I've been laid up with a terrible cold for the past three days. It's about that time of year. And I'm pretty sure I know just how I got this little viral monster: on the bus. In these days of swine flu, hand sanitizers, and coughing into your sleeve, it's practically inevitable that you'll eventually catch something when you're in close quarters with strangers every day. Short of wearing one of those paper masks that I've seen from time to time on the Metro (and that always look ridiculous), I'm not sure what the solution is.
About ten days ago, I squeezed in next to a woman with a sniffle and a raspy cough. Of course I realized it too late. Besides, you never know what might be causing this . . . a cold, a smoking habit, allergies, morning stuffieness, etc. I'm definitely not a germaphobe, but I'm also not a fan of people, particulary in cramped public spaces, openly hacking in my general direction, which this lady was doing -- with no effort made to cover her mouth. And as I sit here cursing that woman, having taken a day off to recouperate and also to avoid infecting anyone else, I wonder what do you do when you're the stuffy, sneezy, cough-y one and you have to be in those close quarters.
It's not just on the bus, either. One time WH and I were flying to California and I got stuck seated next to That Guy, you know the one on every flight with the tuberculitic cough. He sneezed and coughed and wiped his nose on the back of his hand the entire six-hour flight. He also kept trying to talk to me (which is a whole other kind of annoyance, but I'll save it for another time). And ten days later, I was in the same boat (save for the back of the hand thing--I always use a Kleenex).
Another time, I was That Guy. On the return flight from our honeymoon. Having been a victim of high stress (hello, wedding planning) and poor ventilation (who ever thought an air conditioning vent directly over the bed was a good idea?), I ended up with raging ear and sinus infections about halfway through our honeymoon. I could complain, I suppose, especially about the day I woke my new husband up at 6:30 in the morning to take me to the "hospital" on St. John so I could get drugs. (The "hospital" was a tiny little building at the highest point of the island that required we ring a doorbell to get in. There was no doctor on duty, just a couple of haggard looking nurses.) But it was our honeymoon after all, and being sick in paradise is better than being sick anywhere else, I suppose.
Anyway, on the flight back to D.C., I was stuffed up, coughing, and incredible pain. Not to mention, I had one watery eye that was red and puffy as a result of the feeling of perpetual sneeze that kept plaguing me. Remember that part in the wedding vows about sickness and health? Well, this was it. On the descent into National Airport, the changing pressure caused my stuffy ears so much pain (my eardrums actually burst) that tears were rolling down my face and it was all I could do to control myself not to scream. I practically broke WH's fingers squeezing his hand to take my mind off the pain. I was so sick, I can't even remember anything about the people sitting around me, and the looks of horror they were probably shooting me as I sniffled and wheezed.
So tomorrow, when I board the bus in my attempt to head back to work, I'll likely forgo the paper mask, but promise to use a tissue, cough in my sleeve, and try to stay as far from anyone else as is possible. And if you see someone with one watery eye who looks constantly on the verge of a sneeze, you might want to go sit somewhere else.