AS WE ARE now in the midst of another hellish cold and flu season, it is interesting to observe how differently men and women react to illness.
Men, it must be said, do not handle sickness gracefully. At the slightest hint of a raspy throat or cough, a man will do a swan dive onto the couch, pull the quilt tightly around him as if suddenly trapped in a meat locker, and moan loudly: "GOD, I FEEL AWFUL!"
Suffering in silence is simply not part of a man's makeup. Indeed, there are times when a man must check the urge to take out a billboard advertisement to announce his various cold symptoms to the world.
Despite his raging illness, he will often stagger into work, hollow-eyed, punchy and damn near brain-damaged from too much Tylenol and Dayquil. There he will slump at his desk, hacking and sniffling, fighting off wave after wave of dizziness and pain while trying not to pass out.
He does this so his co-workers will glance over at him admiringly and think: "Look at him. A lesser man would be in the hospital, hooked up to IV bottles, gobbling codeine tablets as if they were M&M's. But not him. He's . . . sweet Jesus, he's an inspiration to us all!"
(At this point he envisions all eyes in the office misting over and a box of Kleenex being silently passed around. Then he sees the boss striding over, placing an arm around his shoulder and gratefully intoning: "Johnson, you're a credit to the company. I've been in this business 45 years and I've never seen such . . . Now, please. Go home and take care of that horrible cold.")
(Eyes burning brightly with fever, hair plastered against his forehead with sweat, our hero limps slowly out of the office to a thunderous standing ovation from his co-workers.
(A sizable bonus appears unexpectedly in his next paycheck. A stirring write-up of his dedication appears on the front page of "Accounting Today." He's next in line for a promotion. The curtain falls.)
Hell, yes. That's the kind of attention we men are looking for. There's little point in being sick if no one knows you're sick.
Women, on the other hand, play a different kind of game when they're ill.
Oh, they want you to know they're sick, all right. But they also want to make it clear that they are not complaining (not so you'd notice, anyway).
More importantly, they want you to know that they'll bear this head cold stoicly in the grand tradition of the sisterhood, a tradition that dates back to the days when a woman would deliver a baby one minute and help bring down a mastodon the next minute.
This is why you can walk into a room and find a woman drained of color and leaning woozily against the wall, only to hear her say: "Me? Oh, don't (cough, cough) worry about me. Once I stop spitting up blood and get this (cough, cough) fever under 106, I'll be fine. Heart seems to be stopping in mid-beat, too, but the chest pains are manageable so far. I'll just take a couple of aspirins, be good as new."
Women think they're so damned superior. Instead of whining and lying comatose in front of the TV with a copy of Golf Digest in the ennobling manner of men everywhere, a woman with a killer head cold will (I've actually seen this happen) GO CLEAN OUT THE ATTIC!
You'll hear her stomping around up there for hours, too, picking up barbells and heavy steamer trunks, dragging 600-lb. bureaus across the floor, sweeping, straightening, dusting and doing God knows what else.
When she finally takes a break and collapses in a chair, eyes watery, face beet-red, wheezing like a three-packs-a-day smoker, she'll say: "Me? Oh, I'm (cough, cough) OK. Must have blacked out a couple times up there; Once I came to underneath your old ping-pong table. The chills are almost gone, although that (cough, cough) might from wearing these four sweaters.
''These red blotches on my face? Aw, they'll be gone in a few weeks. Even if it's smallpox, by and large they've got that under control now. I'll just take a couple more aspirins, be good as new."
A COUPLE MORE ASPIRINS?! BE GOOD AS NEW?! When men are sick, they'll swallow the entire contents of a chemistry set in an effort to ease the pain.
Women get by on a couple of aspirins. And it is just this sort of smug, martyr-like, sicker-than-thou-but-who's-complaining? attitude that men find so infuriating.
At least that's what I hear.