Dealing with Two Colds in Three Months

It’s really all about rest.

It’s funny how when you pay attention to your body it tells you things about yourself and the way your body works.

The September Cold

Back in September, a few days before I was due to head out on a trip to Lopez Island, I got struck down by a cold. It came upon me suddenly with a lot of sneezing and a very runny — more like drippy — nose. (I call that leaky faucet nose.) I assumed it was an allergy attack. I’ve had “hay fever” my whole life and moving to the west — first Arizona and now Washington State — really reduced the number of attacks I get. But I was working outdoors that day in a dusty environment and I assumed that either pollen — the sagebrush was blooming — or dust had triggered the attack. I walked around with a tissue box, which I brought with me when I went out to dinner with friends. “Just allergies,” I assured them.

But it wasn’t allergies. The symptoms persisted throughout the night and I woke the next morning feeling like crap. Weak, achey, miserable. I realized then that I had a cold and began to panic. I was really looking forward to that Lopez trip and knew how horrible traveling with a cold could be. (It had ruined vacations in Hawai’i and the Bahamas.) I was determined to recover quickly.

Alka Seltzer Cold Medicine
Alka Seltzer Plus is what really helps control my cold symptoms. Keep in mind that no cold medicine “cures” a cold. The best you can hope for is to control symptoms so you can get some rest.

So I spent the whole day in bed, drugged up with whatever cold meds I could find in my medicine cabinet. That was mostly Alka Seltzer cold medicine, which happens to work great for me. Daytime formula during the day and nighttime formula for night. I slept most of that first day, getting up only to feed Penny and the cats, let Penny out a few times, and gather eggs from my chickens. I found some frozen chicken soup in the downstairs freezer and heated it up for lunch and dinner. I had orange juice in the fridge and drank all of it. The whole day went by in a sort of fog. It’s fortunate that my calendar was empty; I would have had to cancel everything on it, including any revenue flights.

The next day, I felt human again. Almost good. I got up and started my day as usual: coffee, catching up on news, etc. I’d planned to take it easy again and did — at least for the first half of the day. I read on the living room sofa. I wasn’t tired enough to nap, so I didn’t.

Later in the afternoon, I ventured outdoors to take care of a few chores. I did more than I expected to do, but I monitored my condition carefully and came inside at any sign of fatigue. My symptoms were controlled by cold medicine and I was okay.

I was very surprised to be feeling fully recovered just a few days later, in time for my trip to Lopez. I thought long and hard about how that quick recovery and I realized that for the first time in my life, I’d done something I’d never done before: surrendered an entire day of my life to a cold.

Could that be the answer to a quick recovery? Just spending a whole day in bed?

I’d read in numerous reliable places that the common cold took 5-7 days to pass. I’ve had colds in the past that have lasted weeks, with lots of suffering every day and even a few doctor visits. Yet the symptoms for mine had come and gone in about 4 days.

Lucky? Maybe.

The November Cold

Unfortunately, I have the opportunity to try to repeat my fast recovery this week.

I flew home from Arizona on Saturday morning and immediately got to work putting out fires (so to speak) at my house. My housesitter had done a good job taking care of things while I was gone and left the house immaculately clean (which I really appreciate) but since I wasn’t expecting the temperatures to dip below freezing while I was gone — hell, it was in the 60s every day right before I left — I didn’t give him instructions for the chickens water. It was frozen and the poor birds had apparently been trying to peck through the ice. So I had to get them set up with their heated water dish for winter. They’d also run out of food — I thought what I’d left them in their feeder would have been enough. They didn’t seem to be suffering at all, so I suspect the situation had been short term. No harm, no foul (no pun intended).

I also had to struggle to deal with a frozen hose (which I’ll need to wait until warmer temperatures to resolve), my mousers running out of dry cat food, and clearing space in my garage for a friend who was bringing his boat over to store for the winter.

So I was running around like a nut all afternoon and most of the next day.

It was on Monday afternoon — notably three days after my commercial airline flight — that those “allergy” symptoms started in. I had just cleaned the chicken’s roost area in the coop and put down some bedding pellets. The pullets were on the perches in there and did a lot of panicked flapping around as I worked. The sneezing and runny nose started within 10 minutes. Damn birds. The dander must have gotten me.

