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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Off the Grid: Mom catches the dreaded man-cold

By Ammi Midstokke For The Spokesman-Review

I don’t get sick often. It’s bad PR when you tout a life of vegetables and hydration. Also, I am not a good sick person.

I’ve spent the last third of my life trying to be “healthy,” whatever the hell that is. I’m trying to make up for a couple of years of French cigarettes, several more years of red wine, a few barter fairs, and more than one of those friends who has too many drugs left over from the last rock festival they went to.

I eat organic, I make my soup from scratch, and I use coconut palm sugar in my pear cobbler. I meditate, exercise, take fish oil and a dozen other half-righteous, half-desperate things to stave off illness, the dreaded cancer, or judgment from other Waldorf moms (they probably sweeten with applesauce and acceptance). And I diffuse essential oils to ward off demons or whatever else they promise.

While I was spending decades wearing the fashion of vegan diets, my husband was building up his stoicism for suffering by showing up for work hungover most days. He’d just roll out of bed, take a barely sublethal dose of ibuprofen and smoke a Marlboro. Worse than his certifiable beer habit, he basically lived on gas station chimichangas. He gave up the cigarettes and fried burritos as a prerequisite for asking me on a date. And the beer was eventually replaced with homemade soups and wifely comforts.

Now, when he gets a Man Cold, he doesn’t do much more than ask for a box of tissues. Just like every other day, he gets up at 5, makes himself some coffee, and heads to work. If I hear him sneeze or sniffle, or catch him taking a Tylenol, I am quick to point out the benefits of a salad, elderberry syrup and toughing-it-out. This is my more nurturing side.

One night during this recent bought of theatrics, he coughed in bed. In my slumber, I felt the breeze of cooties stir my hair, then I drifted off again to dream about commanding Viking war ships or something.

Within two days, the Man Cold arrived. It’s like a regular cold, only more dramatic. But Charlie’s lack of drama had me assuming it was a light version. Besides, I’ve done way more juice cleanses and chakra balancing and far less oxidative damage in the form of bachelor parties.

“Surely I won’t get as sick as he does,” I thought.

The pathetic wallowing of self-pity I inflict upon my family when I am ill is embarrassing to say the least. Thankfully, I am sequestered to my home where no other poor souls are exposed to this intolerable behavior. I become a sniffling, pouting, disheveled sort of mess, made complete with a too-large robe, used Kleenex falling out of my pockets, and a perpetual cup of tea.

I don’t even like tea. I drink it when I am sick just so my misery is more visible. And I keep my eyelids at half-mast while feebly coughing and pandering for cookies.

I used to avoid medicine altogether and say things like, “I trust my body to know how to heal.” But I’ve lost a little confidence in my body since stretch marks and one serious incident after a curry. After several days of struggle and a high fever, I found myself perusing the medicine cabinet for outdated surgery leftovers. I texted a doctor friend.

“How many expired hydrocodone does it take to find the sweet spot between coma and death?”

“Oh my god, what happened?!”

“I have a cough.”

“Please discard your narcotics and go to the pharmacy, Ammi.”

Being a doctor, you’d think she’d know better. You can find an over-the-counter, out-of-body experience in just about any Cold & Flu aisle at a drug store. I have had margaritas in Mexico that were far less inebriating (or entertaining) than a board meeting on DayQuil.

Standing at the pharmacy counter later, I tried to explain to the pharmacist just what I was after, but it came out sounding more like a conversation with Timothy Leary on a hypothetical state of partial consciousness. Which is the actual mind-state I would like to be in, if I have to be in one at all, when I am sick.

The pharmacist walked me down the Cold & Flu aisle and listed off various symptoms. I denied them all because I categorically deny weakness in general and so many of them seem rather wimpy.

“You sound congested,” he said.

“Sticks and stones may break my bones …” I answered.

He listed about 17 chemical compound options, any one of them probably lethal in high doses, then handed me a box of cough syrup. I looked at the label.

“I don’t know, this has Red Dye No. 40 in it,” I said.

I bought it because he said it would make me sleep for eight hours. Sleep deprived and spasmodic for days, I would have sold my soul for half that. And because the look he gave me said it was time to set aside my essential oils and accept better living through chemistry.

When I arrived home with my contraband, I was nearly giddy with excitement. I set my bottle of cough syrup on the counter and waited until it was time for bed. This red juice would be the wildest ride I’ve had since my roaring 20s.

Or it would have been if I had not fallen into a deep, sound sleep the moment my head hit the pillow.

Ammi Midstokke can be contacted at

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