I used to come down with a cold often as a child, sometimes even fits of sneezing. I would look at the mom with heavy pleading eyes in the morning hoping that she would look at my plight and allow me to skip school. Unless the cold was accompanied by fever I would be dragged out of bed and packed off to school. “It’s just a common cold,” she would tell me. “Don’t have ice cream and cold water and you will be fine.” So, no ice cream and cold drinks for a week at least, school every day and homework, and gargling at night and taking steam to make things worse.
“Common cold,” I found the term so unfair. It would leave me feeling drowsy and drained and no one would care. I could stay home only if I had a fever. Even mild temperature wasn’t taken too seriously, though I would be kept at home and monitored. In fact, fever or seasonal flu had its own charm. I would enjoy those lethargic, lazy, no school days and all attention that the fever brought along. Till about a year back, taking a break from work to recover from a mild fever or flu was kind of relaxing.
Common cold’s cousin sneeze, sometimes caused by cold, sometimes by dust or allergy, was never feared, always blessed. “Bless you” we would say when someone sneezed. There are various sayings behind why a sneeze drew blessings. Apparently, a sneeze is the closest thing to death. It is said that our heart stops for a fraction of a second when we sneeze, don’t know if this is actually the case. It is also believed that Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great) suggested saying “God bless you” after a person sneezed as one of the symptoms of the plague was coughing and sneezing. In hopes that this prayer would protect them from otherwise certain death the custom saying “God bless you” or “bless you” came into being. That sneezing causes someone to expel their soul out of their body is another belief, hence “God bless you” to ward off the devil snatching our soul.
Despite these sayings we never associated sneezing with death or evil, it was rather innocuous save for minor irritations. “Bless you” was just a polite thing to say if we heard someone sneeze.
Enter COVID-19 and sneeze turns deadly, for one sneeze could carry the lethal virus that could infect many. Cold and mild temperature are the most feared symptoms, I wonder whether cold will be considered common ever. Gone are days when you could enjoy the lethargy of mild fever. The moment someone sneezes or coughs they are isolated lest they infect the others. Once low-rung ailments, cold and sneeze have really gone up the ladder. Not sure if they are enjoying the rise or cursing the pandemic like all of us.