Stage 1: Infection Life is healthy. Life is good. You're going about things as normal, doing stuff, eating stuff, moving through public spaces and breathing in. Someone, somewhere, passes by your nostrils and breathes out. Bastard. An army of little winged viruses flies down your throat, into your lungs, sets up residence and begins to multiply. You fail to notice and continue to go about things as normal.
Stage 2: Onset Cough. Just the one cough to start with, indistinguishable from any other one-off cough you might experience every now and then. Sniffle. Just the one sniffle to start with, with no obvious liquid outflow. And is it me or is it getting cold in here? Ah, it's just me then. Bugger. Something's afoot.
Stage 3: Fever You've turned up the heating, you've stuck an extra sweatshirt on, and still you're shivering. There's a battle being fought inside your body and it looks like you're losing. All of a sudden moving your legs feels ill-advised. Time to reacquaint yourself with your duvet, hoping that it will a) keep you warm b) let you sleep. It manages neither. Your appetite vanishes, and you wish that on your last visit to the supermarket you'd bought Lemsip instead of rather too many stodgy meat-based products. You would have taken the day off work, except that this sort of thing always happens at the weekend instead. You feel merely weakened.
Stage 4: Vesuvius You wake unrefreshed feeling hot and stuffy. Your nose is blocked by sudden untapped reserves of mucus, so it's lucky you keep a box of paper tissues beside your bed. Fill four tissues, then get up and turn the central heating back down to normal. Splutter and wheeze in an uncontrollable manner, then rush back to the Kleenex as the yellow volcano continues to erupt. Every blow brings forth a surging avalanche of phlegm from the depths. Your stomach feels like a pint of milk has gone off inside. Cough again, with a seismic force that appears to be your only strength at the moment.
Stage 5: Cough Time to continue with real life, even though your lungs continue to empty at much the same rate as before. Chilly outside isn't it? On public transport you try desperately hard not to cough or dribble into the face of a stranger, despite that being exactly what someone did to you a week ago. Everyone at work sympathises with how poorly you're looking, although secretly they wish you'd stayed at home so they didn't risk catching the plague off you. Unreal life.
Stage 6: Dribble (I'm here now)
You can't quite remember what feeling normal is like. A raw dry patch below your nostrils reveals just how overblown you've been. Even when it appears there's nothing more you could possibly deposit into a handkerchief, your body surprises you once again. You realise that your supply of clean linen squares is in danger of running out, so you should never complain about being given them for Christmas again. Surely this cold must be over soon. Cough.
Stage 7: Normal The virus is beaten, the washing machine is full, and your weight loss has beaten anything the Atkins diet could have managed. It's good to be back. Life is healthy. Life is good. And may your next Stage 1 be a long way off...