Jonny McCambridge: How I battled the great cold of 2021, without a word of complaint

For the first time since the beginning of the pandemic, I have been given reason to believe that I may have contracted the Covid-19 virus.

Wednesday, 27th October 2021, 5:00 am
Armed with an ever-present box of mansize tissues, I battle the great cold of 2021

It starts when I receive notification that someone that I had been playing tennis with has tested positive. I am advised to take a test as soon as possible.

At around the same time, I can feel the onset of some worrying symptoms. It is subtle at first, a troubling feeling in my senses that all is not quite in balance.

I go to my local testing centre and stick a swab deep into my throat until I begin to gag. Then I go home and retire to bed while I wait for the results.

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Overnight, my condition deteriorates until I am certain that I do indeed have the dreaded virus. I am filled with thoughts of the implications of an extended period of self-isolation and the requirement to notify everyone that I have been in contact with. At some point in the early hours I hear my mobile phone vibrate. I check the message. My test has come back negative.

I repeat this cycle a few more times over the week. But the results are always negative. The only conclusion is that the virus which has destabilised and debilitated me is not Covid-19, but the cold.

But, at the risk of being labelled a milquetoast, I should point out that this cold is anything but common. It is THE COLD. The great cold of 2021. A swarming, persistent, indefatigable brute which attacks and overwhelms every part of my immune system, sapping my energy and defeating my spirit. A sniffle, it ain’t.

Luckily, I am not the type to complain about such things.

It begins with a feeling of exhaustion which covers and saturates me like a fine dew on the morning grass. I don’t have the stamina to play with my son, the walk to the corner shop feels like a Sisyphean trial and work is an ordeal too daunting to even be considered.

The headache soon follows. The sort of pain that arrives with such a resounding permanence that it is difficult to imagine a happier time when I didn’t suffer in this way. It is like a million tiny silver hammers are battering away incessantly in the space between my brain and skull.

I consume Lemsips freely, a tried and tested remedy for previous misery. The headache does not lessen, not even to the tiniest degree. If anything, it comes on with more ferocity and force, as if affronted by my impudence in trying to find a pharmacological solution to its aggression.

The pain cascades down through my body. My arms ache. My legs ache. Even as I type these words the very tips of my fingers ache. I really shouldn’t be writing at all. It is only my near heroic devotion to my audience which is keeping me going in the face of such adversity. That is just my nature. As I said, I don’t like to complain.

The senses fall one by one like military defensive lines overwhelmed in a blitzkrieg attack. My ears become stuffy and painful. My eyes are tired and burn like two lumps of glowing coal inside my head. My tonsils feel swollen and raw at the back of my throat, like an overly inflated balloon which restricts easy breathing.

But it is the nose which creates the most misery. I will try to be delicate here, but I produce enough runny snot to fill a barrel. For days I cannot go anywhere without a box of mansize tissues in my trembling hand.

Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night, hot and sweating uncomfortably. I shed a layer and drift back into a troubled sleep only to wake an hour later freezing and shivering uncontrollably. There is no respite.

This all goes on for some time and I endure it without complaint. Then, at the end of the week, I begin to dare to hope that the worst of it is behind me. I wake up on the Friday with the suspicion that I am feeling a tiny bit better. It is a fool’s gold.

The cold has now plotted a course deep into my chest and the cough begins. It is like no cough I have ever known before. A hoarse, irresistible, hacking bark which shakes the very core of my body. It is intensely painful and creates a sound seemingly designed to wake and summon the hounds of hell.

This is the first time I have had a cold in two years. One of the consequences of the pandemic is that many have escaped other ailments which would usually be seasonal. Maybe my immunity has been lowered. Perhaps my body simply does not remember how to cope with this shock to the system in the way that it once did.

I consider that it might be the flu that I am suffering from, rather than the cold. I have always had trouble telling the difference. I have often heard people say that you know when you have the flu. Except that I don’t. I’m stuck in this in-between land, not knowing if I am too concerned about my symptoms, or not quite concerned enough.

As is the way with these things, the virus quickly travels through the house, afflicting us all. I watch my wife as she goes about her work and daily routine. My observation is that her suffering is not as great as my own. Hers is a much more subdued outward show of being affected.

I ponder why this should be so. Why should two people treat the same experience in such a different manner? I come to a reasoned conclusion, which I decide to share with her.

‘You have,’ I begin, ‘obviously contracted a much less severe strain than I have.’

She stares at me blankly. Encouraged, I decide to go on.

‘I hope for your sake,’ I continue kindly, ‘that you do not get what I have got. I am not sure you would be able to cope with it.’

This time she does respond. Forcefully. The precise details of her retort, it would not be wise to share here.

Chastened, I slunk off back to my spot on the sofa with my box of mansize hankies. The great cold of 2021 rolls on and on with no obvious end in sight. Through it all I keep moving forward stoically, with not a word of complaint.