It’s that time of the year…the sun is setting earlier, the nights are getting colder, and the smell of pumpkin spice fills the air. It’s fall—my favorite season!
Well, except for one thing: the change in weather and uptick in indoor gatherings invariably leads to more illnesses in the house. Last year, when my kids were one and three (and in daycare), we traded coughs, runny noses, and worse, for the better part of November through April. By the end of the season, I could have taught a master class in sucking snot out of tiny nostrils and cleaning vomit out of the carpet (the key is a combination of blotting and baking soda).
But all of it with the kids —all the months of fevers, rough nights, oozing fluids, and doctor visits—all of it pales in comparison to the single biggest nightmare of the cold and flu season. That’s right, Ladies, I’m referring to the dreaded man cold.
You know what I’m talking about. In my house, it usually begins with a lot of throat clearing in the evening, a slow stretching of the neck, a craning of his head from side to side as he sighs, “I think I’m getting sick.” Oh no. A barely-perceptible tickle in the throat, a slight feeling of fatigue… instantly, he knows that the Plague has found him. The next morning, I try to offer sympathetic looks and tender words of support over the clamor of our two toddlers, as he slumps around the house, audibly groaning and forcing coughs to “clear the mucus” from his system. “Do you think I feel hot? I think I might have a fever, but my head feels normal; it’s weird.” Then usually comes his helpful suggestion that “I had better not get too close to the kids, I wouldn’t want them to catch whatever I have.” Oh boy. Of course, he doesn’t need to see a doctor. Some ibuprofen and rest will do the trick.
Before kids, the man cold didn’t bother me. You want to mope around all day and skip work to “make sure it doesn’t get worse?” Great. I’ll even stop to get your favorite food on my way home from the office and bring you hydrating fluids as you deepen the indentation in the couch.
But something snapped after we had kids. Sometime around day three, as I sat on an ice pack and rubbed ointment on my bleeding nipples after caring for our mewling newborn all day and night, I lost the ability to empathize with adult humans who are afflicted with anything that doesn’t require professional medical intervention to cure. My loathing for the man cold formally solidified the first time I fell ill after having a child, and I realized that my days of lounging responsibility-free to focus on my own recovery were a thing of the past.
The last time my husband
thought he was dying developed an itchy throat, I couldn’t help but snicker when his response to my perfunctory “how are you feeling” was a sad pair of puppy dog eyes and a weak “I need to go back to sleep, I think.” I admit it, I could have been more compassionate—but I was also battling a cold, had just wrestled the kids off to daycare, and was elbow-deep in legal briefs. “Men are such babies when they get sick,” I observed aloud. Bad move. If there’s anything worse than a man cold, it’s a pouting man cold. Lesson learned!
Note to self: stick to what works, and minimize everyone’s suffering:
- Ask how he is feeling, and reply with comments such as “Ugh, I’m sorry that sounds terrible! You should rest.”
- Let him rest (within reason).
- Try not to roll your eyes.
- Minimize sarcasm and biting remarks
But the best defense is a good offense: flu shots, early bedtimes, lots of hand washing, a healthy diet, and exercise for everyone living under this roof. If the unimaginable happens and my 40 year-old baby feels a tingle in his throat, I’ll have a sympathetic smile and chicken soup at the ready. But this year, if I get sick, I just might take a play from the man cold book and kick my feet up for a few days. If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em!
Editor’s note: This article originally published on October 5, 2017, and was lightly edited prior to republishing.