‘In 2022, having a cold that isn’t Covid is hardly worth mentioning’ – Emily’s Week

Many of us have summer colds, but as the spectre of Covid continues to haunt and confuse us, Emily reckons a sniffle is a cause for optimism.

Man In Bed Sneezing

I’m sniffing and spluttering. Aching, tired. I’m grumpy and feeling sorry for myself – which is lucky, because it seems like I’m the only one. In 2022, having a cold that isn’t Covid is not only undignified, it’s hardly worth mentioning – that is, except for reassuring the people who look daggers at me every time I clear my throat. ‘It’s not Covid, I DID A TEST’, I want to snap. ‘But yes, I do feel crummy, thanks for asking.’

Performatively compensating for being out and about despite the (very minor) physical discomfort, I’m cultivating an air of martyred dignity that belongs to a bygone era. That’s right, my cold is vintage. It’s not compatible with the latest tech, it doesn’t get a social media reveal, actually, yeah, you might not ‘get’ it? Being sick has always been rubbish, but two years of this pandemic have so thoroughly sapped it of any upside that I’ve resorted to gatekeeping a garden-variety rhinovirus. But how did we get here? Weird, I’ve been wondering the same thing! Let’s take a trip down memory lane.

In the fever dream that was 2020, the spectre of Covid inflected every interaction and excursion with the possibility of not only serious but also mysterious sickness. Scrambling to understand our new foe, theories about blood types, viral loads, bizarre symptoms and T-cells made armchair epidemiologists of us all overnight. Hypervigilant, every tickle in the throat could herald the arrival of the pestilence – or, you know, it might not.  Before testing was widely available, distinguishing the early symptoms of Covid from the flu or even hayfever was a bit like reading tea leaves. Am I dying, or asymptomatic? Are you friendly or lethal?

Covid turned everything on its head, leaving little space for “maybe” or “a bit” – knowing nothing felt like risking everything, so it was tempting to assume the worst. Now that we can feel (comparatively) confident one way or the other – Lateral Flow Tests in the bathroom cupboard, one line or two? – no one cares about Covid anymore, let alone a summer cold. Consider the nation’s sympathy reserves expended, depleted, run dry. Nada, zip, zilch, nothing to see here.

Understandably, most of us never want to think about viruses ever again – but life has other ideas. Cocooned away in lockdown, seasonal viruses dissipated along with Covid; we might be out of practice, but our return to reality brings with it all the immunological enslaughts we used to take for granted. Minor ailments were a normal part of life – and for people lucky enough to be generally healthy, they could even be perversely pleasurable.

Remember being little, allowed to stay home with a barely discernible temperature? Made a fuss of, but not in the least bit frightened? Or the adult equivalent – permitting yourself a day on the sofa instead of slogging into the office, the relief of being totally off the hook? Already vanishingly rare in our post-Protestant work culture, that stolen bliss has vanished altogether in 2022. Tainted by associations of lockdown, staying home under the duvet smacks of isolation rather than cosy self-indulgence.

Even though the virus is far from gone, we’ve elected to act as though it has – arguably, a large part of my suffering with this cold is down to being reminded that I have a vulnerable body at all; more trouble than it’s worth, eh? I’d rather do away with it all together if it meant never being ill again; I’m not traumatised, you’re traumatised!  That said, while I feel a) slightly leperous and b) put-upon, I’ll take this version of affairs over the white-noise of pandemic panic any day.

My summer cold might not be au courant, glamorous, or newsworthy, but it’s comfortingly familiar; symbolic, somehow, of a return to business-as-usual. Next time you get the sniffles, take them as a reminder of the acres of grey between the stark black and white lens we’ve lately been forced to look through. Achoo! Sure, I’m miserable, but I’ll be fine in a minute.

Leave a Reply

More like this