His Cold, Her Misery

January 06, 1991|By Joanne Sherman

My husband is in the next room. I hear him moaning. He said he thinks he's dying. No, what he actually said was that he's not going to die. I made the mistake of asking him how he felt and in his weakest voice he urged me not to worry because he's too sick to die.

The man has a cold. A regular, run-of-the-mill head cold. Thsame malady that strikes the rest of us at least once annually. In the 20 years we have been married, my husband has never had a cold. He's had food poisoning, a slipped disc and severe sunburn, but never, ever, has he been stuffed up with a head cold. And so he doesn't know that there's a certain etiquette and protocol involved.

He doesn't know colds are supposed to be suffered with dignity, and quietly, as privately as possible. He's wrapped in a blanket, with a thermometer he's convinced is broken sticking out of his mouth. He cad breed and he'd code. He calls to me every 10 minutes to report on his latest new pain. His teeth hurt. His scalp prickles. His eyes itch. He wants tea, then soup, then gingerale. I bring him a glass and he asks for a straw and is disappointed that it's not a flex straw. Like his mother used to give him. He lets cups of everything sit untouched. He's too sick to die and he's too sick to eat. He just moans between every breath he can't take. When I'm in the same room he moans in little hissy squeaks. If I'm out of the room, he moans louder.

He won't take any of the remedies I have on hand to treat mown twice-a-year bouts with the cold bug. Trust me, I tell him, I know what works. But he's afraid 12 hours of antihistamine will make him a candidate for the Betty Ford Clinic, and he refuses everything except sympathy.

Unfortunately, I'm a little short on that. I know he's suffering, know head colds are no fun. But this wheezing, whining man is the same guy who for two decades has bragged that he doesn't catch colds because he's too busy, and too healthy and too smart. He makes this announcement every time he sees me squirting nasal spray into my sinus cavities. Exercise, he advises when I have a cold, is the best cure. When I suggest that he might feel better if he takes a shower and gets out of his pj's, he gives me a look that says, If I really loved him I'd give him a sponge bath. He's asked me twice if I'm going to work tomorrow. You bet I am.

The only time he gets up is to check the thermostat. I'b freedinghe complains and cranks it to 80. No, he doesn't want another blanket. He asks me if I've called his mother. She'd want to know that he's sick.

You are not sick, I tell him, you just have a cold. I promise hithat he will recover but he doesn't believe me and when I'm down in the basement, the only room in the house where I can't hear his persistent phlegmy rattle, he calls his mother. She arrives bearing flex straws. She fixes him tea that's mostly milk and sugar and holds the cup while he drinks every drop. She swabs his forehead with a cool washcloth and says she thinks our thermometer is broken because she can smell fever on his breath. She tells stories about people she has known who have caught colds and died. (Verna Watkins who was 94 when she caught her fatal cold, and what about Demitri Karatka who certainly wouldn't have eaten that tainted meat if his nose wasn't so stuffed he couldn't smell its foul odor.)

She says she'll stay with him the next day while I'm at workNever mind that she is supposed to leave with her senior citizens group on a plane for Las Vegas, a trip for which she has saved quarters for nearly a year. She's more than willing to make the sacrifice for this ailing child, and he's more than willing to let her.

I have no choice but to agree to stay home from work the nexday. When his mother is convinced that I won't desert her baby boy, she returns home to finish wrapping quarters, and I make him a cup of tea, mostly sugar and milk, like she has shown me. I even hold the cup while he drinks it, just like she did. I want to make sure that he gets every last drop into his system. I've spiked it with a double dose of cold medicine.

Joanne Sherman's last story for the magazine was on having guests at your beach house.

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