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A lesson for all the smug healthy people

Kate Langbroek, Sunday Style

WE ALL know the adage “pride comes before a fall”, but I have fallen prey to that lesser known but equally wise saying: “She who boasteth about her health shall be smote with the coughing stick.” 

See, there is something about us when we are healthy that is insufferably smug. Basically, the broad rule of human compassion, as I understand it, is that unless you suffer from it yourself, or you have witnessed it up close happening to someone you love, you’re not particularly sympathetic about it.

We all make the right noises: “Oh, you poor thing!” we trill, followed by the singsong, “Lots of vitamin C!” as we twirl away in a manner that speaks of our lack of aching joints and no-time-to-be-sick resolve. But despite following the societal script, inwardly, in our deep, dark, festering human place, many of us are experiencing one of two considerably less generous reactions: 1) “I wonder how many sick days she’ll milk out of this?”, or 2) “She’s always sick. What a weakling. Look at me, however, blessed by the gods, with my clear sinuses and spring in my step. I am invincible.”

For the past couple of years I have been in the latter camp, somehow convinced that my regimen of supplements, martyred mother-of-four status and sheer grit had bestowed upon me the gift of good health. This is ludicrous, really, when you consider that doctors — trained, cautious, selfless, wise medical experts — actually died on the frontline treating people with ebola. My point is, some things are bigger than us, and viruses seem to be one of them. 

Still, that didn’t stop me having dinner with a bunch of friends a month or so ago and comparing notes with another Smug Healthy. He was handsome and suntanned — like a real-boy version of Paleo Pete — and as people around the table shared tales of encroaching winter maladies, he actually lowered his voice to tell me he hadn’t been sick for a couple of years. I was like, “Me too!” We toasted each other and giggled.

In the back of my mind, I vaguely wondered what was giving rise to this expression of revolting, shiny, robust ego — about health! — but I drowned that voice out with another glass of champagne and a pitying look around the table. 

The next day, I woke up with an inexplicable sore throat.

Since then, like a bloated English tourist in search of some winter sun, the malady has popped up all over. It started, as I said, in my throat. Then it made my whole head start to melt and drip out through my nose. (It’s similar to how your nose sometimes turns into a faucet when you’ve just spent two hours body-surfing in pounding summer surf, but HIDEOUS and sans the sun-warmed happiness.) Then it swelled up my sinuses so badly, I looked like I’d had an attack of Bell’s palsy.

Finally, for the past couple of weeks, it has lodged in my chest, where it has alternated between suffocating me and delivering coughing jags so deep and violent and hacking and loud that I’m sure the neighbours think we have a pair of neurotic guard dogs. (And nightly intruders.)

Anyway my point is this: if you’re healthy and untouched by the change-of-season plague that has dogged so many, be appreciative of your good fortune — even if you secretly believe it has more to do with green smoothies and good management. 

Also, while you’re up, could you please make me some chicken soup?

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