Late winter is the time for viral illnesses, from colds to influenza to the dreaded "stomach bug." It's March now, and the pesky microbes are still at large. I like to imagine a virus supervisor out there in charge of the whole operation.
"OK," he tells his little germ employees as he consults his clipboard, "we're at 121 Maple Way now. Somers family. Gastrointestinal virus has already run its course. Check. What about head cold? According to the chart, Amy got it first, then Dad, then Bobby, then baby. ... Says here Mom has it now. Check." He's just about done for the season. There are still a few people out there who have gotten away without being hit by his team so far.
Sociable folk, those who live and work in close proximity to one another, are first on his hit list. Schools, dormitories, senior housing, day care facilities, prisons-the viruses just whiz around these places, and then spread out from there.
Last on the list is Old Man Smith, who lives alone and tells anyone who'll listen, "I don't get sick on account of I walk ever'where I go and I eat right and drink a gallon of spring water and a shot of Jim Beam every day."
"Did we get Smith?" the supervisor asks, almost as an afterthought.
"Which Smith?" a weary flu bug answers.
"Old Man Smith on Blue Jay Way."
"Didn't Stan hit him last week?"
"Nah, remember, that was Old Man Hanks up there on Blue Jay Lane," says another germ employee.
"OK, you boys take the truck and go get Smith, and that should wrap it up."
Luckily for Old Man Smith, the boys end up going out for lunch instead-it's been a long season-and forget all about him.
It's odd that so little has changed in viral management over the years. Modern medicine has given us no preventative for the common cold that our great grandmothers didn't know.
"Don't work up a sweat and cool off too fast. Wash your hands before you eat. Stay out of drafts. Keep your feet dry. Eat your vegetables. Don't you have enough sense to come in out of the rain?"
True, the medical community may refute much of this wisdom as old wives' tales, but you don't see them coming up with anything better. After all, as my friend Genny points out, it has always been the old wives who take care of sick people in the family.
"No rough-housing in the house! Don't play with the door, somebody's going to get his finger slammed in the-stop it! Don't run with that stick; you'll put your eye out."
Once you come down with a virus, there's nothing a person can do to cramp its style. You have to let it run its course. When you go to the clinic and the health professional tells you that what's ailing you is "just a virus," that's not good news. It means that the clinic can't give you any advice that your grandmother couldn't have given. The only difference between Granny and the clinic is about $100.
"Get plenty of rest. Drink plenty of liquids."
My Grandma Allen was a Yankee born and bred. She thought the best cure for anything was to get up, get dressed and get busy.
"Take your foot in your hand and do it!" was one of her favorite expressions, along with "He's independent as a hog on ice." I never dared ask her exactly what she meant.
Rose, my Southern grandmother, had a different approach entirely. She would have me stay home from school for any ailment. I remember her calling school one Friday, after I had recovered from some virus.
"Well, Martha's been a little peaked, so I think we'll just have her finish up the week here at home," she said, in her soft, elegant, old-South voice. I marveled that she had the nerve to pull this off, knowing, as even Rose must have known, that the school had a strict attendance policy.
I understand now that grandmothers are so far beyond these commonplace rules and regulations as to regard them scarcely at all. Rose had me stay home in bed, or on the sofa draped with an afghan, sipping hot lemon water with honey.
I do miss her.
If we can get through mud season, we should be home free.
Have a good week.