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The evolution of a cold

You observe your friend complain about a cold. His skin feels warm and his eyes appear glassy and distant. He finds it hard to swallow as his voice gets progressively hoarser. You suggest that he gargle with warm salt water. You tell him to wrap a scarf around his neck and dress warmly. You give him vitamin C. You make hot ginger tea.

The next day he complains of a headache. He looks dishevelled and unkempt, refusing to take a shower or undress. He wears the same clothes from the day before and the day before.

Thinking that you are immune, you wake up one Wednesday morning with a dry throat. You wonder if you've caught the cold from him. As a precaution, you drink a glass of Emergen 1,000 mg vitamin C. You dress warmly and board your flight.

When you get off the plane, you discover to your delight that the weather is warmer where you land. So you shed your jacket, go for a swim, wash your hair, leave it to dry naturally, and put on a silk sarong and sleeveless top.

In the evening, you feel a chill. Your colleague remarks that you don't look so well. You feel slightly drowsy but not enough to stop you from having conversation.

At night, you feel cold but you are too tired to change out of your usual spaghetti-strapped cotton mini-lingerie which you had put on automatically when you get ready for bed. So you add on a long sleeved shirt and climb into your loft bed with bare legs. In bed you toss and turn, wondering why you still feel cold. The single cotton duvet does not seem to trap the heat you need to feel comfortable. You get up. You return to bed. You repeat this throughout the night as you descend into a full-fledged cold the next morning.

In the early hours you give up. You climb up the loft like a sleepwalker with your eyes closed. You find your beloved Japanese long-sleeved pajamas. You retrieve the Chinese silk duvet from the closet and put it on top of your cotton duvet. You take out a silk scarf to wrap around your neck. You try to sleep again.

Your throat has become very dry by now. You feel as though someone is trying to strangle you. Your head hurts. Every time you try to get up to do the simplest thing, such as visiting the toilet or going downstairs to make yourself a hot drink, you feel yourself gravitating towards the bed or sofa. Extreme lethargy overcomes you. In the end, you skip breakfast and surrender to the rainbow-coloured Mexican hammock outside. The sun shines on you as you drift into sleep.

Hours pass. You have done nothing but sleep. You look around you. Except for the flowers and the trees, everyone else is away at work. Reluctantly you get out of the hammock to gargle warm salt water to appease your aching throat. You manage a piece of leftover chocolate cake with your Lapsang Souchong tea and return to the hammock, this time with your Korean silk blanket. You wish and will your headache to go away, but it stays to punish you.

You send a text message to the friend that gave you this cold. You write, "I feel awful. I caught your cold. I can't do anything. Help!"

He is sympathetic and assures you that he is on the way to recovery.

You tell yourself to relax and do nothing, a task too challenging for someone used to multi-tasking and doing everything. Waiting for time to pass just so that you can get better is a luxury you cannot afford when faced with a long to-do list. You tell yourself to conserve your energy so that you can attend a special event that evening. You have already cancelled two competing events in favour of tonight's artists dinner and it is paramount that you make it.

You gather up the energy to cycle to the nearby supermarket to buy food for your empty fridge and medicine to relieve the headache. You can't resist stopping by the local library to send e-mails to friends that you are ill. By now your head is completely blocked. You can't smell anything. You can barely swallow. You soon learn that your taste buds have also retired.

You wear long sleeves and long trousers to attend the event. Overdressed among strangers, you struggle to remain upright and alert. After dinner, you excuse yourself with half of your plate untouched. Everyone looks at you with sympathy as you exit the door.

The next morning involuntary coughs wake you up. Oh no, you agonise, it is getting worse. You know that once you start coughing you can't stop. Your throat is killing you. Your headache returns. You use up tissues more frequently and earnestly to blow your nose.

The medicine you bought the day before is gone. You are still sick. You worry that you won't have enough time to pack and get your affairs in order. You worry that you will be too sick to travel. You worry that you will never recover.

You don't want to pass this cold to anyone else yet you wish someone could come and take it away. You long for company to distract you from the silence of being by yourself. You long for conversation to inject life to this unwelcome boredom. You wish you could wave a magic wand to wash up the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink, hoover the dirty floor, and cook soup noodles that would soothe your throat.

On Sunday morning, you conclude that you've probably caught the flu not a cold. By now you have begun to bargain with yourself --- rather the coughing than the splitting headache, rather the sneezing than the feverish, sleepless nights. You have considerably more energy than a few days before. The tradeoff is that you have now lost your voice to a whisper.

You have forgotten what a nuisance it is to get sick unexpectedly. But you rationalise, perhaps it's your body telling you to slow down and take a break. You deserve a holiday by yourself in the comfort of your own home, alone and incapacitated.

28 August 2004 Saturday

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Anne Ku at Ilp in May 2001
Anne Ku

writes about her travels, conversations, thoughts, events, music, and anything else that is interesting enough to fill a web page.
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