Of all the treasures Europe had for me to squirrel back in my checked luggage, the least appreciated was the head cold I acquired my first day in Paris. It wasn't wholly unexpected, I had spent my days soaked to the bone in cold, wet clay in Italy working in a studio. Still, I had arrived in the city of lights and wine, and I couldn't have any of it. Even worse, I am given to winter colds becoming full on, 2 week long, drawn out chest infection/strep throat combos.
Being sick abroad is disorienting. Not only because you’re losing out on your time there, but because we’we've become accustomed not only to our American ways, but our American drugs. Nyqil, Pepto, Advil…. on my first trip to Europe I stupidly expected to find these on the shelves of the Farmacia, just with charmingly Italian labels. Nope. So now, I always have all of these in my bag when I head overseas. Nevertheless, with only a few days to enjoy Paris before an 8 hour flight that would have been excruciating with head congestion, it was time to kill the cold.
Amanda’s Cold Killing Tips
(Amanda is not a physician, has never been a physician and due to a mind numbing fear of needles that once caused her to run away from home after being subjected to a routine blood test, is unlikely to ever BE a physician. These tips are offered with no scientific basis, whatsoever. In fact, I'd discount them all now. In fact, why are you even still here?)
1. Water, Water, Water.
Somewhere in my brain is the conclusive idea that any illness, whatsoever, perhaps even cancer, can be washed away by simply drinking enough water (Obviously cancer cannot be washed away and I am a dick for even making a joke about it. Nothing new to report there, carry on.). Flushing out your system makes sense, and yet, despite an industry full of expensive spring water served to us in delightful plastic bottles, in addition to an anti-plastic bottle industry selling us expensive non BPA containers to hold water, we are all still woefully under hydrated.
Whenever I even begin to sense an inkling of a tickle of illness, my response is to begin drinking my body weight in water. Water, water with lemon, green tea (no caffeine when possible, it will just dehydrate you), more water, and to finish, water. Yes, you will need to pee ever 3 minutes, but that is not a bad thing either.
Particularly on planes, where we should be drinking the most water, we are instead chomping down on salted pretzels and nuts in between unlimited rounds of coffee and bloody mary mix. All dehydrating! Instead, ask for water, no ice, and then keep asking for it. The more, the better. You’ll notice the difference when you land. Added benefit, all the nice people you'll meet walking up and down the aisle to the bathroom.
2. Stop drinking alcohol.
It downright killed me not to be able to partake of alcohol in Paris with my amazing meals, but after a surprisingly delightful Flemish Red my first night and the resulting vertigo when it crossed paths with my head congestion and nyquil, I swore it off.
At some point, you become old enough to understand the tradeoff between the delight of food/alcohol/choices and the way it makes you feel as a result and just decide its not worth it. I’m pretty much there.
There's some myth about how alcohol can kill bacteria, etc, and I'd even venture that a bit of the hard stuff in some tea might be a good idea. However, a bottle of beer, a martini or a bottle of wine isn't going to do it.
3. No raw foods.
Plenty of raw foods are absolutely, 100% fine for humans to eat. A world without raw oysters, sushi and steak tartare is a world in which i would prefer not to abode. But I notice that when my immune system is shot, these foods just seem to help the cold/flu/illness along. As if in a normal body, the tiny bit of natural bacteria/whatnot the body fights off is actually overwhelming in a immunosuppressed body. No real science there, but I can feel you bobbleheading in agreement.
4. Stop sniffling.
Allow me to venture into the mildly disgusting here. If you sniffle, all the infected crap in your nasal cavities is going down your throat, which is how you get a sore throat, and eventually a cough, and eventually a chest infection and eventually, black death and all of a sudden, we’re living in "28 Days Later". Just kidding. But sniffling is not getting the crap out of your body.
Get ahold of the fluffy, soft tissues and commit to blowing your nose and coughing out whatever gook is in your body. Wherever, whenever, good manners permitting. Do not sniffle. Get it out of your body, and out of your head. I double down on chapstick and face moisturizer as well, since a congested nose means your lips get chapped, and constant blowing means your nose gets all red and dry.
5. In Related Non Sniffling…
I’d always thought this was the talk of crazy people who drink spinach, but my father (an actual MD, of the lung variety) got me into the Neti Pot. Now, to be clear: this is not the “As Seen on TV” Neti Pot. This is the drugstore kind, that comes with some disclaimers that are super, duper important.
- Only use distilled or bottled water. Really. People get into all kinds of trouble using tap water. Seriously, don't make me put you through this entire episode of House.
- You must, MUST disinfect and clean the bottle between uses. Seriously. Not joking. And toss it every three months and get a new one.
That all aside, using a neti pot is really pretty simple. You add the water to it, add a packet of the solution to it (which is, from what I can figure out, some form of salt), lean over the sink, and then stick it in one nostril, and the solution actually goes into your nasal cavity and comes out the other nostril. Once you get over the weirdness of how it feels, it works fantastically for clearing your head, entirely. Its literally cleaning out your nasal cavity of all congestion. Do it once in the morning and once an hour before bed to fast-track your way out of sickdom.
6. Chicken Soup and Matzo Balls
Because the magic is in the balls.
7. Chinese food
Because sometimes you need more magic than balls alone can offer. A good hot and sour soup can clear your head better than a Jane Smiley novel.
8. Plop, plop, fizz, fizz
Both Airborne and Alka Seltzer Cold offer the same fizzy water tablets and I suspect, do about the same: deliver a wallop of Vitamin C, without much actual medication. However, it helps. Your body can only absorb so much Vitamin C, so overdoing doesn’t help (but doesn’t harm either, from what I understand).
I enjoy both, proactively, when I travel.
I am such a lightweight, that a half dose of nyquil sends me into a sleep so deep, I can feel myself drooling on the pillow and a phone ringing far, far away, but I can do nothing about it except to continue drooling. Nyquil is powerful shit, not to be taken lightly, but sleep is an essential part of getting better and if you need help getting it, the nasty green stuff is your friend.
I always remember this scene from Crocodile Dundee, where Paul Hogan cluelessly instructs a cokehead to use some steam to clear his nose instead of cocaine, but the dude was onto something. A long hot shower, a hot washcloth or even just hanging out over a pot of hot water (off the stove, no need to add burns to your sick resume here) help clear your head. Better than humidifiers, which are notorious for going uncleaned and thus, putting crap back into the air.
At base, I am an excellent patient. I am willing to do whatever, however, whenever to get over being sick. I want to move on as fast as possible and I get zippo pleasure in reveling in my sickness and being less than the self sufficient person I usually enjoy. Which is probably how I survived 15 hours of museum walking in the Paris cold, the 8 hr flight back and 3 days of Polar Vortex in NYC while getting better in 72 hours or less.
I suspect everyone has phenom “family recipes” for getting over cold season. My mom used to offer me scotch for a cough. I spent some time in college pumping echinacea like it was speedballs. I have a friend who swears by chili oil. What’s YOUR cold remedy?