In a word, it was hubris: thinking that somehow I could avoid the common cold that affects so many people this time of year.

As I went about my life, it seemed like just about everyone I spoke to either had a cold or had just gotten over one. I, on the other hand, was feeling fine. I attributed this to taking all the right preventative measures: getting enough rest, exercising, eating a healthful diet, keeping my distance from anyone with a red nose, and so on.

I certainly felt for these miserable sick folks. After all, hadn't I had at least three colds a year during the days when I taught full time in the public schools? Seventh- and eighth-graders all seemed to be sniffling and sneezing at the same time within the confines of my small portable classroom. However, now that I could control my environment to a much greater degree, I figured I had it made…and I did … until.

I had gone to bed Friday night feeling absolutely fine, looking forward to a busy Saturday of bicycling, some shopping and other fun activities. I woke up Saturday morning knowing without a doubt that the enemy had not only attacked but had emerged victorious. Spending time with the blame game was an exercise in futility. It could have been anyone of a cast of thousands … or maybe the one person I had counted on who had let me down: me.

Foul ball, I cried out loud. I didn't even have a chance to buy some OTC compound containing polysyllabic ingredients or take an extra dose or two of "Jewish penicillin," i.e. chicken soup. It was already a fait accompli. Why had this happened, I asked myself, half expecting an answer from a booming voice in the skies. After all, I didn't get sick last summer after spending a sleepless night in a busy metropolitan airport. I felt fine during my recent group tour, in a bus crowded with at least 40 other people. No problems during the Christmas holidays when I was surrounded by other shoppers, at least a few of whom must have had colds or the flu. And now, out of the blue, why, universe, why?

I crawled to the grocery store and did a bit of shopping, knowing full well that within hours I wouldn't have the energy to do so. And then as if on cue from some invisible cold meister, the symphony of symptoms began: the dripping faucet of a nose, the slight headache, sore throat, the coughing and sneezing.

But the worst part of all was that recognizable virus fatigue that just left me flattened. It was tons worse than simple lack of sleep. All of us have at one time or another had to keep going after a night when we were shortchanged on our z's. But I was powerless against the virus fatigue. Alternating between the couch in the living room and loveseat in the den, I gave it my best shot by resting and also drinking hot tea — all to no avail. I would simply have to tough this one out.

A few good friends called and commiserated when I told them how punk I was feeling and asked if there was anything I needed. They even called back a day or so later to see how I was doing — for which they get extra gold stars in my friendship book. As for the world in general…

After about three days, I started venturing out for an hour or so, still feeling a bit weak. When I told people I had a cold, no one paid much attention. The message was: between the world situation, health care issues and the recession, a head cold was pretty small potatoes. The indifference of those around me was perhaps the greatest indignity of all.

A week has now gone by and I'm rejoining the human race. My conclusion is that taking care of oneself is still a good idea. But the truth is that in spite of our best intentions and actions, stuff happens. And when it does, the only thing we can do is deal with it and hope that there are folks around to show a little compassion and, metaphorically speaking, bring us a cup of tea, as we would do for them. In case anybody's interested, herbal's my favorite.


Barbara Russek is a French teacher and freelance writer. She welcomes comments at

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