The Challenge of Cold Lessons

“Scott,” I wailed by email, “why is it that the universe seems to think we both have to have the same experiences”? For those who don’t know him, Scott is sort of my male-alter ego – yes, I know that is scary – and we find it amusing that we are so similar in so many ways.

A few years ago, his grandson arrived from England with an innovative bug. Scott dropped for about a month and got very sick of being sick. About all he could do was drag himself around and wait to be invited to the snottiest of parties.

I felt sorry for him, I really did – as I do for all people with extended illnesses. My recent bout, however, was a cold lesson from the universe about how sympathy isn’t nearly as powerful as empathy.

My pattern when sick is to drop, recover, carry on. When I ended up in the hospital with a kidney infection in 1986, for example, I asked the nurse how long I would be there. She replied “You are very ill. A week to ten days.”

“No, I have four days and I’m on a plane to China.”

She looked at me as though I was deranged – or perhaps hallucinating from the drugs they were pumping into me – and shook her head. I was on the flight, pretentious patient that I am.

Brought down by grippa

Alvaro B B 1

Grippa – as particularly bad colds are known here – are rampant in Medellin. At the beginning of June, Alvaro and I were sitting outside at one of the local places. I got doused in a sudden downpour and we moved inside. Alas, that is where the coughers and hackers were sitting.

And the next morning I woke up and knew I’d been infected so I started in on the usual Vitamin C & zinc and rummaged through my medicine kit to see what else I had. A couple of days later I was fine. Great, so off I went, until, that is, I dropped again.

How can such gorgeous germs be so deadly?
How can such gorgeous germs be so deadly?

And so went the pattern. I kept thinking I had recovered; I hadn’t.  Alvaro – who has had the last rites – said that when he first saw me he thought I was going to die.

The Colombians thought I was crazy not to go to a doctor, but I kept thinking I’d beaten the bug.

Lina, a nurse, later told me that the problem with this particular grippa is that it mutates. So just when you think it is over it hits you again with another version.

Alvaro was a wonderful nurse;


Sylvia – my Medellin mother – came over to make soup for me; various people sent messages; I felt cared for, which made it all easier.

After about three weeks of “she’ll be right, mate” – remember I have an Australian passport so I can legitimately use the phrase — I woke up one morning and knew I had to see a doctor.

Through more luck than careful planning, I ended up at the best homothetic clinic in town, which is just down the street. There Dr. Molina poked, prodded and asked if it hurt.

Image courtest of Adrian Clark at Flickr.
Image courtest of
Adrian Clark at Flickr.

Then he sent me off to the lab for an IV drip of nine medications, none of which were recognizable other than Vitamin C.

The story I got out of it is that I passed the medical adventure test in Spanish.

Eighteen and a half years

The penultimate time I went to see a doctor because I was sick was December 1997. The last was June 2016 – a good run of 18 ½ years. It isn’t that I haven’t been sick from time to time, such as – sniffle, sniffle – colds when I change countries, but I’ve always managed to come out the other side.

Not seeing a doctor — like so many of my other annoying habits — became a badge of honour. Hey, ya’ got to have ovaries to be able to be a truly defiant patient.

Fear of development

My major concern now that I’ve been to a doctor is that I might become a hypochondriac, like my self-confessed friend, Alvaro. When we go out he often has to stop at this or that specific pharmacy to get his drugs for everything from pain to sleeping to aches. His pockets are a proverbial medicine kit with the pills carefully sorted into specific places.

Alvaro was so impressed with how quickly the homothetic drugs acted that he wrote down the names and tucked the information away for future reference My question was “why”; his reply was that they must be effective.

The lesson learned

Ah, yes, like so many after-the-fact events, the cold lesson was a good learning experience. My admiration for people who carry on in spite of being ill has increased exponentially.

Kathy, my sister-in-law, suggested that not seeing a doctor might have something to do with the Hanson stubbornness. Yo? Stubborn? Alvaro seconded her observation and declared that I was “the stubbornest woman on the planet.” Ah, well, yet another defect to work on.

I also went through a self-analysis process and realized that if the condition had been permanent I would have been reaching for the Nembutal.

The penalty of the cold lesson? Ten days with no alcohol, not being able to go out during el sereno – the night wind between 17:00 to 20:00 — and having to sweat it out with a pullover and a scarf at all times.

The cold lesson was a challenge that made me more empathetic, so that makes it worthwhile.