Sally Friedman

is a freelance writer in Moorestown

It begins with a sneeze. A modest "achoo."

A couple of hours later, it feels as if I've been swallowing marbles. I drink tea and tell my husband that I'm off to bed to fight off this cold.

I can mark the years by my annual colds. They arrive stealthily, almost always in late fall, then settle in like unwelcome houseguests. And while I know that there are so many things more awful than a head cold, when that head is yours, it's a different story.

So the ministrations begin. And the other, totally predictable phenomenon: The avalanche of advice comes.

My husband pushes the cold tablet that he swears knocks a cold right out in two hours, tops. Vic's magic pill allows the cold to stay put - but leaves me so drowsy that merely sitting up requires Herculean effort.

I try more tea. Herbal. Plain. Chinese. Green. I remember how my paternal grandmother drank tea from a glass with a sugar cube between her teeth. I even try that, and I can almost feel the sugar cube burrowing cavities in my molars.

My cold gets worse.

Now my sister is on the case, and Ruthie is a firm believer in working out problems like colds - literally. An exercise devotee, she insists that if I just get moving - on a treadmill, lifting weights, walking briskly - my body will shrug off this impediment.

I try ambling through the house but surrender at the den couch. The weight of my own stuffy head is all I can manage.

One of the women in my book group has the answer: zinc. Zero results.

My neighbor the herbal maven insists that some unpronounceable weed from a forest in the Amazon is all I need.

The vitamin C crowd pushes forward to chastise me for waiting too long - C, they insist, works only when taken at the exact onset of a cold. Or before. Just how one intuits the cold, and begins the ingestion of a zillion milligrams of vitamin C, beats me.

And I'm starting to wonder whether these well-meaning friends and loved ones are actually trying to poison me.

Like some heroine of old, what I really want to do is swoon. But how do modern women swoon? I haven't a clue.

Instead, I loudly lament my fate, playing the martyr. Those who hear my hoarse, congested voice on the phone cluck with sympathy, and I enjoy every last "Oh you poor thing!" But alas, no one offers to make chicken soup or send over a delicious novel.

I fumble through laundry, meals, and household duties so I can later complain about doing them.

For two days, I play it to a fare-thee-well. I choose the most disreputable sweatshirt as a uniform. I wear no makeup at all, affecting a pale, tragic heroine look.

By day three of the Killer Cold, I'm sneezing less, and my nose has lost its scarlet tone. I'm not buried under a mountain of tissues, and I actually can face my computer screen for an hour.

The sympathy quotient has dropped to zero.

It's business as usual in a cold, cold world.

But there remains this nagging question:

If they can get a man to the moon . . . if they can harness solar energy . . . why, oh why can't they find a cure for my extremely uncommon common cold?