Lisa Sugarman: Do not underestimate the common cold

Staff Writer
Mount Shasta Herald

By Lisa Sugarman

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Let me be the first to say that the common cold is grossly underestimated as far as illnesses go. I’d go as far as to say that it’s considered almost embarrassing to say that you stayed home or called in sick or cancelled plans just because you had a cold. There’s this almost woosie-like quality about succumbing to one, mainly because public perception has always been that a cold is just a nuisance and life should pretty much go on even if you have one.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong!

By definition, a cold is supposed to be relatively innocuous. Annoying, draining, and totally inconvenient, but harmless. Well I’m here to rewrite public opinion. To officially elevate The Cold from the bantamweight category into the welterweight division. To confirm, once and for all, that the common cold may just be the Manny Pacquiao of winter illnesses.

Who’s Manny Pacquiao? Oh, I don’t know, probably just the best pound-for-pound boxer in the free world. And he’s adorable. And he’s also got a thing for politics. But I’m getting off topic.

What’s unfortunate is that even though the common cold has this wrecking-ball-type capacity to flatten anything it touches, there’s still this general opinion that it doesn’t deserve any special dispensation. For most of us, the idea of calling in sick to work because we’ve got a cold just instinctively feels kind of pathetic. Like who does that? But the truth is, I think public perception needs to change.

Make no mistake, a cold is anything but harmless. It’s evil. It’s calculating. It’s unrelenting. It shows no mercy or compassion. And it has the power to make even the Special Forces guys curl up and cry for their mommies.

Now I consider myself to be pretty hearty, and I feel like my threshold for aches and pains is pretty high. But let me tell you, the cold I got last week all but sucked the life right out of me. I had to keep reminding myself that no deaths have ever been linked to a cold, but I’m pretty sure I understand now where the expression death warmed over comes from.

That’s because a cold is like that sucker punch that you never see coming. You know, the one that catches you right on the jawbone, knocks you off your feet, through the turnbuckle, and lands you on the laps of the five guys sitting in the front row. And the irony is, it doesn’t usually require hospitalization and there isn’t even a known antibiotic to cure it. So by most standards, it’s considered a minor inconvenience-type illness. Yet, it has this cataclysmic capacity about it that’s almost tsunami-like. It usually comes out of nowhere, without warning, washes over you with a flood of gunk, upends you, and then leaves you incapacitated and drooling onto your pillow.

So while anyone who catches one will endure most of the same kind of suffering brought on by most other illnesses, they won’t have the luxury of crawling under their goose down comforter and being sucked into their memory foam mattress. With a cold, you’re expected to push on. You’re expected to suck it up, tough it out, and get it done. And that, in my opinion, is probably the most irritating quality of the common cold.

With the flu or strep or the Norovirus or pneumonia people insist that you go home, sequester yourself, eat gallons of soup, and take all the time you need to recover. Now granted, I know those illnesses all usually have the fever component, and that is a bit of a game changer, but a cold has basically the same symptoms, just minus the temp. They’re airborne, highly contagious, and come with just about all the same junk, yet they offer no special exemptions. Colds produce the same degree of misery, yet we’re all still expected to go to work, coach Little League, stay on top of the marketing and the laundry, walk the dog, and present to the board of directors without so much as twitching. And that, I think, is just plain unrealistic.

So I think it’s time we all agree to advance the cold to a more appropriate rank in the hierarchy of modern illnesses. I think the CDC ought to do an official reclassification and grant colds a suitable amount of helplessness and recuperation time, just like all of its viral cousins. The field must be levelled, or at the very least re-graded to allow the cold to take its rightful place on the list. That way, when one takes us down, we won’t feel like such a sissy for letting it get the better of us.

Then, and only then, will it finally become acceptable to give in. And, consequently, to call in. We owe it to ourselves, don’t you think?

Lisa Sugarman lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts. Read and discuss all her columns at She is also the author of “LIFE: It Is What It Is,” available on