Lucy Jensen
Lucy Jensen

I couldn’t help it, I had to cough. My throat became the most horrendous tickle fest. It was coming; everyone was looking at me. Noooo! Then, once I started, I couldn’t stop. The lady near me swung around in her chair with her latte in hand and gave me the most horrid stink eye. I tried to swallow it back down; I really did. I tried to bark into the crook of my arm, but it was uncontrollable. With that came a torrent of mucus from about every orifice. I hung my head, abandoned my half-drunk tea and sloped off toward a pharmacy.

This was a shameful state of affairs; I had a cold — oh and a very nasty cough. I have not had one of those since 2019 and I was not happy about it at all. Even though I am fully boostered with a flu shot for back up, I obviously could still contract a common cold with quite the flourish.

Having loaded myself up with every type of medicine supposed to stop that kind of embarrassing situation occurring again — I had tissues, cold medicine, cough syrup, cough lozenges, vapor rub and more tissues stuffed up my sleeves for back up. Surely, I could now conceal the fact that I had a cold and proceed through check-in like a normal person, albeit with a mask over my face (and you don’t see many of those post-pandemic-ish, despite the mega lines and too close for comfort crowds).

I was infectious and I was traveling through the airport like a criminal transporting crack cocaine. Shame on me. People have a very different attitude to others who cough and sniff these days, I noticed. Post-2020, we are all a bit precious about any noise issuing from another human that sounds anything like the wretched Covid.

I should be writing an article about which cold/cough medicines work better than others, because I am here to tell you that most of our immune systems are on the floor these days, people. You too are likely to be getting a nasty contagion of some ilk, shape or form in the very near future.

Lemsip is normally very winning — it’s a super English cold med that I carry back to the U.S. with me. Very soothing for the scratchy throat and dripping head — but it couldn’t touch me this time. No, the mega bug that was consuming me required the big guns of Covona, that takes no prisoners. When they say it will clear your chest, they are not exaggerating. Sort of like a suction pump on steroids for the lungs.

Finally boarded onto the plane to go and see my family on the Isle of Man, I thought I had everything under control. I had had visions of them stopping me at security. “Come this way please, madame. Ah, you WERE the one in the coffee shop who had the uncontrollable episode of exploding mucus and hacking…you had best step aside. This way, madame. Please put the bag over your head… Everyone, step to the side and let the infectious monster through!” They would lead me to quarantine in the basement of the airport, where I would not only not see my family, but I’d also miss Christmas.

A lot of creative thoughts go through your head when you are high on cold medicine and crawling like a pariah through the outside world, when you know you should be tucked up in bed, watching bad TV and freely hacking to your heart’s content.

The security lines at terminal 2 were impressive. I had heard that the airport staffing levels were still an issue at London airport — as around the world indeed — and they weren’t kidding. It took me an hour to shunt my way through, trying not to alert the traveling public as to my revoltingness, and yet still arrive at my chosen destination with time to spare to be able to imbibe some more cough medicine and hack up a lung.

My poor friend, who pulled her back on our trip to the coast, is nice and cozy back in her part of the world, sporting her microwave-heated strap around her injury and snuggly sipping on copious cups of tea. Why am I out here navigating this cruel universe where I am so obviously not welcome? The guy behind me on the plane was completely unsympathetic and sighed heavily every time I coughed. I even twisted my neck around at one point so he could see that I was fully masked, and he was unlikely to be receiving any of my unpopular molecules.

I made it — only an hour or so late. I thought father might not want to see me in my cold-riddled state, but like a complete trooper of the Second World War era (and a proud survivor of two bouts of Covid in his 90s no less) he didn’t seem that fussed and was nowhere near as concerned about all my unseemly noises as the airport folk.

I checked in with my friends I had spent time with on the East Coast, hoping no one had contracted the same lurgy as me. They were all clear. Where on earth could I have caught it? (Trolling through the memory landmines like someone who contracted Covid and couldn’t place the actual site of infection.) Could it have been the time I got wet feet on the beach and kept on walking? How about when I ventured forth into the cold airs with slightly damp hair? Oh, we have become so precious, haven’t we. It’s just a change-in-the-weather downhome common winter cold, isn’t it, and I will recover, albeit with a trail of used tissues in my wake and a solid support of the very vibrant cold medicine industry.

As I awake on this beautiful day on the Isle of Man with white glistening on the grass and red-breasted robins hopping around, I’m very grateful that I feel quite well, no matter how I sound, and that, no matter what, modern medicine is here to continue to help me appear acceptable to the world outside.

If you are unlucky enough to get a cold this winter, bear in mind that a cold is no longer a cold in the eyes of the public. In their mind, you definitely have Covid, RSV or something super sinister. You need to be quarantined and you’d better not be hacking over there near their personal space without at least two masks firmly positioned over all of your orifices.

Consider yourself warned.

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Soledad columnist Lucy Jensen may be reached at [email protected].


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