Addendum: The Science Behind Man-Cold

Blogger’s Note: In a recent post, I explored the symptoms, origins, and treatment of the the very real, though often ridiculed, affliction known as man-cold. In retrospect, I realize that I did not do justice to the prevailing scientific theories underlying this misunderstood illness. This post seeks to rectify that oversight.

As providence would have it, on the heels of my earlier post on man-colds, I was stricken by the dreaded disease myself. This first-hand experience, coupled with a striking observation by my son, Gabe, has shed new light on why man-colds happen in the first place.

First, the story: Almost at the same time I was posting the earlier writing, the symptoms began: sore throat, cough and congestion, alternating sweats and chills. At first these appeared to be little more than common cold symptoms, but at a certain point, they quickly escalated, leaving me a shell of the man I hoped to be the next morning. I was feverish, sleepless — near death in all things save fact — and did not know when (if ever) I might expect to be upright and functional again.

The following day, thankfully, my symptoms were reduced, and I was my typical jovial, carefree self — ready to take on the world despite a constant and singularly non-productive cough that plagues me even now, and the periodic sensation that I am about to drown in my own fluids.

During a coughing jag while I was out and about with my family, I shook my head and muttered, “Man-cold…” Gabe looked at me with a sympathetic smile, but gently corrected me: “Clearly not, or you wouldn’t be here.”

He’s right. What I was experiencing was no longer a man-cold, but the common-cold symptoms left behind by the more virulent strain. The question then became, how? How is it that that what manifests itself as a common cold in women and children — and even in men both before and after the man-cold — is so devastating to grown men at its symptomatic peak?

The prevailing theory is so simple it is often overlooked: the man-cold virus is a strain of common cold that feeds particularly on testosterone. When the virus infects a grown man, the testosterone available for consumption causes this strain to outperform all others. The manlier the man, the worse the man-cold, as the bug turns from a mild-mannered sniffle-inducer to a rampaging, rage-infused berserker virus, pillaging and burning everything in sight.

Now consider the effect of this rapid consumption of testosterone after the initial infection:

  • First, the man appears to have the same cold as the woman and/or children his life, with little impact on how he interacts with the world.
  • Next, the man-cold strain begins to feed on testosterone, outperforming the others strains in much the same way the healthy man would outperform lesser men, and quickly spreading through the man’s body, enhancing symptoms and overwhelming defenses. Instinctively the man lays low, knowing that, in nature, the weak and sick are killed and eaten.
  • As the man-cold virus multiplies rapidly, it consumes exponentially more testosterone, emasculating the patient and causing him to revert to a more childlike state of dependency. 
  • Furthermore, in particularly manly patients who are, by their profuse masculinity, prone to frequent man-colds, the immune system may itself reduce the supply of testosterone to starve the virus. The patient’s weak and pathetic appearance is, in fact, proportional to his typical strength and manliness and a testament to the quality of the man under attack by the virus.
  • Once the testosterone in the man’s system is sufficiently reduced, the man-cold strain quickly dies off, restoring the patient to common-cold status and relatively normal, manly functionality.
Of course, this theory need further investigation, but it’s elegant simplicity makes it the front-runner for explaining the truth of man-colds. Please share this information to continue to spread awareness and understanding!

Man Cold: Symptoms, Diagnosis, Treatment

A friend of ours was sick this past weekend. Actually, two friends: a man and his wife. They were supposed to join Jodi and me and two other couples for an evening of dinner and faith-building conversation, but (according to the message we received as the rest of us were gathering), he had the “man version” of the cold she had, so they were unable to come.

The men gathered for dinner immediately fell silent in sympathy and concern. The women laughed. They are not ordinarily so hard-hearted, so I began to wonder: why is the man-cold so misunderstood and easily dismissed by women?

When we returned home, my bride relayed the tale to my second son, Gabe, and that conversation yielded valuable insight into common misperceptions about man-colds.

Jodi (laughing): “She had the same cold that he had!”

Gabe: “That’s not possible. He has a man-cold, and she is not a man.”

Jodi (smiling): “Okay. She had the same SYMPTOMS as he did.”

