This may seem a tiny thing, but it has huge ramifications for one’s happiness – a bit like winning the cup final with a goal adjudicated by video referee to be a millimetre over the line.
I am talking about recovery after a cold. Recovery from any period of ill-health, but in particular, the tentative escape from the banality of a cold, or a virus, or even just being “under the weather” – as though when we are well we soar above the clouds.
Being sick is the pits. Here, I think men get a bad deal with accusations of man-flu, ie the idea that men treat a simple cold as though they are slowly dying of a flesh-eating disease at sea. The truth is, at the sniff of a sneeze, most of us turn into pathetic avatars of our usual selves. Otherwise we would not move seats the moment someone coughed. (I know there are mothers who could power through tuberculosis if it meant getting the kids to school on time, but these are superheroes, anomalous case studies).
Sickness means an Alps of tissues in the bed. It’s the gripping fear that tributaries of snot, flowing like the Dart, will never stop, and that the pressure in one’s head will never shrink to normal. That the eyelids will stay puffed up, like the worst examples of surgery gone wrong found in “real-life” magazines, for ever. That it is worth it to pay £7.99 for branded paracetamol from the corner shop rather than stagger the extra half-mile to the supermarket, and pay just 99p for the generic sort – because every second not under a duvet feels like the frontline of a war.
And then, just when you resign yourself to a permanently chafed nose, something magical happens: you wake in the morning, and the nostrils are crusted and a slither of air has entered, light at the end of the tunnel. As the day goes on, it’s as though you have broken to the surface, drunk with the sensation of not being weighed down by four extra pounds of mucus. You even consider going for a bite and a drink after work, because you might be able to taste again. Your deskmates, meanwhile, have stopped shooting you filthy looks; at any rate, the looks are now non-contagion related.
You instantly forget how to spell echinacea and catarrh. You will never, ever, take for granted again the cilia that protect against bacterial invaders; you will always give thanks for the lungs that work so diligently on your behalf; you will never lose your reinvigorated passion for a throat that does not tickle. Of course, like a New Year’s resolution, this resolve lasts mere days. Quick enough, being well is just the baseline one doesn’t think about. But God, that first day feels like a lottery win. To your health, then.