Comfort in Unexpected Places

After two wonderful back-to-back vacations, I returned home with a severe chest cold. I stopped writing for over a month.

Although I began to recover from my cold, I became wracked with doubt over restarting my writing habit again.

Questions tortured me. Why am I writing in the first place? Who cares about what I have to say? How can I possibly contribute anything important to the vast universe of written words?

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But something happened in the middle of a dark, depressing night that showed me how a tiny piece of writing can make a difference in the world.

My chest cold wasn’t life threatening. I knew I’d recover. But after coughing day and night for two weeks, I began to think I’d never get better.

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I bought every over-the-counter cough syrup, pill, and anti-histamine. I inhaled steam 3 times a day. I swallowed teaspoons of honey. My doctor had nothing effective to offer.

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I consulted with the Cochrane Collaboration, which is the only impartial compilation of world medical results that helps you sift through evidence and experiments. From that wonderful website I learned something I had long suspected: Nothing helps a cough. Everything is anecdotal and placebo.

In the end, I used cough drops. They were sugarless, so I didn’t have to worry about rotting my teeth. But after dozens of them, the chemical sweeteners became nauseating.

I felt exhausted, weak, and hopeless. Being sick is lonely. I thought of all the people who suffer from serious illness and real pain. It didn’t make me feel better in comparison.

In the end, no matter how many friends and family you have who support you and express sympathy, you feel alone and very mortal.

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Lack of sleep disordered my thinking and emotions. I’ll never get better. This is the beginning of a downward spiral. This is what it means to get old.

During one long night of coughing, when my chest, stomach muscles, back and neck were strained and painful, I looked at the pile of cough drop wrappers on my night table.

I tried not to cry (it would only make me cough more.)

I began to fiddle with one of the wrappers. I smoothed it out and noticed there was tiny writing on the paper.

Don’t give up on yourself, it said. Then, in bold letters: A PEP TALK IN EVERY DROP.

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I was astounded. Someone, somewhere in the world, an employee of this cough drop company, knew my pain! That person, that precious, lovable writer, reached out to comfort me.

I smoothed out all the wrappers and read them.

Get back in the game.  Dust off and get up. Fire up those engines. You’ve survived tougher. Put a little strut in it. Bet on yourself. Get back in there, champ. Go for it.

Conquer today. March forward. Be resilient. Buckle down and push forth. Impress yourself today. Nothing you can’t handle. Don’t waste a precious minute. Go get it. Keep your chin up.

Be unstoppable. Put your game face on. You can do it and you know it. Get through it. The show must go on.

Power through! Push on!

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I imagined this writer arguing during a cough drop factory meeting. “People who use cough drops need a little loving kindness.”

“Okay,” said the boss. “Go for it!”

Then that writer grabbed a bunch of inspirational clichés and set to work.

Those little words in the middle of a dark night were a turning point for me.

I stopped complaining. I told myself I’d get better. I vowed to think more about others who were suffering from serious illness.

Most important of all, though, was the realization that even the most insignificant, cliché piece of writing printed on a cough drop wrapper, can make all the difference in the world to a suffering human being.

(And I finally got better.)

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