But the symptoms persisted through my dentist visit and the rest of the afternoon. And that evening. By night time, I knew it wasn’t an allergy attack.

Puffs w/Vicks
My #1 choice for tissues when I have a cold is Puffs with Vicks. My mother used to put Vicks VapoRub on our chests when we had colds as kids. I don’t know if it helped, but the smell of Vicks is forever associated in my mind with cold recovery. These tissues are very hard to find in stores.

I got on the nighttime cold medicine before bed. I still had a miserable night, tossing and turning, blowing my nose enough to build a mountain of dirty tissues beside me.

In the morning, I felt super crappy with a headache the size of the migraines I used to get years ago. (Honestly, if nausea had accompanied it, I would have called it a migraine.) After the sun rose, my bedroom, with the lights off, was too bright — even though it was overcast all day. I got up only to let out Penny, give her some food, and take some drugs. I had grapefruit juice in the fridge and drank a bunch of that. I felt too weak to go down and check the garage freezer for more chicken soup. I went back to bed. Penny, obviously sensing that something wasn’t quite right, snuggled up between me and my dirty tissue mountain.

I cancelled my dinner date with a friend and blew off the wine tasting I was supposed to attend afterwards.

I slept most of the day.

Around 3 PM, I got up and made myself something to eat. A salad with sardines. (Don’t knock it; I like sardines.) I cursed myself for packing the balsamic vinegar into my camper (which is waiting for me in Arizona) and not buying a fresh bottle for home. I tore down and discarded my tissue mountain. I let Penny out again and went back to bed. I slept more.

In the evening, woken by that damn headache, I got up to take some more ibuprofen. I let Penny out again. I went into the garage and gave the cats a can of food. I let Penny in. Then I settled in on the sofa with a throw blanket and glass of grapefruit juice to catch up with Stephen Colbert’s Late Show. I felt a little better, but not much. At least I could stay awake.

After about an hour of that, I was exhausted. It was only 7 PM. I surrendered, took some more nighttime cold medicine, and climbed back into bed. I read for about 10 minutes and then fell asleep.

I slept pretty well until about 3 AM. Then I woke up feeling pretty darn good. I hung around in bed, catching up on news via Twitter. (Lots of good news about yesterday’s election. Hooray!) Then, at about 4:30 AM, I decided that my internal clock would just have to stay screwed up for a while and got out of bed to start my day.

With coffee.

I’ll take it easy today, but will get stuff done, mostly indoors. I have a lot of paperwork to catch up on after my two-week trip south. Maybe I’ll finally finish unpacking my books. And I’m sure I’ll take a nap.

My goal is to rest up enough to be completely recovered by Friday. I think it’s possible if I don’t push myself.

Lesson Learned

And that’s the lesson I’ve learned in dealing with these two colds: when a cold strikes, give in to it. Just treat the symptoms with whatever cold meds can help you get rest. Sleep as much as possible. Stay warm and comfortable. Rest, rest, rest.

If it’s just a cold — not the flu — a quicker-than-average recovery might be possible. But not if you push yourself.

And if you’re feeling good right now, go out and get a flu shot. I haven’t gotten mine yet — shame on me — but will definitely get it as soon as I feel 100% recovered from this cold.

October is Flu Shot Month

A reminder.

I just want to take a moment to remind folks that October is flu shot month. To help prevent flu this winter, it’s important to get your shot before month-end so the antibodies have a chance to get to work. You can learn more at the CDC Website.

For those of you who say “the flu isn’t so bad,” you’re probably not thinking about the flu. The flu kills people — up to 56,000 people in the U.S. in a recent year. Don’t confuse it with a bad cold. It’s not the same.

And please don’t get me started with conspiracy theories about vaccinations or disproved stories about vaccines being linked to autism. I will not allow you to use this blog to spread misinformation, so save your comments for those foolish enough to believe them. (I do believe in Darwin’s theories and survival of the fittest; with luck, idiots will die off, thus improving the gene pool.)

