Another casualty of the mucus wars


Woman blowing nose

The interminable hot drinks. The daytime television. The boxes of scented tissues. The medicated lozenges. All hallmarks of the great dis-ease of the common cold.
I have become an unwilling home for the wrong kind of microbes. My to-do list has been reduced to: 1. Buy tissues. 2. Get better. 3. Resume normal life.
I am now a captive inside my body which seems no longer under my sole command. I ask my body why it betrays me. I accuse it of 'hating me'. Why didn't you fight those bastards off? They are clearly bad news, yet you just let them walk right in?!
I usually have tiny guards protecting my insides. But once a year they fall asleep on the job or become inexplicably crap at it. Sometimes I suspect mutiny.
I am now a million tiny front lines and the trenches run white, thick and salty. While these cutthroat battles rage, I do nothing but observe — and relate in painstaking detail to anyone unfortunate enough to be in my presence — the effects of the disharmony they cause.
I'm a country invaded. I'm not the soldier, but the war-torn, hacked-up land, writhing with befuddled soldiers and scared civilians. I must allow the fight to take place, then support the process of healing.
But it annoys me intensely that I cannot be part of the battle. So I pretend to fight with my desperate array of impotent weapons. 'Superfood' smoothies, menthol Strepsils, steam sessions, vitamins. Boiled ginger. A dab of eucalyptus oil. For the most part they offer an illusory sense of control in this most undignified of wars. They reassure me that I will emerge from this sneeze-and-snooze scuffle the victor.
Of course, on a rational level, I know there is always one way to ensure victory. Sir Alexander Fleming discovered the nuclear bomb of the bacteria world — an antibiotic to obliterate all players, good and bad. Annihilation back to square one. No defence, no attack. Thus, the bacterial reset button was born. 
The problem is that pressing the reset button weakens my overall defences. Once that miniature army regroups, there is now a greater likelihood of infiltrating the mainframe.
And so the campaign shifts focus to eliminating 'opportunities to attack'. Public transport is a likely site for an ambush. Not only are passengers attacked at a time when their surroundings encourage a diminished will to live, they are also crammed intimately into a small space, allowing broad-scale invasion that goes initially unnoticed (in part due to the aforementioned diminished will to live).
Airports represent another prime opportunity. And hospitals — enter at your own risk. We must be ever vigilant in these spaces.
But what do these considerations mean to me, now, in the face of what feels like defeat? My infection is being fought off at what can only be described as a glacial pace — even more so now that my partner has likewise been infiltrated. I've lost 1.5 weeks in this battle. How how many more shall be sacrificed to this indiscriminate and ruthless enemy? 
Reeling from this undignified display of ill health, I pledge allegiance to my ailing immune system. My soldiers will be given daily reinforcements. I will prevent my body from being reduced to a battlefield for bacteria again. Yes, from now on I will do whatever it takes. 
Starting tomorrow.

Megan GrahamMegan Graham is a Melbourne based writer, journalist and occasional blogger.

Topic tags: Megan Graham, cold, Alexander Fleming, antibiotics



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Existing comments

Megan I like your story of your battle with the bug though I wonder if the common cold is a bacteria.
Mahdi | 29 April 2015

Your microbiology understanding isn`t very good, but you`ll likely survive. We all get half a dozen upper respiratory VIRAL infections a year: stay at home, keep warm. lots of fluid and 2 paracetamol every few hours should do the trick. If it lasts over a week you should see your GP as there may really be a secondary bacterial infection in which Dr Fleming's discovery (or was it Florey's?!) might prove useful. Good luck; the price of being human and living in society. Having kids in school is the worst.
Eugene | 29 April 2015

Alexander Fleming when a young boy saved Winston Churchill's life when the latter, who couldn't swim, fell into a loch on Fleming's father's farm in Scotland while out walking in the wild. In gratitude, Churchill's family paid for Fleming's education which saw him as a medical researcher at St Mary's hospital in London. Here he made the chance observation that bacteria would not grow in the presence of the mould, penicillium. He tried to replicate this finding for over a decade without success. A young South Australian doctor, Howard Florey, working at St Mary's finally found the key, isolated penicillin and gave the first dose to a young man dying from pneumonia who miraculously survived. Churchill, forever grateful to Fleming, rejected Florey's application to the British government for the funds necessary to make penicillin available to the world. Winning the war against the 'Hun" was far more important to Churchill than supporting some upstart colonial usurper of his great mate Fleming's fame in making the discovery in the first place. Florey packed up his production process and took it to America where the Americans poured in the development money and gave the world penicillin soon after which saved millions of lives. And thus, the dubiously great Winston Churchill deprived Britain of the greatest achievement for humanity in the twentieth century. And as Mahdi and Eugene say, the viral diseases described in this post are not affected by antibiotics. Neither do antibiotics ruin your immune system as suggested.
john frawley | 29 April 2015


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