By Mordechai Schmutter
I’ve been thinking a lot about the common cold lately, because that’s what you do when you have a cold—you lie there and think. Not all of it is lucid.
You believe me, right? Every time I try to tell people I have a cold, they think I’m faking. Especially if I cough in the middle. That makes it worse.
I didn’t get my cold on purpose. I got it from my kids, who got it from school, I think. These kids pick up the weirdest things in school. We send them there to get culture, and they’re bringing home the wrong kind. You’d think that for all that money, someone would teach them the difference.
I don’t know which kid brought it home originally. The kids kind of all got it at once. For all I know, it was my three-year old, whose playgroup is up to the letter vav, so he came home with a virus. They get it in school, which means that someone came to school with a cold, and then we have to keep our kids home, so they don’t give it back to the kids who gave it to them, I guess. They have to give it to us.
So now my wife and I have it. Who has it worse? That’s the big question. My wife and I are constantly competing about it. And we do it at the worst times. One of our kids knocks on our bedroom door to tell us that we have to get up and drive them to school, and my wife turns to me and goes, “I’ve been up half the night,” and I say, “Every time I cough, it gives me a headache,” and she says, “Well, my cough-cough-cough-blegh.”
I don’t usually do this. Most of the time when I have a cold, I try to ignore it. I don’t have time for colds, because I have deadlines. They say that half the cause of colds is stress, and taking off work to get better is not going to relieve any of my stress.
But this time, I can’t ignore it. I got sick on Thursday afternoon, and I have a stand-up gig on Motzaei Shabbos. So I have to lie there and try to get better. And also somehow make Shabbos.
I don’t know what I’m going to do about Motzaei Shabbos. I can’t stand up there for an entire hour without coughing or blowing my nose. But on the other hand, my material is all written, so I can just have someone else read it aloud while I sit off to the side and blow my nose. I’m sure everyone will agree that’s worth the price of admission, right?
I’m also going to have people wondering if they can shake my hand. When we were growing up, our mothers used to tell us, “Don’t cough out in the open! Cough into your hand!” But then scientists discovered that most of us actually touch things with our hands, and that coughing directly into them was probably making things worse. So now they’re saying to cough into your elbow.
So my thought is that it might be okay to come over and shake my hand. But I’d suggest against people coming over to me and doing the Mexican hat dance or a Russian folk dance or anything else that involves linking elbows.
But on the other hand, even though I’ve been coughing into my elbows, I’ve still been blowing my nose with my hands. It’s really hard to do that with your elbows.
And I’ve been blowing a lot. We, as a family, have been going through thousands of tissues a day. There are mountains of dirty tissues all over the house. My wife recently bought a Costco-sized case of tissues and we’re plowing through it, making plow noises as we go. It definitely doesn’t help that my three-year-old does not use a tissue for more than one swipe. He takes the tissue, touches it to the tip of his nose, and lays it on top of the pile. And his nose is still runny.
How do you teach a three-year-old to blow his nose? Because he hasn’t been learning by imitation. “Follow me,” I say. And I make a noise like a panicked moose. And he laughs. But he can’t really see what I’m doing, because the tissue’s in the way. So then I give him a tissue and I say, “Blow,” and he blows. With his mouth. The bottom of the tissue floats forward for a second. But other than that, the tissue is still pretty dry.
But I’m not just spending all day trying to teach my kid to blow his nose. I’m also trying to get some sleep. This isn’t easy. I went back to bed on Friday morning, and kept having dreams that I was getting up and accomplishing things—cooking, cleaning, memorizing comedy. And then I woke up, and said, “Oh. Well, I’m definitely not feeling well enough to do those things again,” and went back to sleep.
My mother-in-law caught wind of our condition. So she got on the phone.
“What kind of sick are you?” she wanted to know.
I don’t know what kind of sick I am. The kind where I don’t go to the doctor, and I just kind of wake up periodically and go, “Better yet? Nope. Back to sleep then.”
“Well, is it a fever or a cold?” she wants to know.
I don’t know the difference between those two when I’m feeling well. They sound pretty similar to me.
“Well, when you have a fever, you’re hot, and when you have a cold, you’re cold.”
Really? Then I have both. I go to sleep freezing cold, wrapped in several blankets and a hooded sweatshirt with the hood drawn so tight that you just see a nose sticking out. Then I wake up sweating, and go, “Where did all these blankets come from?”
So she asks, “Well, what’s your temperature?” And I’m like, “I don’t know. I don’t take my own temperature. When I say I’m feeling lousy, I believe me. I don’t have to prove it with temperature. I don’t assume it’s just a ruse that I’m coming up with so I can stay home. I work at home!”
“Well, I can’t open my left eye,” my wife says.
“I can’t open either eye,” I say. You know, because of the hoodie.
I’m definitely trying to feel better, though. I’m drinking tea for my throat, for example. I don’t even like tea, and I have no tolerance for hot foods ever. I usually don’t even eat my soup until my wife says, “Okay, let’s start serving the chicken.” And lukewarm tea is not that helpful for a cold, even with honey.
But I keep drinking tea. From previous years’ mishloach manos. I am so sick of tea.
I even got desperate enough to try salt water. Whenever I got sick growing up, my father always told me to gargle salt water. It’s supposed to help. I think someone discovered it once when he was sick at a Pesach Seder, about three hours before the chicken soup. But not just salt water. Warm salt water. And my feeling was always, “Look, I’d rather be sick.”
But today I was desperate enough to try the salt water. Although I waited so long that it was cold.
One thing that I still refuse to do is something called “nasal irrigation,” and not just because of the name. Instead of drinking your warm salt water, you pour it into one nostril and it somehow comes out of the other nostril. It’s like a really gross magic trick.
I did try Advil and Tylenol, though. My wife keeps telling me that they’re not medicines—just painkillers.
“What’s the difference?” I ask.
And she says, “Well, they don’t make you better; they just make you feel better.”
And I say, “I think that’s what I want. To feel better.” I’m not really feeling well enough to care about the difference.
But the bad news is that as soon as I finish writing this article, I’m going to wake up and realize I have to write it again. I don’t have time for that. I just spent all this time sleeping. v
Mordechai Schmutter is a weekly humor columnist for Hamodia and is the author of four books, published by Israel Book Shop. He also does freelance writing for hire. You can send any questions, comments, or ideas to MSchmutter@gmail.com.