female acquaintances all think that when you’re sick, you’re a pain in the ass.
My husband is a wonderful man. I couldn’t love him more if I tried. He is one of the most capable human beings I’ve ever known in many different ways. He gets hurt and keeps going. His car breaks down and he keeps going. His clothes get dirty or ripped or ruined and he keeps going. The project he’s working on gets tossed aside and changed for something else entirely and he keeps going. He catches a cold and it FLOORS him. Don’t call him a nancy or a weakling or a wuss or anything of the sort because this is true of every man I know. My father, who has sailed around the Strait of Magellan in winter several times over and survived stomach cancer, cannot catch a cold without turning into an absolute pest. My father in-law, who has raised five boys, performed complex surgeries, been in the Army…catches a cold and becomes a whiny creature. I’ve seen men who have been shot and recovered turn into absolute messes in the face of something that can be alleviated with NyQuil and bed rest. Yes…this is true.
Women, well, we are a little different. At one point everyone in the house had a cold with the same annoying elements involved: runny nose now, stuffy nose suddenly (or, worse, one nostril stuffy and the other runny…alternately), sneezing of the kind that makes you wonder if your head just touched your feet, a scratchy throat that makes the cats look at you with an expression that says “furball?,” a mild headache, tiredness, a temperature that is not a temperature…but isn’t not a temperature either. During those three or four days I made enough soup to feed an army, changed and laundered sheets every day, replenished water bottles for everyone, remembered at what time each person had to take their medicine, dispensed tissues, emptied trash cans, made tea, did laundry and filled the tub so people could “take a bath and crawl back into bed.” The house was neat and everyone was happy, within reason. Everyone recovered.
When the cold caught up with me – Florence Nightingale- I crawled into bed seeking solace and comfort, wanting soup and decongestant, drinking so much water I had to pee whenever I felt finally comfortable enough to drift off to la-la land. The bumpy road to recovery was made all the bumpier by the apparent inability of the men in the household to find things that were in plain sight. I also woke up four times to discover a committee of what appeared to be three of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse staring at me as if I was on the brink of death. When they left for school and work, I crawled out of bed, took a shower, some medication and cleaned the mess they’d made “because they didn’t want to make noise and wake me.”
I am not worried about J’s cold because, as I said, the house stinks like Vicks and he is being coddled back to health. What I worry about is the cold spreading its noxious little hands and grabbing the other men in the household…if they get sick, I’m the fish swimming in the barrel.