Herd Immunity
Herd immunity, illustrated. The red dots represent the potential infections. The higher the percentage of vaccinated population, the fewer infections.

If you don’t want to do it for yourself, do it for the people around you. Read up on herd immunity. The shot you get can prevent you from being a carrier that infects people who can’t get vaccinated, such as babies and people with real allergies to vaccine ingredients.

And finally, I don’t know about you, but I don’t remember ever having to pay for a flu shot. I usually get it at my local supermarket and often it comes with a coupon for 10% off my next grocery purchase. So yes, I’m getting paid to get my shot. So I can’t see how cost can be an issue.

You have no excuses. Get your flu shot this month.

A Personal Tune-Up

Two new routines in my life.

I turned 56 at the end of June. (Unlike other women, I don’t lie about my age.) And although I’m a lot more active than my mother (for example) was at my age, I’m not quite as active and fit as I’d like to be. To make matters worse, I’ve discovered that Mother Nature plays nasty little tricks on a person’s body as he or she ages.

While most people would take the attitude that it’s all part of aging and there’s nothing they can do about it, I’d rather not. So I’ve set August as the beginning of a personal tune-up period and have added two new routines to my life.

Feeling Better through Weight Loss

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you’ll know that back in 2012 I lost 45 pounds or approximately 23% of my body weight. (I’ll let you do the math; and you never thought you’d use high school algebra, huh?) This huge weight loss coincided with the beginning of my crazy divorce and lots of folks assumed that stress from the divorce caused the weight loss. It didn’t — although I suspect it did help. I lost all that weight by getting on and sticking to Medifast, a diet plan that two friends had used to lose 80 and 70 pounds respectively. A friend who started at the same weight as me lost just as much as I did in about the same amount of time. Truth is, by the time I got home from my summer job to face the crazy that awaited me, I’d already dropped most that weight and I managed to keep most of it off for two years.

But as you might expect from going off a strict, unsustainable diet plan — I had no desire to eat that “food” for the rest of my life — the weight crept back on. Not all of it, thank heaven. But enough to make me feel the sluggishness and lack of motivation that I felt back in the final days of my ill-advised marriage. So I decided to do something about it.

The question was what to do? Sure — I could get back on Medifast and drop all that weight in another four months. But then I’d secure my seat on a dieting seesaw I never wanted to be on. I needed a more sustainable plan, something that would allow me to eat the food I wanted without counting calories or getting overly concerned about portions.

Enter Whole30

Long story short: six different friends raved to me about Whole30. It’s apparently been around for a while. It’s a version of a Paleo diet. Food is broken down into broad yes/no categories:

Yes No
Meats, fish, and eggs Dairy, including cheese (!)
Fruit Added sugar or sugar substitute
Vegetables (with some exceptions) Legumes
Nuts (with some exceptions) Grains, including whole grains and pasta
Natural fats Alcohol, including wine (!)

This isn’t everything you need to know, of course. But it is about 90% of what the plan entails.

It’s about your health, stupid.

I have no patience for overweight people who claim that they don’t care what other people think of them or that fat can be beautiful or that society places too strong an emphasis on perfect bodies and they don’t care. These people are missing the point.

I’m not saying we should all look like runway models. I’m saying that we should maintain healthy body weight. So many ailments can be avoided or even cured by weight loss. This isn’t bullshit hearsay — it’s the truth. Not only will you look better and feel better when you get down to a healthy weight, but you’ll be healthier and have a much better feeling of self-esteem. Take it from me: I’ve been there. Stop making excuses and start taking care of your health.

The idea is to stick to this plan exactly as written for 30 days (yes, it’s the 30 Day Challenge). The authors of the plan and the book that goes with it make all kinds of claims about how good you’ll feel at the end of that month. Some of them are admittedly outrageous — like claims to “cure” literally dozens of ailments related to “silent inflammation.” I don’t believe all that crap, although I do believe that symptoms of some ailments can be greatly reduced with a good diet and healthy weight. For example, I have had high blood pressure for years; it runs in my family. When I was very heavy, it took three meds to control it. When I lost all that weight, I got it under control with just one med — and that’s where I am today.

