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©June 2001

Carol Jane Remsburg



Nothing To Sneeze At






It arrived without any warning.  I awoke on a Wednesday morning with the knowledge that I was in the pre-staging area for something awful.  Before my eyes had unglued themselves beneath the steaming spray of a hot shower, I knew I was in trouble.  My chest hurt with every breath.  The onset had been as sudden as flicking a light switch.


I was well and fine one minute and in the next I was sick.


It seems that I went from well to sick in about zero seconds.  I went from upright posture to bent & sickly from jump.  I couldn't breathe without a struggle and everything took all the effort I had to give.  It was akin to popping off to rappel Angel Falls on a whim—when you are older, aged, and have no staying power—fear is not counted here.  On just a whim, you can do this—then my body revolted.


"I'm tired, I'm older, and I don't want to be sick!"  The job calls.  I must attend. 


My job required no physical exertion other than speaking.  Speaking became difficult very quickly.  I labored just to breathe.  Talking brought about long bouts of coughing, gagging, and sneezing.  Most folks wondered just "where" I was.  Well, I was right there and apologized profusely—right up until I had to disappear again.  I didn't want to make them deaf.


When you get a really bad cold, a summer cold that you'll remember to the end of your days, it becomes hard just to get through the night.  We won't even discuss getting through the day.  During the day we are upright and quasi-functional even when we scare others away.


Alas, during the night things become just a tad more frightening.  Will our lungs clog up totally and suffocate us in the dark.  When each breath is labored then we struggle to fight back.  There is no rest.


The dirty details of this cold/infection/illness do not warrant the graphic descriptions of the flood of phlegm to be hawked up, the productive sneezes or coughs, or even the overall general lassitude that overwhelms the victim.  Three days of hell pass, then seven, then ten, and by the twelfth day you are well enough to be aggravated beyond toleration.  Your strength is beginning to return just so you can get mad—really mad.  But you find that you are still hacking your lungs out.  If you were lucky, when you were a kid you had a protracted case of Bronchitis or Pneumonia—either one would have helped you suffer through this onslaught.  Your scarred lungs know what to do even if you don't.  As you've entered into your 40s, early or late, you've little patience with this and nothing a doc with any of his/her array of antibiotics would stem this trauma by other than a day or two.  You already know that having suffered the DOC some gazillion years ago when you were just beyond the "tot" stage and all those shots of PC in your butt.  After all that you are now most thoroughly allergic to penicillin—the one drug that might help. 


No fever here, but abundant lassitude and weakness.  No aches—other than in your chest.  Your breathing, which is as much as you can muster aside from the wracking coughing fits, sounding like a big Harley with a slow and clogged starter. 


Every remedy known to mankind is resourced.  From Vicks "Vapo-Rub" to inhalers, and hot tea with raw honey and real lemons to steaming poultices to Nyquil—nothing breaks the solid hold of this cold.  There is no PVK or 'cilin of any brand that will do the job.  Time and suffering is what pays the piper his due.  Puffs and Kleenex are sighing in relief as you've purchased and used enough of their product to ward off any 3rd quarter dividend concerns.


Your eyes are weak and teary, your skin pale to the point of obvious.  You look like death walking.  Compared to you, Typhoid Mary was the poster child of health.  People avoid you. 


Still you work.  The other minions around you catch it.  It's that dreaded summer cold that arrives like the relatives did in the old south, they came and they stayed!  You wonder if it/they will ever leave and if you will ever recover your health or you sanity.


And on day 12, you know that it's finally nearing the end; that those midnight moments of madness as your chest freezes up is nearly past.  You will be well again.  Unless you've been sick, the word well has little meaning.  Every so often those in charge will make us sick/ill—take your choice.  Sick is sick and when it gets bad to the down and dirty of it all we whine and grouse with the best of them. 


It's those next two days when we return to normal after a protracted illness when we rediscover what is it like to be alive.  We feel refreshed and new.  It's almost like we've been born again.  No, not like with religion—we feel totally alive with an energy previously unrecognized. 


Then it all calms down again and we don’t encounter it again for another 7-10 years until we get this sick again. 


When we were kids, being sick was nothing.  We knew that Mom would lavish us with attention, funny tasting hot tea, ginger ale, and some really fine homemade soup.  We were clucked about, our pillows plumped, and our fever gauged every fifteen minutes.  We were loved and coddled.  We had no doubts over our recovery.  And when we vacillated, we were given grief.  We knew we were getting better then.  There is no love like that.  Now that we are older and have to muck about for ourselves, we know only the misery for as long as it lasts without that ever-knowing and all-comforting touch.


Sigh . . .


I miss my mom.



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