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Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: Summer cold not to be sneezed at

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A full-on cold is likely to include a lava flow of mucus. Photo / Supplied
A full-on cold is likely to include a lava flow of mucus. Photo / Supplied

The only thing more dispiriting than a really bad cold is a really bad cold in the middle of summer.

I say that knowing the term "cold" is something of a misnomer. There's a body of folk wisdom and old wives' tales based on the misapprehension that you catch a cold by getting a chill: never go outside with wet hair on a cold day; wear a hat in winter because body heat escapes through the head; don't get fully rugged up inside because you'll feel the cold more when you venture out.

Apparently it's all tosh. It seems that if the scientific community agrees on anything, it's that keeping yourself warm doesn't reduce the chances of catching any of the hundreds of viruses that cause the common cold.

The operative words here are "really bad". Just as self-pity and imprecise terminology have blurred the distinction between a bad cold and flu (hence the term "man flu"), there's a tendency to assume that all colds are much of a muchness.

In fact, there's a world of difference between a mild cold - sniffles, watery eyes, plaintive coughs - and the real thing.

The full-on, "I don't say this lightly but I'd rather be dead" cold involves the following:

* A thumping, around-the-clock headache.

* A lava flow of mucus.

* Sleeplessness which is both partly caused and exacerbated by erratic mental hyperactivity, bordering on the hallucinatory. (Over-the-counter anti-cold remedies may contribute to this.) While that might sound interesting, there's none of the narrative thread or coherence of a dream and, because you're awake, no off button. Cold-induced sleepless night brainstorms are like having to watch six hours of uncut raw footage shot by a stage one media studies student trying to make an eight-minute film about the meaning of life.

* A cough. We're not talking about a polite throat clearance. We're talking about jackhammer coughing fits every time you try to say something which make conversation an ordeal for both parties. Or the night cough which starts out as a faint tickle at the back of the throat but escalates into a relentless, maddening aural assault, rather like the bark of a home-alone dog. These coughs can build up such a head of steam that you effectively lose control of your limbs and end up thrashing around the bed like a just-landed fish.

It perplexes scientists that cold sufferers continue to demand antibiotics from their GPs even though they're no help whatsoever in the vast majority of cases. I suspect it's because the patients have been given ultimatums by their partners: do something about that bloody cough, or sleep in the spare room.

By now you've probably concluded that I'm: A. susceptible to colds and B. have one right now. You would be correct. I'm resigned to getting at least one cold per winter, but nothing kills the spirit of summer like walking around in shorts and Jandals with a sodden handkerchief in one hand and a useless prescription in the other.

The dilemma for cold sufferers is: how bad does it have to be to justify calling in sick, given that bed rest and lots of fluids seem to be the best the doctors can come up with.

(I've been told that I should eat a kiwifruit every day. It's also been suggested that laying off the wine at the very first hint of a cold - in my case usually a tightening of the throat so slight it could be imaginary - will reduce its severity. It's hard to say which of these propositions holds less appeal, but I'm almost at the point of embracing both.)

Of course you'll be even more inclined to take a sickie if you haven't slept a wink. In light of that and the fact that most people catch at least one cold a year, Treasury officials must be anxiously evaluating the economic implications of a ruling in the High Court this week.

Lawyer Charles Cato, representing former Bridgecorp director Rod Petricevic in the trial before the High Court in Auckland, sought an adjournment on the grounds that "I am extremely tired". Judge Geoffrey Venning duly obliged, adjourning proceedings until next week.

Will this have the effect of enshrining in law the old principle, which one thought had been discredited, that you should never do today what you can put off till tomorrow? Spanish, not normally a language that encourages brevity, encapsulates this mindset in a single word "manana", which was shorthand for the attitudes and practices associated with banana republics.

- NZ Herald

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