Gabe: “That’s not true: she wasn’t bedridden.”

Jodi (exasperated): “Look, she was just as sick as he was!”

I was proud of my teenage son. Already at age 16, Gabe has come to understand that there are, in fact, fundamental differences between men and women and how they experience and interact with the world, and his polite but firm insistence that a man-cold is no laughing matter will one day garner his mother’s respect, even if in the moment she wanted to bean him with her Yeti tumbler.

At any rate, these two interactions led me to research and reflect upon the symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment of the man-cold. Here’s what I discovered.

Symptoms
Perhaps the best summary of the symptoms of a man-cold appears in the classic YouTube video below:

In addition to the typical symptoms of the common cold (runny nose, congestion, fatigue), the victim of the man-cold—invariably men, not women or children—are nearly always bedridden, finding it nearly impossible to rise, and may also experience burning sensations especially in the head; vocal hoarseness, faintness, and strain sometimes experienced by the listener as whining; extreme lethargy and heaviness of limbs; intimations of impending mortality; and an overwhelming desire for maternal care and physical proximity and affection.

Diagnosis
The fact that these additional symptoms are so rarely experienced by women does not make them any less real for afflicted men, and this disconnect is the cause of much misdiagnosis, mistreatment, and marital strife, as evidenced by this more recent video. (Warning: What follows includes examples of inappropriate gender-based “humor” and is difficult to watch, but unless we confront the reality of misunderstanding and neglect, we cannot hope to treat man-colds properly.)

Let’s start with the positives, such as the are: the woman in this video is at least minimally responsive to the needs of her spouse and appears to have a sincere desire to keep the household functioning despite her own minor ailment and the absence of her husband’s no-doubt considerable contributions. But from the start, she equates her cold with his, despite the clear difference in symptoms and severity (most obviously, she is vertical; he is not), and the sarcasm and lack of sympathy demonstrated here is disturbing, but unfortunately all too typical.
It turns out that diagnosing a man-cold is actually relatively simple: If the patient is an adult male and has any of the symptoms of a common cold, plus any of the following additional symptoms, he has a man-cold:
  • Inability to rise from bed, couch, or recliner (or in some severe cases, the floor)
  • Inability to change positions without groaning, crying out, or otherwise vocalizing discomfort
  • Rapid fluctuation in felt temperature (“burniness” or chills) resulting in piling up or throwing off covers—again, accompanied by vocal expressions of discomfort
  • Concerns about obscure or unknown diseases, viruses, or parasites
  • Feelings or visions of doom or death
  • Intense limb heaviness, achiness, fatigue, lethargy, work avoidance and antisocial behaviors, depression, unhappiness, acedia, or ennui
  • Deep desire for physical contact (hand-holding, back or head rubs, forehead kisses, and the like) and child-like need for maternal warmth and affection
  • Fluctuating appetite and desire to eat only particular foods associated with past (especially childhood) recoveries
  • Any other manifestation of the victim’s inexplicably faltering body or immune system
Generally, the difficulty is not with the initial diagnosis itself, but with sustained confidence in the diagnosis, since the symptoms are so severe and persistent, and since in most cases the primary caregiver has no firsthand experience with a man-cold and no ability to measure these additional symptoms independently of the patient. 
This is why early diagnosis and treatment is so critically important: a man with an untended man-cold could potentially spiral into a more severe state in which he begins to hallucinate and his ability to gauge the severity of his own illness is compromised.

I would be remiss if I did not at least acknowledge the possibility that some of these additional symptoms experienced by men may, in fact, be psychological. The reasons behind this are hazy, but are likely rooted in the man’s inherent role as provider and protector. Consider: especially in humanity’s early days, men were required to hunt and to kill, to provide for and defend their own lives and the lives of their family with their physical strength and prowess. And it is well known that both predators and enemies target the sick, the injured, and the weak—thus beginning in prehistoric times, men would have lain low at the slightest sign of infirmity, lest they be killed and leave their wife and brood utterly alone and undefended. 