(I might also mention here that one of the reasons I was determined to lose all that weight back in 2012 is because my doctor told me I needed to start watching my sugar numbers. Type 2 diabetes also runs in my family and I didn’t want any part of that. My weight loss took the possibility of that off the table — no pun intended.)

Whole30 BookThe Whole30 book itself is pretty funny if you read it with a mind as cynical as mine. It’s all “rah-rah” and “you’ll hate us for this but” and other such nonsense meant to encourage weak people. The way I see it, if you want to see results, you have to stick to a plan that’ll work. No amount of coaxing is going to work on someone with no willpower.

The gimmick with the Whole30 Challenge is that for the 30 days you’re following the plan, you can’t cheat. Not even a tiny bit. If you have anything to eat that isn’t allowed, you have to start over. So yes, the 1/3 teaspoon (I measured it) of sugar and half ounce (estimated) of milk that I put into my 18 ounce cup of coffee (allowed) this morning is cheating and I’d have to start over tomorrow. That ain’t gonna happen. I was warned by my Medifast diet coach that coffee, milk, and sugar weren’t allowed on Medifast and I wouldn’t get results if I had them every morning. But I did and I still lost a shit-ton of weight.

And sure, you can throw my words about willpower above back in my face, but my morning coffee is something I’m not willing to give up for a week, let alone a month. I want to find a plan I can live with, not suffer through.

Not a Weight Loss Plan?

I should point out here that the Whole30 book claims it isn’t a weight loss diet plan. I honestly think they say that so you’re not disappointed when you don’t lose weight. But in the book, they say that you will lose weight as a side effect of getting all the bad food out of your system. And although they don’t have you counting calories, they do talk about portion sizes and having just three meals a day — or at least keeping three hours between smaller meals. And that sounds a lot like Medifast.

I guess it’s all the same no matter how different it is.

You Have to Like to Cook

One of the interesting aspects of Whole30 is that because you have no idea what they put in restaurant food, you can’t really eat in a restaurant. And because you’ll likely die of boredom eating plain salad and grilled meat all the time, they have lots of recipes in the book. (There are also a ton online. Want to make a pork dish? Google Whole30 pork recipe.) So you’ll theoretically do a lot of cooking at home. I like to cook so that’s okay with me.

The other day I made their Classic Chili recipe using some of the ground beef I already had in my freezer (from the 1/4 cow I bought last year) and vegetables right out of my garden. It was surprisingly delicious. It also made enough for me to freeze two portions so the next time I don’t feel like cooking, I can grab one out of the freezer, pop it in the microwave, and enjoy.

The book also has a ton of recipes for various sauces to spice up plainly prepared foods. I made an almond- and tomato-based “romesco sauce” yesterday to top garlic shrimp with zucchini noodles. The recipe made enough for several meals, so I used some this morning on an omelet I made with eggs from my chickens and onions, tomatoes, and peppers from my garden. It really did make breakfast more interesting.

Home Made Lara Bars
With no added sugar and simple, wholesome ingredients, you don’t need to be on a special diet plan to like these energy bars.

I also found a recipe online the other day for Whole30-compliant energy bars similar to the Larabars you might find in your supermarket or health food store. I made two versions: one with dates, coconut, dried cherries, almonds, and pepitas and the other with dates, coconut, dried apricots, almonds, and flax seeds. I put half in the fridge and used my vacuum sealer to seal and freeze the other half in individual bars. I’ve been eating them for dessert and will likely take them on hiking or day trips. They’re actually quite tasty.

So I guess that as long as I can continue to make interesting foods, I’ll have no trouble sticking with it. My 30 days started yesterday and I’ll go until month-end. I’ll likely blog some interesting things I discover along the way.

But I don’t actually expect Whole30 to be the reason I lose weight over the next few months. I’ll leave that to Invisalign.

Stopping Shifting Teeth

Here’s something I never knew about aging: your teeth shift.

