I have not been speaking for several days straight. What began as a raspy, half-gone voice turned into a half-returned voice that ostensibly triggered coughing fits. I had to take a sick day on Friday and contemplated the realities of my physical and mental well-being. I hadn’t gotten worse per se over the course of the week, but I wasn’t getting reliably better either.
I blame myself, you see — the “user error” explanation for software or hardware malfunctions. I walked to a movie theatre on December 27 to watch The Big Short (Adam McKay, 2015) and by the time I had purchased tickets, got a slushie and found seats, I was so hot. I had my hair in two braids, was wearing leggings, a tank top and a wind-breaker (it was a semi-muggy and warm day). I took off the wind-breaker. The air-conditioner kicked on roughly twenty minutes later but I was still hot. I didn’t feel cold enough to put on my jacket until I’d been exposed to the cold air for at least fifteen minutes.
It may be scientific nonsense to catch a cold from being cold, but if you add sweating, exposure to air-conditioning on bare skin….yeah, probably not the best medley of elements. I enjoyed the movie a lot, the acting was superb across the board, and then felt like hazy shite for the rest of the week. I slept too much and didn’t drink enough water. Then, on January 2, I went to a used bookstore because I wanted to read a book now and not wait a few days for an Amazon delivery. Dust fibers spiraled in the air as I handled the books.
The first week back to work was a remix of “I got this” and “for the love of bronchial tubes, stop coughing for no apparent reason!” (other than a positive correlation between air touching the back of my throat and coughing spasms). I incorporated Umcka Cold Care, lots of throat lozenges, and coconut-honey-lemon syrup into my treatment regimen. By Thursday afternoon, I started wondering if perceived improvements in symptoms were more mind-over-matter and that my matter certainly minded that I was in denial of actual physical unwellness. I drank more fluids in the last week than I probably did over the month of December; I believed this increased water intake explained waves of feeling better.
I was baffled due to the lack of typical cold-ish weather accompaniments, primarily a simultaneously runny and congested nose. Moreover, my sore throat was more due to coughing and self-purging of normal-ish amounts of snot. It didn’t hurt to swallow. As I tried to fall asleep Thursday night, it dawned on me that the last time I coughed this way without any other provocation was shortly after I started working in government documents as an undergrad. I had often handled dusty boxes and books. A persistent cough developed. A doctor prescribed Claritin (back in the day when one needed a prescription for it). The coughing stopped.
Aha! The dusty books in the used bookstore! The sudden onslaught of coughing after consistent attempts to read it! I took a Claritin Friday morning and only started coughing at night because I did some talking during the day. I wanted to test my hypothesis that an allergic reaction to dust caused the coughing and… talking still aggravated my throat enough to make me cough. Saturday experiences confirmed it. So, until I stop coughing in my sleep… or I can do some talking without any daytime coughing the day after, I will not be speaking.
Ironically, or not so ironically given that I was a child who didn’t talk much, I’ve found that I don’t have all that much to say. There are things to communicate in other ways but the spoken word isn’t as important to me under the normal run of things. Pre-written notes and charades have allowed me to convey necessary information to sales assistants, restaurant employees, and colleagues. I appreciate the ability to speak for its immediacy more than I did in the past.