That feeling of vulnerability and mortality is still manifested in today’s men, who are ordinarily bold, robust, strong, striving creatures unaffected by fear, fatigue, or pain. Imagine if you can the emotional impact on that heroic figure of being cut down in his prime by an invisible (microscopic, we now know) enemy and thereby exposed to saber-toothed cats and club-wielding neanderthals intent on dragging away their brides and children to who-knows-what brutal misfortune. That strength of purpose and fear of failure persists today, even in the lowliest pot-bellied office drone, and must not be regarded lightly.

Treatment

The good news is that treatment of the man-cold is simple: in addition to the steps and precautions one would take with a common cold, you need only supplement with patience, affection, and understanding—and though many people (men and women alike) insist that the man’s mother is the only suitable caregiver in cases of man-cold, this is not true. As awareness of the reality and seriousness of the man-cold spreads, wives can, in fact, become the preferred caregiver—especially for men who have already fathered children and find their mother’s affection for them diminished in favor of her grandchildren.
Wives are, in fact, naturally suited to this role and, when motivated, can be trained as effective man-cold caregivers. First, they have their own peculiar strength that enables them to persevere in loving service even at the cost of their own comfort and wellness. (It is worth noting that this can be a source of added tension in a marriage afflicted by illness, as in the second video above, or in the case of confused husbands who see their wives up and around and naturally assume they feel better: “If you’re sick, take something and lie down! The kids can fend for themselves— it’s good for them!”) Second, they are expert and efficient at taking in the worst in life, transforming it, and pouring it out again again in love (as evidenced by pregnancy and childbirth, leftover night, and their apparently honest affection for snot-crusted children, wilted dandelion bouquets, and abstract crayon drawings).
Advancing the treatment of man-colds requires that wives recognize these inherent strengths and abilities as such and apply them to the men in their lives. This can be challenging, given the difficulty of the caregiver ever truly understanding the magnitude of the patient’s illness in that moment—but it is not impossible. Visualization training can help female caregivers grow in sympathy and patience. Encourage the following visualization exercises:
  • Young Love. Your wife should envision you in your prime or when she first fell madly in love with you and recall how she desired nothing more at that time than to be near you and spend time with you—then awaken and apply that dormant desire to your current illness. Please note that back hair, bald spots, spare tires, and other natural signs of masculine maturity can unfortunately reduce the effectiveness of this approach.
  • Momma’s Here. Your wife should call to mind her affection for your children at there tiniest, cutest, and most vulnerable (or at whatever stage in development appeals most to her maternal instinct), then recall that the child she loves so dearly is a manifestation of her husband’s love for her. She should then recall that, in this moment, he is every bit as vulnerable and helpless as that child and needs her loving care and attention. At all costs, men should resist the urge to spark this maternal instinct in their brides by assuming the fetal position or reverting to crying or other forms of pre-verbal communication. These approaches have been known to backfire.
  • Martha Kent/Nurse of Heroes. Your wife should remember your natural call to protect and provide and envision you as the heroic figure you are meant to be—she need only restore you to health for you to strive and reach that magnificent potential. This approach requires the most imagination and effort on the part of your spouse; if undertaken seriously, it can be effective, but most early trials have resulted in eye-rolling and fits of hysterical laughter, which can be detrimental to the patient’s emotional well-being.
Man-colds are no laughing matter and, to the victims, can seem debilitating or even deadly. However, they are treatable. With further research and understanding, the scourge of man-colds and accompanying sarcasm and ridicule, can be, if not eliminated, at least effectively managed to the benefit of men, marriages, and families everywhere.

Long Goodbye

It’s a strange sensation, like a high-tensile wire stretched six hours west to a bluff above Bismarck and the Missouri River, a steady thrum, more felt than heard, reminding me that a part of me is there. Not gone, but definitely not here, and I can’t know from one moment to the next what he’s about. We are six hours distant, so I know less about his day-to-day — but I am more keenly aware of him than I have been in years. His absence is a presence, palpable, in our home.

I am wearing an old hardware-store t-shirt he left behind.

