Thursday, February 18, 2016

The Common Cold: Staying Positive In Spite of ALS (ALS Humor)

Now, where was I?

Right before the itchy eyes… the scratchy throat and… that one big killer sneeze. Right before my energy hit rock bottom and I gave up and rolled back under the blankets.

Oh yeah, it was last week, Monday…and then poof! The whole week was gone.

Enough clues? You guessed right; this wasn’t a new evil version of ALS robbing me of movement - - or frankly, even caring about moving. This was a full-on case of acute viral nasopharyngitis, the “creeping crud” or, as we all know it; the common cold. Yee-uck!
Gee, it’s been a whole eight years since my last cold, doesn’t that count for something? I wondered angrily while rummaging through our medicine drawer. Digging past a pile of band-aides and an assortment of salves, creams and ointments, I finally found the small plastic basket containing battered boxes of cold and flu medications.

Well, I guess there really IS a downside to not having had a cold for the past eight years! Everything had expired! Delirious I looked at the various dates: 2009, 2010, 2008 and… began calculating. Could I, should I, mix-match the weakened multi-symptom potions to create a new hybrid dose?

Fortunately, my husband suggested we chuck the whole lot into the waste basket and he’d drive to the drugstore for fresh replacements.

While awaiting his return I lulled myself with random Internet searches to find out exactly what the latest, greatest, best treatments were for the common cold. What I discovered was that the status of modern medicine regarding colds is nearly the same status we’re in with ALS. That is, the medical community knows a tremendous amount about what the two conditions do to the body, less about the best way to treat them, and nothing yet towards a cure!

According to the latest statistics, we catch a cold an average of 2-4 times a year and they last from 5-9 days. For ALS, the newly updated* lifetime risk is 1-in-300, and a person with ALS lives from 2-5 years following diagnosis. Both have no “cure.”  

I guess I got lucky not having eight years’ worth of colds, unlucky being 1-in-300 and lucky to be outliving my expiration date!

Even the so-called home remedies being touted online for colds sounded eerily similar to those I’ve seen for ALS. There was Ginger, Cayenne Pepper, Mustard, Coconut Oil - - secret ingredients, mixtures and recipes that bring the entire spice aisle of the grocery store right into your kitchen! One fellow with ALS swore that a daily application of Coconut Oil to the bottom of his feet pulled all the toxins from his body. I sure don’t want to be around when he takes his shoes off! In another post, a woman recommended onion juice mixed with honey as a good remedy for children with a cough. Good luck getting a kid to eat THAT treat!

But in the end, over-the-counter medicines and home remedies simply treat the symptoms. They don’t “cure” our cold - - our body’s immune system kicks in and does that part - - generating antibodies that attack the 200+ viruses that take up residence in our sinus, throats and lungs. In fact, studies show that both traditional and non-traditional remedies work only fifty percent of the time. What’s working during the other fifty percent? The Placebo Effect.

Seems that somehow, simply believing in the pill, drink or syrup (even though there may be nothing in it) we get better - - we heal.

There is solid scientific evidence for the biology of belief and its opposite: the biology of stress. In past blog posts I’ve written about Esther Sternberg, M.D., and her work using MRI scans of the brain to track what happens and which areas light up when we think various thoughts. During the Placebo Effect or, our expectation that something will heal; brain pathways are activated releasing dopamine and opiate endorphins - - our brain’s own reward system. At the same time brain chemicals are released that stimulate immunity.  In addition, the folks doing research into Positive Psychology - - how attitude influences our body’s health - - have reached the same conclusions. The mind effects the body and the body effects the mind.

Pretty impressive stuff! But, we unfortunately still haven’t figured out how to control or direct our brains towards intentionally healing colds - - or curing ALS.

By now my husband walked in the door and I eagerly opened the first box. Pulling out a flat package with ten little green capsules shaking like Mexican Jumping Beans in their own individual plastic bubble.

Lesson 1: It is nearly impossible to open a vacuum-sealed bubble pack of capsules!
The package is tamper-proof, terrorist-proof and customer-proof! Itty-bitty pull-tabs are only a decoration. Mere human fingernails cannot scrape off the aluminum backing.  My husband jokingly suggested a blow torch, however we found that using a very sharp knife to pierce the backing - - while, oh so carefully not puncturing the little capsule inside, was the best approach. Heaven help little old ladies trying to do THIS maneuver! 

Exhausted, I downed the medicine, grabbed a cough drop and sat back down. That’s when I discovered…

Lesson #2: Positive psychology has entered the world of over-the-counter medications.
Imagine my surprise to notice little inspiring messages** on the wrapper of each cough drop! And why not? Why not wait out the 2-9 days for my body’s antibodies to rally while enjoying the placebo effect of a nice tasting cough drop bearing positive thoughts? Why not?

…Now, where was I?

* MNDA (Motor Neuron Disease Association) & special thanks to Lee Millard.

**“A Pep Talk in Every Drop!” video: 

Original image:

Dagmar Munn
ALS and Wellness Blogger


  1. Hi Dagmar,

    Great post again and you never disappoint! Wishing you a quick recovery from the awful cold!

    Take Care,


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