I’ve always had very healthy teeth — only three cavities in my life so far. They were not, however, perfectly straight. When I was a kid, my parents actually debated me getting braces for an overbite and eventually decided that it wasn’t severe enough. (They were right about that.) My bottom teeth, however, have always been a bit crooked, with one of the front ones sitting at a 30° angle to the others. Fortunately, no one sees that when I smile since my front teeth steal the show. So although I was never happy about those bottom teeth, I never saw a need to fix them.

One of the happy side effects of my divorce is that I smile a lot more now. (It’s true! I’m a much happier person!) And about a year or two ago, I started to notice that in photos of me smiling, one of my front teeth seemed to be in the shadows. I realized, with a bit of horror, that it was starting to shift backwards in my mouth and it was affecting my smile.

Now I’m not raving beauty and I came to terms with that years and years ago. But I do look best when I’m smiling so I do it a lot. I found the thought of my smile getting ugly very hard to swallow.

Enter Invisalign

Invisalign is a program with dental “appliances” to straighten teeth. It’s extremely effective in cases where not much straightening is required — like in my mouth — and it’s popular with adults because it’s basically invisible to others. The patient starts with a set of clear plastic appliances that fit over his or her teeth and gently tug them toward the desired end position. Every 7 to 10 days, the appliance is replaced with a new one that continues the positioning. At the end of the program, the teeth should be in the desired end position.

My dentist showed me an animation of my teeth moving into the proper position over time. It was very cool. I’ll see if I can track down a sharable copy.

In my case, I’ll be using 20 sets of appliances. They started me yesterday with my first one. The worst part is the placement by the dentist of small upraised points on several teeth to hold the plastic braces in place. Then they snap in snugly and go to work. I can feel them pulling, but although I thought they’d keep me up, I slept like a log last night — nine full hours!

And yes, I do have to wear them night and day. You must wear them 20 to 22 hours a day for them to work.

I’ll wear these for 10 days, then switch. Then 10 days of that and a switch. Then I visit my dentist so he can see how things are going and get the next batch. I’m hoping that they’re going well enough to do a switch every 7 days instead of 10 to speed up the program.

The net results: I should have all my teeth — even the bottom ones I’d already decided I could live with crooked — straightened within about six months.

Of course, since my teeth will want to continue to shift as I continue to age, I’ll have to wear a retainer at night, likely for the rest of my life. Let’s hope I can live with that.

Invisalign and Weight Loss

Of course, I talked to a bunch of people about their Invisalign experience before plunking down a bunch of money to give it a try. (It ain’t cheap.) And one of the things that came up is the fact that you lose weight when you’re on Invisalign.


Well, it actually makes perfect sense. You have to wear these things at least 20 hours a day and you can’t eat or drink anything other than water while you’re wearing them. Sure, they’re easy enough to take out, but if you take them out to eat, you need to brush your teeth and clean the plastic appliances before putting them back in. This is a huge pain in the ass. So, as a result, people wearing Invisalign appliances don’t do much snacking between meals. That means they lose weight.

So combine Whole30 with Invisalign and it would be a miracle if I didn’t lose weight.

Invisalign and White Teeth

I also expect that my teeth will be cleaner and whiter than they’ve ever been before.

Let’s face it: I hate brushing my teeth. I hate the flavor of toothpaste. (Peppermint has been known to make me nauseous.) When I eat a meal, I want the flavor of the meal to linger on my palate 20 or 30 minutes later, not the minty flavor of toothpaste. So I normally brush my teeth just once a day, and that’s usually right after showering. I do everything in my power to avoid brushing right before or after my morning coffee, which really is sacred to me.

But now I have to brush after every meal or snack. I brushed my teeth four times yesterday. I expect to brush at least five times today as I begin considering my mid-morning snack.

I use a whitening toothpaste. Brushing 4-5 times a day would have to result in whiter teeth, no?

So in six months, I can expect to have the straightest, whitest teeth I’ve ever had.

Is It Time for Your Tune Up?

Getting old sucks. (And don’t give me the tired old saw about it beating the alternative; there will come a point for many of us when the alternative is better.) But you don’t have to take things lying down. You can do what’s within your power or budget to make your life better as you age.

That’s what I’m doing. If you’re not, why not?