Because medical costs are rising so fast, more poeple are diagnosing their own illnesses or, worse still, those of their friends. The government would do well to make a study of how these nonprofessional diagnoses are affecting the nation's health picture.

The other day I had a cold. It was just like the ones you see on television. I was sneezing, coughing and looking mournfully at my wife. I called my secretary at the office and said I wouldn't be in because I felt lousy."

"You must have one of those eight-hour things' that's going all around town," she said. "You'll feel perfectly well tomorrow."

Eight hours seemed to be a reasonable time to have a cold, and I was looking forward to staying in bed, particularly since the Yankees and Red Sox were playing a crucial game to get in the American League playoffs.

My sister called, and I told her I had one of those "eight-hour things that's been going all around."

Are you sure it's only an 'eight-hour thing?" she asked. "It could be the '24-hour bug.' Harold had it last week. Do you have a fever?"

"A little - maybe 100."

"That's the '24-hour bug' for sure. Drink lots of fluids and take aspirin, and you'll be able to shake it off."

I really hadn't counted on staying in bed for 24 hours, but it's stupid to fight a bug.

My other sister called up 10 minutes later. "Edith says you got a '24-hour bug."

"I don't know if it's a bug or just a cold."

"Is your nose red from blowing it?"

"Yah, sure it is. Why do you ask?"

"Then you don't have a '24-hour bug." You have a 45-hour virus.

"My secretary said all I had was an 'eight-hour thing.' How come you moved it up to 48 hours?"

"The eight-hour thing is entirely different. You feel funny but your nose doesn't get red when you blow it. The '24-hour bug' has all the symptoms of the 'eight-hour one,' except that you cough a lot. The '48-hour virus' makes you sneeze, cough and perspire while you're sleeping. You have to stay in bed for two days."

"But I can't stay in bed for two days."

"Look," my sister said, "if you don't want medical advice, don't ask me."

I think I might have been all right except that my secretary told Healy I was home with the flu.

He called, of course. "I feel for you," he said. "You won't be able to shake it for two weeks. If it were a winter cold I'd say you'd be better in five, maybe six days. But you have an October cold. It's almost impossible to get rid of. You hear my voice? It's been like this since August."

"But suppose my cold goes away in 24 hours?"

"That's when it can become the most dangerous. You think it's gone away and then a week later you wake up and it's back with a vengeance. I'd rather have a two-week bout with a chest cold than a '24-hour bug' which sneaks up on you like a thief in the night."

Word travels fast in Washington, and Elfin of Newsweek was terse and to the point. "Healy tells me you have an incurable form of pneumonia."

"Either that," I said, "or an 'eight-hour thing' or a '24-hour bug' or '48-hour virus' or a two-week bout with the flu or a simple cold. I'm waiting on another opinion right now."

"From whom?"

"My druggist. He says there's a lot of it going around."

"What's going around?"

"You name it, and he says he's never seen so much of it going around."