I haven’t felt this sort of connection to my eldest son since he first came home with us — the heaviest ten pounds I ever lifted — and I realized he was ours to shape and raise to manhood. Then the connection was direct, bare skin on bare skin, almost frighteningly close: his little chest expanding and contracting, the soft spot where his skull had yet to form pulsing, his every need and discomfort so close to the surface we could almost feel it. Now it’s this invisible strand from one eggish Thorpian occiput to another. He’s always at the back of my mind.

I wonder if he feels it, too?

* * * * *

At different points this past summer, it felt like such a blessing that the University of Mary started late. We planned an August send-off, since Brendan didn’t want a grad party and had lots of time to plan and few conflicting parties to contend with. As we watched more and more friends drop their teens off at college, we thought it was helping to prepare ourselves for this weekend. Perhaps it did. But the past three weeks or so began to feel like a very long goodbye. Brendan left his job at the hardware store at the end of July, and his electrician’s job a few weeks back. His band, Pabulum, played their Final Jam. (They insist they are done as a group, which would be a pity.) All of his friends expect Olivia (who is a senior this year) left for college, and he started packing his things, some for Bismarck, some for storage.

The week before last he took a solo road trip to Michigan to spend some down time with my folks. As God’s providence would have it, a high-school friend of mine has a son who was transferring to St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul this fall; he and Bren were best friends in preschool, and Will and his stuff needed a ride to Minnesota. They came back together, two peas in a pod, and Will dropped right into our family. When we took him to the seminary a day or so later, it was actually a little emotional — call it practice or anticipation, we were beginning to feel the ties to Brendan being stretched.

Last Monday, Jodi and I took Brendan out to supper and to get sheets, supplies, and decor for his dorm. We had such a good time eating his favorite food (Mexican, this time at El Bamba), listening to his current favorite band (Icelandic blues-rock outfit Kaleo — Bren, his friends and I are going to see them in October); making him pick out dishes, sheets, and towels when he couldn’t care less. It was a great evening.

And then this weekend. Originally only Trevor wanted to make the trek to UMary, until Gabe realized he could potentially get 12 hours of driving toward his license. Once he decided to go, Emma jumped aboard, realizing that otherwise she would be left to babysit Lily alone. So all seven of us went — the largest single-family contingent I saw on campus.  Jodi and I took Friday off, and we left early in the afternoon so Bren could connected with his NDSU friends in Fargo and catch our local high school’s football game against Moorhead. He spent the night on campus; the rest of us in a hotel. Seeing his friends joyful and comfortable on campus, was reassuring; arriving at UMary itself was doubly so: simple, joyful, peacful.

Bismarck’s Big Boy Drive-In — unique in my experience,
with menu items you don’t see anyplace else. Google it!

We met his roommate, Ethan, a nursing student and Vikings fan from western Minnesota, and Ethan’s parents — they seem like a wonderful family — and heard from UMary president Monsignor James Shea, who told the students with clear affection and blunt honesty that their lives were not their own, but a gift for others, and unless they find a way to spend themselves in love, they will have wasted their time here. He told us parents, as well, to step away and allow our children to stumble and fall that they may learn to stand on their own.

He strikes me as a good man, and I couldn’t be happier to entrust Brendan’s young mind and character to him these next few years.

One other speaker shared an Erma Bombeck quote, comparing raising children to flying a kite: letting out more and more string until ultimately the tether breaks and the kite soars away on its own. It’s not a bad metaphor, but I see things differently. This connection between us is stretched thin, but not to breaking; it is keen, sensitive, and strong, and though it can be tangled, wound about the world, stretched to invisibility and nigh untraceable, it cannot be broken.

I told him as much, in a letter I left in one of his boxes. No matter how far away he goes, I am here waiting for his return. Because he is mine, and I love him.

When we finally decided, after dinner on campus, that it was time to head home, Bren walked with us to the Suburban. He hugged each of us (Mom and Lily more than once) and told us he loved us. He told the older kids to keep doing their thing: Emma, to keep baking; Trevor, to keep drumming; Gabe, to keep being himself and making people laugh. Lily’s last words to him from inside the Suburban: “Love you, Brendan! Don’t do anything bad out here!”

We’ve done the best we could. I think he’ll be alright.

