The day after my birthday last week, I got what I never want. A cold.

It happened as tropical storm Irma churned through the Caribbean on Harvey's heels.

Meanwhile, record-setting forest fires were incinerating areas of the Northwest US, where we used to live.

Read more: Dawn Picken: Beauty of art under the bed
Dawn Picken: Flexing the muscles of fairness
Dawn Picken: Status doesn't matter when someone needs help


One group of Florida friends was installing hurricane shutters and stockpiling bottled water and food while another group in Washington and Oregon remained indoors due to 'very poor' air quality.

They would dash outside occasionally to snap photos of an ashen sky.

So I have a cold. Big deal. No nausea, chills or fever. Only a leaky tap trickling down my throat like water through Waitomo Caves, minus the glow worms.

Not unlike a hurricane forecast, I have an inkling of what awaits, and it fills me with equal parts mucous and dread.

Khoff, khak, khak, urgh, aooah, gurch! Why does the English language lack a fun, onomatopoeic way to write 'cough?'

A medicine chest's worth of potions and pills rests on my nightstand: nasal spray, throat spray, Vicks VapoRub, cough drops and low-dose codeine obtained during a doctor's visit I had serendipitously scheduled for another reason.

"Codeine seems to be the only medicine proven to suppress cough," says the doc.

If it doesn't stop the hacking, maybe I'll be too buzzed to care.

I spray and dose myself with over-the-counter remedies before popping a codeine pill not much bigger than a rice grain.

Each time I consider lying prone, spasms start ... Khoff, khak, khak, urgh ... I install myself in a lounge recliner and scroll Facebook to shift my focus beyond a razor-raw throat.

In Florida, friends Al and Nyla are preparing for Irma's arrival.

Al in Tampa offers survival tips such as emptying ice into the washing machine and using it as a fridge.

His family will write Irma's name on metal shutters that have survived myriad hurricanes: Charley, Frances, Ivan, Jeanne ... and now, Irma.

"We are among the three million people who are without power. I will not flip the generator on until the storm passes..." he writes.

Nyla, two hours south of Orlando, explains her family is staying put.

"Gas stations are running out of gas, there are no hotels. People are in a general panic on the roads, and I want no part of that."

Khoff, khak, khak, urgh...Codeine has done little for the cough and nothing for my mental state. Cockroaches are higher than me.

I suck a throat drop and aspirate its juices, which makes me cough.

We're all under the weather. Fires, cyclones, floods, melting ice, rising seas... as tiny human change agents, we're at the mercy of our croaky, ailing planet.

Friends in Spokane say the sooty sky reminds them of the 1980 eruption of Mount St Helens, which spread ash across dozens of states, turning day to night.

"Air is full of smoke. Makes your throat itchy," writes Linda.

I celebrate Friday with pizza for the family, an early bedtime for me. Early becomes 3am, due to...Khoff, khak, khak, urgh.

The silver lining of sickness-induced insomnia is falling into the pages of Nikki Gemmell's engrossing memoir, After, about her mother's unassisted suicide.

The mum had suffered chronic pain for years and eventually decided she'd had enough.

I ponder a sure-fire cough cure: a single guillotine slice. No head equals no cough. Time might work, too.

Day Four of Coldageddon brings 18mm of rain to the Bay - squally weather that merits staying indoors with a good book, even for healthy folk.

I'm barnacled to the sofa with a cup of lemon-ginger hot water. My voice has mostly vanished, along with the desire do anything.

I suck on a vitamin C lozenge when a sudden cough erupts. I aspirate the whole thing, wondering for a split second if and how I might whack myself on the back.

Irma is preparing its Florida punch.

Al had hoped to shelter in place but has left home to avoid the surge threat.

He writes, "I just told our fish that we are being evacuated and they would be on their own until Tuesday. They gave me the silent treatment."

Later, he quips, "I came back and ask 'How ya doing?' They answered, 'Swimmingly'."

Nyla's still at home. She shares a photo of a round oak table lashed to a tree with a narrow strap.

She asks, "What wind speed do you think this table is secured for?"

Several numerical guesses precede my husband's quip: "It wooden be much."

The weekend passes and I'm back to normal, which means coughing until 4am before dozing in the recliner.

I awaken at 8 to watch my son at the AIMs games.

I eat a dozen of his pistachio nuts before lunch.

The tiniest spec of nut lodges in my windpipe, sending me into the bathroom, gagging and retching.

Thank God I'm at home.

"Are you okay, Mom?" asks Master 11, handing me a glass of water.
Khoff, khak, khak, urgh...I'm fine, son. Just a little under the weather. We're all under the weather.