By Deedee Corbitt Sauter
I am sick. I know exactly when I acquired my illness. My favorite youngest child coughed. He coughed mid-sentence, right toward my face. While I was also speaking. Directly into my mouth.
Thus began a long-lasting relationship between a germ and me. As beautiful as relationships can be, when steroids and antibiotics and inhalers and cough medicine and humidifiers came between us, we eventually had to break up. Before we went our separate ways, I introduced that germ to my mother-in-law, my husband and my favorite oldest son. My family was now infected.
Throughout my illness, I yearned for my family to give me space and alone time while I suffered. I coughed, sniffed and moaned all while in the coziness of my own room under the soft mounds of a feather comforter.
My family responded differently though. After being infected, they communicated with low-toned, gravelly voices that are apparently the universal sign for illness, while simultaneously verbalizing their illness. Their condition might have eluded me if they had failed to update me every 10 minutes. Their coughs often end with extra grunts and retching noises that don’t seem possible outside of a Hollywood horror movie. They demand attention and snot-filled cuddles. Warm soup, tepid ginger ale and cold packs are requested on an infinite rotating basis.
Even though I know the exact moment I started this endless loop of germ sharing (the moment of the cough), I have been told that the reason I got sick was because I failed to wear socks while standing in the driveway. Cotton or moisture- wicking clothing covering the toes is apparently more important than getting a flu shot or washing one’s hands.
Because I chose to walk outside in 40-degree weather without shoes, I am the sole cause of all the illness in my family. Perhaps the world.
Germs may have little to do with transmission and spread of illnesses. And according to some of my friends, there is indeed a cure for the cold which science has yet to reveal. It involves layers of scarves, vitamin C, vitamin E, zinc, menthol, soup, essential oils and, of course, socks.
If I had only worn socks, I would not have had to worry about all of the treatments. My family would not be lying prone on the living room floor gasping for air and attention, flopping back and forth, fighting for blankets and pillows.
The pets, all three cats and the dog, sensing a disturbance in the force, suddenly demanded extra petting and treats and continuously press their wet noses against me, thereby decreasing my patience even more with each little push.
My throat was raw, not from the replicating virus housed in the moist darkness, but from repeatedly telling my family to please give me peace.
Ten minutes of silence is all that is necessary to rejuvenate me for the next task. In a day filled with 1,440 minutes, 10 does not seem unreasonable. Just impossible.
When I get ill, I stagger to the back of the house and stumble into my darkened bedroom. Sometimes I turn on the TV, but usually just slip under the covers and release my cares to the wind.
I don’t care if they eat or wear clean clothes; in fact, I don’t care if they wear any clothes. I don’t care if they are watching every violent movie ever made while simultaneously playing bloodthirsty video games purchased while I was slipping into my mucous-filled coma. Piles of candy, chips and Pop Tarts can be their sustenance, washed down with sweet, sweet colas and Kool-Aid. Nothing matters to me. I request only silence, which is the only thing I don’t get.
But my family is different. They need the world to understand their misery on a molecular level. War-torn countries have fewer problems than they do, and sharing their level of suffering is the priority, not sleep, and definitely not quiet.
How can members of the same family react so amazingly differently to such similar situations?
Most importantly, after living with me, how do they not understand the importance of being alone?
After evaluating all of the treatments out there for the cold, flu and gastrointestinal bug, there is only one that I am sure is effective:
Socks, and maybe scarves.
If I could prevent the germ from entering my house by protectively covering my feet and neck, I would be able to focus on bigger problems, like solving world hunger, which is just a step above the horrors of family colds, apparently.
Regardless, I now recognize that preventing the spread of viruses during flu season seems like an easy task, especially compared to trying to get some quiet time.
DeeDee Corbitt Sauter is a resident of Northern Virginia. Her column, “Tambourines and Elephants,” appears monthly in Prince William Living.