Movie Review: Batman Versus Superman

Maybe it’s because I heard almost nothing except how bad the movie was, so my expectations were quite low. Maybe it’s because we paid matinee prices and didn’t buy snacks or drinks. Maybe it’s because I watched with a Batman superfan and had read one tentatively positive review from another superfan whose views I generally trust.

Whatever the reason, I saw Batman Vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice this weekend, and was pleasantly surprised. It was far better than I expected.
Perhaps I should also say that I did not grow up on comic books, so I don’t have deep knowledge of the various iterations of these heroes, or a purist streak. I like what I like — and generally, I like my heroes to be heroic, to have virtues we can emulate, and to make those around them better people. That’s why I like the recent movie version of Captain America best of all the current superheroes on the silver screen: he makes the people around him better people.
And in my current job, I find myself watching a fair amount of Father Mike Schmitz and agreeing with him on many things. So I was excited to see his take on the movie.
  • From the outset, Batman is a bully, and Superman is slacker — I like that analysis.
  • Parts of the movie (dream sequences; climactic shift in perspective of the two (anti)heroes, etc.) are incoherent and unnecessary.
  • Lex Luthor is also incoherent. He’s like a brainy, less intimidating Joker — only menacing briefly in the final prison scene and from a distance involving a jar labeled “Grannie’s Peach Tea.” (One of my favorite scenes, but very Joker-y to me.)
  • The movie is dark, angry, tortured, and violent: not a good introduction to heroism for children.
…and yet, it felt almost as though Fr. Mike didn’t watch the end of the movie.
POTENTIAL SPOILERS!
At the end of the movie, after a brutal combat scene between our two heroes, they find some coincidental (and ham-fistedly foreshadowed) common ground. Once they start working together and trusting each other, the characters evolve (albeit very abruptly, leaving me wondering how they went from mortal enemies to self-proclaimed buddies in a matter of minutes).
Here’s the big picture I saw: a middle-aged, bitter Batman whose been fighting criminals and weirdos a long time with very little to show for it. He is jaded to the point that he doesn’t trust anyone except Alfred, and he’s operated outside the law long enough that he regards himself, in his own words, as a criminal. I also saw a young Superman who is still just coming to terms with what he is. His parents didn’t know how to raise an alien, and it shows: he has no idea what to do with himself.

Bully Bats; Slacker Sup.

Toward the end of the movie, however, that changes. When Batman sees the humanity in his alien adversary (and the parallels between them), he begins to mend his ways, to protect and to serve, again. The final Batman scene in the prison drives home that change in attitude. 
Meanwhile, Superman begins to reconnect with his heroic side (albeit still focused on Lois and his mother, more than humanity writ large) and realizes he is ready to die to protect those he loves. Also heroic and virtuous.
These two super men actually have a model of heroism to follow in the final battle, though not a masculine one: Wonder Woman, who has no proverbial dog in this fight and is simply trying to preserve her secret identity. She’s on a plane out of town when she sees the dire straits our two embattled title heroes are in, and rushes to help. She helps because she is needed, willing, and able — and her gameness further sparks the men to change.
So they aren’t ideal models for masculine heroism for most of the movie, but they do change — for the better — and become merciful and self-sacrificial protectors.

It’s not a great movie, but I’ve seen and even enjoyed worse. It’s not a great superhero movie in my book, but I didn’t find it to be any more ridiculous than any of the other superhero blockbusters of recent years. And like my batty second son, I think this laid the foundation for a potentially good Justice League franchise, with a world-weary but wiser Batman and several younger supers coming into their own.

A final note: If you want to hear some top-notch Fr. Mike analysis of superheroes, check out this video on superheroes, Captain America, and the nature of grace. It’s a great 10 minutes of pop culture and Catholicism!

20 Years a Fool: A Resurrection Story

One of the things I gave up for Lent this year was the last word. It might seem an odd thing from which to fast, but on the home front I crave the last word, savor it, seek it with such reckless abandon that I scatter piles of lesser words about the house until at last I have it. In the past I have recognized this fault in myself: that I want to be right, or at very least, heard and understood, in all things. I manage to tamp down this tendency in public, but in private, in flourishes.

