Check it Out: ‘Ah-choo!’ cures the ‘sickie blues’



After spending a rather miserable weekend nursing a sore back and a nasty head cold, I was, in a word, cranky. I knew that both my back and my head would get better, but I have no patience for sore throats, congestion or pain. An impatient patient is the worst.

When the crankiness started to fade, a bad case of “feeling sorry for myself” set in. This is when I knew I needed a distraction. A good book is always a fine way to improve a foul mood, so I set out to find a perfect attitude-booster. “Ah-choo! The Uncommon Life of Your Common Cold” turned out to be just what the doctor ordered. I realize that reading a book about the common cold — from which I am still recuperating — sounds like an odd choice for curing the “sickie blues.” If this book was written like a college medical textbook, full of unpronounceable Latin words and complicated pharmaceutical terminology decipherable only to those possessing a 10+ year medical degree, I wouldn’t have picked it up. Trust me, I don’t need a headache on top of my cold. The reason this book caught my attention is that the author, Jennifer Ackerman, takes a common medical condition, and makes it understandable, even fun to read about. Not an easy thing to do!

You’ll discover all sorts of cold facts and stats, but here are a few of my favorites: an average person will have enough colds over a lifetime to equal approximately five years of congestion, or about a full year in bed. The common cold can be caused by over 200 different viruses. And, within those viruses, there are five distinct families of virus. It’s beginning to sound like a cold is its own species with a long list of descendants. No wonder it’s related to everyone.

Perhaps the most important thing I learned from this “tribute” to the common cold is this: getting knocked down by a cold is pretty much guaranteed to happen on an annual basis, so sniveling about it is pointless. A sore back, however, is an entirely different matter. Surely that’s something to kvetch about.

Jan Johnston is the collection development coordinator for the Fort Vancouver Regional Library District. Email her at