The Phases of an Annual Virus

October 23rd, 2022

As I grapple with a fall sore throat and the impending doom of COVID (We still haven’t had it yet! We are freaks!) I launch my browser to do some work, and with a few mislaid keystrokes in Google Drive, accidentally but serendipitously bring up this blog post I wrote five years ago and apparently never posted. This was a solid three years before the pandemic, yet somehow prescient. Also a good indicator of how I’m going to handle COVID, when I finally get it.

Phase 1: Idealist proactivity

This is the phase where you develop a nagging sore throat and some coughing and become aware that you’re getting sick. So you make a chicken broth — from scratch!! — and start drinking lots of fluids and ODing on the Vitamin C and wearing essential oils known to prevent satanic forces from penetrating your force field. You’re on it. You’re chugging the fire cider, sipping the elderberry syrup, adding astragalus to your smoothie, putting garlic in every single thing. You’re even taking the Cold Calm under the tongue every four hours even though it has never worked before. (Please, no more recommendations, I’m maxed out on herbal remedies!)

You’re not going to let this get full-blown. Nope.

Your spirits stay pretty elevated for the first few days, empowered by all the righteous ways you are treating the matter head-on. Plus, you haven’t had alcohol, sugar, or flour in weeks. Your body is a pure temple*.

* where viruses worship, apparently.

Phase 2: Malaise

Yet again, you wake up with a sore throat — it’s getting worse — and think, this is the first day of the rest of my life. My shitty, shitty life where I will always be sick. I’ve done everything in my power to prevent this, but I will never feel well again.

The malaise sets in. Your husband keeps asking, “What’s wrong?” You bite his head off and remind him that you’re dying and that you hope he appreciated your fully integrated personality while it was in existence. Welcome to the new you.

Phase 3: Practical proactivity

But you have twin toddlers and you have to work, so you can’t just lie around listlessly visualizing the gremlin that now lives in your throat. It’s time for the big guns: Western medicine. You start taking everything within reach: 600 mgs of Ibuprofen at a time, Robitussin to sleep, daytime cold medicine during the day, and Cepacol lozenges every time you even think you might cough. So many lozenges. You send your husband to the store for more lozenges on his way home from work. “Multiple boxes, please.”

Side worry — are all these lozenges going to give you tooth decay? Technically you’re not even eating sugar right now.

But it’s getting worse. Now, you can barely eat because pretty much anything irritates your throat. A whiff of ginger powder in your alleged “cold buster smoothie” sends you into paroxysms of dry-heave coughs over the sink. You’re crying and gagging at the same time. You’re miserable for large chunks of every day.

Desperate, you start researching “natural sore throat/cough remedies,” and you’re amused to see that nearly all of them contain things like ginger, cider vinegar, or black pepper — all of which exacerbate your cough tremendously. You suspect that the people who write these things have never actually had a chest cold.

Phase 4: The doctor

Now you’re starting to get paranoid. It’s been almost a week. This can’t actually be a cold. You definitely have strep, or SARS, or something. The COVID tests are all negative but you just don’t trust them. You’ve lost days of work this week. Desperate, you make a doctor appointment.  

Your doctor palpates your glands, looks in your throat, and listens to your breathing and your litany of complaints.

“You have a cold,” he pronounces. “Or maybe allergies.” He prescribes some new medicines, including a nasal spray, and asks you if you’ve ever heard of a neti pot.

(Your neti pot is at home serving as a fine receptacle for your makeup brushes, also unused for a long time now. And under the best circumstances, your neti pot irritates your throat. No way.)

Phase 5: Going clear

This is ridiculous. All the medicines are starting to make you feel worse. It’s time to go clear*. 

* not in the Scientology way!

Well, except for the robitussin. They will pry that out of your cold dead hands (probably literally). 

The next morning, you wake up and pray for a copacetic throat. You spend the entire day taking only small sips of air and water, eating only enough to not pass out, and only very bland things. Trying not to yawn, turn your head too quickly, or do anything else that might cause your throat to get cranky.

This is the mental jiu-jitsu phase.

Phase 6: Dead inside

Weeks and weeks of lingering, hacking cough, and malaise. Welcome to the new you. You’re a hollow shell of what you once were, with sallow skin that displays the visible proof of your haggard innards.

You don’t even notice when you start to feel better, you’re so dead inside.

Phase 7: The cyclical nature of life

You’re finally better, and your amnesia reflex kicks in, so the next time this happens, you get to start all over again with the doomsday thinking, and no recollection of having survived a virus the last time.

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