Jodi knew of my sacrifice, and just prior to Holy Week, I asked for her honest assessment as to how much progress I had made. She hesitated a long moment, so I said, “It’s alright — I need you to be straight with me.”

She said, “Honestly, I haven’t noticed much of a difference.”

Just as I thought. I knew I hadn’t done well in this regard — and considering the number of times I know I bit my tongue or choked down one last pointed comment, I now knew how gluttonous my appetite for the last word had truly been.

Lent was not a complete loss, however. For one thing, my self-conscious failures led me to look for little things I could do to make up for being a jackass: simple acts of love and kindness like making the bed, which I have rarely if ever done of my own accord. For another, after this sobering conversation with my bride came Holy Week, and the sacrament of Penance, and the Triduum.

Like so many of the faithful, Holy Week crept up on me with alarming quickness and stealth. Once I realized time was short, I redoubled my efforts to hold my tongue, with at least some renewed success. On Tuesday, Jodi and I went to Confession at Mary Queen of Peace, to a young priest who cut us both to the quick, condensing a plethora of sins to a single, focused flaw, then concocting a penance to match.

In my case, he said something like this: “A simple definition of love is giving of yourself to another. A simple definition of pride is claiming for yourself what isn’t yours. All yours sins seem related to this tendency to take things for yourself: wanting to look better than you are to those around you, wanting recognition for what you do, even taking on more responsibility for what’s happening at work or in the world than belongs to you.”

For my penance, he asked me to find three people or causes to which I could give of myself before the end of Holy Week. And it helped.

After work on Holy Thursday, I shut off my computer and phone until after the Easter Vigil. It’s remarkable how peaceful it can be to escape the endless barrage of email and social media “news,” especially in an election year. Nevertheless, in the wee hours of the morning on Good Friday I found myself unable to sleep, and finally rose around 4:30 a.m. to pray and journal.

I sat near the front window with a cup of black coffee in the foreground and choral music in the back; two candles providing a flickering light so as not to deaden the dawn when it arose. My mind wandered across the years of marriage and family life, and I thought of St. Joseph, who is never quoted but ever present in the early life of Jesus in the gospels — the epitome of the “strong, silent type”; the carpenter, whose rough hands and faithful heart made dead wood bloom. Here was a model of a husband and father: quiet, hard-working, life-giving.

Life-giving…

For nearly 20 years of marriage, I have accepted the truth that I married well: a woman of beauty, faith, and virtue who was meant to guide me to Christ. For those same 20 years, I have acknowledged her as life-giver, and myself as a sponge, simply soaking up the love she pours forth.

While all of these things are true, for 20 years I’ve used them as a crutch — something to lean on in my weakness. It sounds so sweet and humble to say, “I’m not worthy,” but when did that become good enough? Should I not strive to become worthy?

For the past several years Jodi and I have helped with engaged couple retreats at our parish. Many times over those years we’ve helped to share this analogy between marriage and the Holy Trinity: God the Father loves God the Son; the Son receives that love and reflects it back to Father; and that love between them is God the Holy Spirit, “the Lord, the Giver of Life.” Similarly, a husband loves his wife; the wife receives that love and reflects it back to her husband; and the love between them becomes so tangible that it gives life — sometimes literally, resulting in a third person.

For years I’ve helped share this message without directly applying it to my role in our marriage. The husband is the life-giver. The husband initiates. His bride receives what he gives, transforms it, and gives it back — but I’m meant to the source. Not a sponge, but a spigot.

I sat, dumbfounded, as dawn arose. All these years of “wearing the pants” in this family, and Jodi has been trying to do both our jobs. When the sun finally rose, I felt like a new man. Or rather, a man rising to new life.

Dust that we are, a day later I was struggling to recall these revelations and was again longing for a sign from God to guide me — like those whom Jesus fed with a few loaves and fishes, who, the very next day, asked Him, “What can you do?

So I resolved to write them down and share them. May they be my own little resurrection story: after 20 years, a fool became more the man he is called to be. Amen.