There are worse things than a summer cold, but right now I couldn’t tell you what they are. You can expect a cold to grab hold of you in the winter, when cold describes everything, and the misery of the virus oozes into the icy gray landscape. Feeling rotten seems almost OK because it’s too lousy outside to do anything else.
But a cold in August brings a different kind of suffering. With head throbbing and nose running, I can’t tell whether I’m frying or freezing. Often I’m both. To make matters worse, it’s been lovely outside; I sit here pining away.
And there’s one other thing about a cold that only happens in the summer. I can’t eat. Where a winter cold has the good sense to make me crave chicken soup, a summer cold is a total snob, turning its puffy red nose up at everything. I shuffle down to the kitchen, unable to remember the last time I swallowed anything more substantial than a Motrin pill; I stand in front of the open refrigerator and consider my options.
Watermelon? Too juicy. Peaches? Too furry. Leftover pizza? Who ordered that? Yogurt? No way. Eggs? Are you serious?
It’s as if the virus has commandeered every part of me, including my appetite. That originates in my brain, and what’s the virus doing in there, anyway?
It’s been four years since my appetite was taken for a wild ride by six rounds of chemotherapy.
The morning of my first treatment, my doctor burst my “At least I’ll get skinny” bubble by informing me that some women gain as much as 50 pounds on my course of treatment.
“It messes with your appetite,” the doctor said. He was right about that part: For four months I ate nothing but jugs full of pink grapefruit sections and rice cakes with peanut butter. But he was wrong about the 50 pounds; I came out even.
Other things besides illness can tamper with appetite. Former first lady Nancy Reagan once said she stayed so slim because she worries. If I lived in the fishbowl of the White House I’d be worried, too, but not the skinny kind of worry. I also tend to eat when I’m happy, so I’m pretty much screwed for weight loss.
On the worst day of my cold this week, my friend tried to get me to eat some breakfast.
There I was, a sorry wad of flannel, hunched over the kitchen table as he tried to make a case.
Grapes? Yogurt? An omelet?
“I don’t understand this,” he said. “I am very good at separating food from catastrophe.”
He said he couldn’t remember a time, ever, when he didn’t feel like eating. Sad, happy, worried, hospitalized – none of it took away his appetite. But men are like that, not as likely to be taken for a ride by their appetites.
“If the world were ending and we were sitting in a bunker eating our canned rations, my last words would be, ‘Are you going to finish that?’”
Just the act of typing that last sentence, about canned rations, makes me a little bit queasy. It is now day four of my cold, with at least a couple more days to go. At this rate, I’ll be ravenous when the cold is gone. But right now, I can’t feel it.
Beth Dolinar can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.