Dallas, TX –
I'm on the sixth day of a head cold, and I'm feeling pretty sorry for myself. I require a great deal of pity when I am ill - you can say sympathy, but let's be honest: it's really pity I want.
This is the kind of cold that in previous years one might have said was the flu, just to elicit pity, but you can't do that anymore, not in these days of instant flu tests. I went to the doctor, confident six days of misery could not be the result of a simple rhinovirus, but after I was swabbed and inspected, the doctor announced with great cheer, "It's just a cold!" Just a cold? I'm exhausted, I'm achy, and I'm running a temperature. I've eaten nothing but Campbell's tomato soup for six days, my family doesn't have a scrap of clean laundry, and we're out of Kleenex.
Furthermore, no one feels adequately sorry for me. The most the doctor could muster was a hearty pat on the back and some generic advice. Go home, she said. Get some rest. Drink lots of fluids. Gee, thanks. If I had the flu I would at least have the pity of friends. If friends call and you tell them you have the flu, they positively ooze with pity; they volunteer to babysit your children and go by the grocery store on your behalf; they might even bring you a casserole. Tell them you have a cold and they simply remark, "I've heard there's a lot of that going around."
There is a lot of this going around, and it's not just viral. Everyone seems irritable these days. Cranky. Weepy, even. It's like our entire nation has a head cold - a really nasty one. We're so worried about jobs and heath insurance and mortgages and credit card payments that an epidemic of psychosomatic surliness is sweeping the nation. And this is one disease you can't escape by washing your hands it would take complete quarantine to avoid exposure. We're all sniffly and achy, crabby and uncomfortable. We're all huddled under blankets surrounded by used tissues and thermometers. We want, in fact, pity.
But sympathy should go where it is due, and nothing can stop a pathetic pity-party like news of real crisis. Right now, one friend has lost her job, and another's business is nearing bankruptcy. One family is facing foreclosure, and another had to move in with relatives. I know people with chronic health conditions who got laid off and can't afford COBRA; I know people who never imagined needing government aid who are signing up for food stamps.
If all that ails us is the highly infectious rhinovirus of dire headlines, distressing economic reports, and doomsday vibes, we should strive for a little perspective and get ourselves well. Go home. Get lots of rest. Drink lots of fluids.
And then pull yourself off the sofa and go help someone who has more than just a cold.
Elizabeth Lunday is a freelance journalist from Fort Worth.
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