Rhinovirus (CC) Alan Cann (Flickr)

Some time last week a virus took up residence in my body.  It’s hardly surprising. Several days before, my husband had woken up with a wicked case of pink eye and a cough that his doctor said was “just a virus” .. nothing she could do anything about. Just go home and wait for it to run its course.

I know the rule with viruses:  Ignore them and they last a week. Treat them and they’re gone in 7 days. So I made chicken soup, and he, feeling achy, tired, and congested spent two days pretty well zonked out. I told him he couldn’t look at me, lest those red eyes beam virus in my general direction.

But just to be safe, I threw open all the windows, aiming for 100% air exchange, washed the bed sheets, bleached the kitchen and bathrooms, broke out new toothbrushes, lit a candle to Linus Pauling and chugged a gallon of orange juice.

My woo had the predictable effect:  None

At some point the virus had already taken flight on an airborne water droplet and relocated itself happily from my husband’s airway to mine.

That night, while I slept the virus started invading my cells, happy to have found a new and healthy host. That is its goal, after all.  Fortunately, this particular virus, the human rhinovirus, has been in circulation among humans for eternity, so my body was prepared.

It retaliated with shock and awe.  Antibodies, still around since the last time this virus attacked, kicked in. Mucous set up defensive barrier, lining my throat, nose, and lungs. Damaged cells released histamines creating swelling in order to protect the underlying tissue. Phagocytes started gobbling up the dead.

But viruses have their own tricks. For one, they bounce. They don’t just infect one cell, kill it, and move to the next one. This would be self-limiting as the damaged and dead begin to build up around them. Instead they “jump over” infected cells quickly transporting themselves to healthy pastures. So that, they did.

(CC) Katie Davis (Flickr)

And in the morning the fallout from that overnight battle hit me like a bus. I woke up exhausted. My head pounded, my throat burned, I felt weak and fuzzy. But that wasn’t the virus. That was my immune system giving the command:  “Stay put. Go back to sleep and let us handle this.” So I did a shot of Nyquil and went back to bed.

I felt like the virus was winning.

But it wasn’t. Not yet anyway. It’s not the habit of rhinovirus to kill its host or even send it to bed for a week.  Really, what good would that do it?  No, it has something else in mind. Something a little more clandestine.

The next day I got up feeling remarkably better. 36 hours of sleep enhanced by several shots of Nyquil, had given my body a chance to focus on the fight at hand. Now the day dawned brightly, and though I felt a little scratchy in the throat, my head was clear.

Feeling somewhat revitalized, I made my list of things to do:

  • * Go to the Farmer’s Market and buy fresh veggies
  • * Return library books; get new ones for Mother in Law.
  • * Make salad for Saturday’s Thanksgiving dinner with extended family
  • * Put sheets on step-daughter’s bed before she gets home from University for the weekend

I set off on my day, happy to have stopped this virus in its tracks.

And then I coughed.