Land of cotton

Friday, December 26, 2008

I washed my hands. Honest, I did.

But that didn't keep whatever it is that's going around from finding me.

I call it the crud germ. More than a cold but less than the flu, it's enough to make you miserable without keeping you home from work.

When it hit, I thought maybe my allergies were acting up. I tried to remember if I'd taken my morning dose of allergy medicine. I was pretty sure I had.

Trying to avoid a visit to the doctor, I went to the pharmacy and described my symptoms to the pharmacist. He nodded wisely and suggested my allergy medication needed to be "kicked up a notch." I'm pretty sure that's medical lingo, but I got his drift.

The pharmacist gave me three choices: keep taking what I always take, or take one brand of over-the-counter pills with some funny-sounding chemical in it, or take another brand of over-the-counter pills with an even funnier-sounding chemical in it.

"Which one is strongest?" I asked.

The pharmacist handed me a package that, I swear, did not have a skull and crossbones on it. How was I supposed to know that it not only dries up your sinuses, it also knocks you out?

After much needed sleep, I awoke to a new world. I was in a land where humans breathe cotton and their mouths are stuffed with cotton, just like their nasal passages and their brains. Thanks to the wonderful world of medicine, I now existed on a cotton planet.

I felt like heck, even though I was able to catch some cotton-filtered breaths through my cotton-lined nose.

My wife says men put off going to the doctor until it's too late for a professionally trained expert to do any good. She lumps my failure to seek medical attention when I need it in the same category as my refusing to ask for directions.

What she still doesn't comprehend, even though I've spent more than four decades trying to convince her, is that men don't go to doctors for ailments like colds because the doctor always says something to the effect that there's little a doctor can do for a cold except repeat what your mother always said: Drink lots of fluids and rest.

My mother, however, never ever charged $90 for saying it.

In a burst of humility, along with extreme cotton-swathed suffering, I picked up the phone and called my doctor's office. His nurse said he had an 11 a.m. cancellation. I jumped at it.

At the doctor's office I was weighed, had my temperature taken, had my pulse checked and had my blood pressure measured. Normal, normal, normal and normal. So far so good.

When the doctor came into the examining room, he peered into my throat, ears and nose. Then he sat on a stool and looked straight at me.

"What do you want from me?" he asked.

At first, I was surprised. Then it dawned on me. The doctor was trying to make me face up to the fact that he could not cure a common cold no matter how hard he tried. He was on the verge of telling me to drink plenty of fluids and rest. I could see it in his eyes.

One thing the doctor did was tell me to stop taking the high-powered antihistamine and switch to an over-the-counter decongestant to get rid of my cotton complex. He also wrote a prescription for a form of penicillin but suggested I not take it unless my condition failed to improve on its own in a couple of days.

I am much better, thank you, after a few days of swilling water and orange juice and making a permanent dent in the La-Z-Boy.

My wife, on the other hand, has a first-class case of the other crud going around. This is the one that makes you ache and takes away your appetite.

By the way, the reason men won't ask for directions is because the clerk at the nearest convenience store is always from another state and has no idea where to find what you're looking for. I should know. That's exactly what happened the time I asked.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editorial page editor of the Southeast Missourian. E-mail:

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: