In northern England I have a friend who went to Grimsby in 1983 where he then contracted a cold he has never been able to shake since.
‘Tis a horrible thing to witness a large man with a cold shake like a long-haired dog. I think of this as I enter my 3rd week with a cold that, much like Johnny Logan, just won’t go away.
It seems particularly cruel because right now, here in the Midwest, we are enjoying a very warm time, unseasonably so, of course, and any happy person would want to make the most of it.
Winning an argument with my immune system I took the faithful bicycle out for a late spin last night. And between the hours of 1 and 2 O’Clock in the morning, it was t-shirt weather. Seriously. Late November. Christmas lights everywhere. And I was in just a t-shirt and happy. No pants, but happy.
And then I came home and took a bunch more drugs. Now the drugs don’t work, they just make you worse, but I know I’ll see your face again. And it all reminds me of the first time I fell sick in the US.
In nineteen hundred and ninety-nine, I stepped off a plane and I felt just fine. The sun it was shining, the world it was mine; Kansas City this way, said a great big sign.
But it was spring. And Kansas City is in the middle of the contiguous United States. From all 4 directions the elements carry allergies and god-knows-what to assault your senses.
Not a major problem though, as I was in a house not but minutes walking from a major junction with 17 pharmacies, or chemists as we call them in Ireland. It should be said though that in Ireland a chemist is a shop. A shop with a shopfront. Like a post office or a pub. And they are dotted around like post offices.
Here in the Midwest however a pharmacy is industrial in size. Like SuperQuinn. Or Tesco. And they build them right beside each other.
I walk in, recognise that brands of medicine are not brands of medicine I recognise, so pick one and leave to consume happily.
Half an hour later I am wired to a dwarf-planet. My eyes don’t simply refuse to blink, they continually open wider until my entire face is nothing but 2 enormous throbbing eyes separated only by a sore nose. And behind them a pounding brain peeps out rhythmically.
-What’s wrong with me? I asked a local person who specialized in saying what was wrong with everybody including her husband.
-It’s probably the Antihistamine
-I don’t have an Aunty Issameen
So back to the handy hyper-Pharmacy to choose drugs that do work, but do not send you in to outer space before Richard Branson. Off the ‘plane only 5 minutes no brand loyalty exists, so time to read the small print. An aisle for cold medicines, an aisle for allergy remedies, an aisle for diarrhoea stuff, etc. Hmm, that’s a lot of reading.
More difficult than choosing a video from a really big video place with aisles and aisles of stuff you should be allergic to, this took me over 2 hours. And I chose another one with something that didn’t like me. So, like choosing videos, I gave up.
Wearing a suit following an interview, which I grant you is odd activity for a man who refuses to work, I found myself in a pub.
-Do you see these drugs? said the American barman in the authentic Irish pub. And I did when I lifted my head off the bar.
-I can’t legally offer you them, but I’m going to place them down right here beside your ear, and I’m going to look over there. I can’t tell you to take them, but these are the kind of drugs that will make your head feel better.
They didn’t though, so I went to a midtown pub. The people’s barman, DJ Irishman, said how are ya Eolaí? So I lifted my bouncing brain off the bar and told him. We all have problems Eolaí, he said, and suggested I walk down the road a ways.
And so I went to the free health clinic in midtown and explained why I couldn’t choose videos or medicines in a foreign land. They recommended Black Hawk Down.
When we got onto medicine they seemd thrilled that I wasn’t black and lavished attention on me, and loaded me up with free drugs. Oh yes, said the locals when I showed them my bag, those are good ones.
Every American I’ve ever met knows big words like Phenlyephrine, Acetaminophen, Pseudoephedrine, Pramoxine, Diphenhydramine, Ibuprofen, Prednisone, well you get the gist. The only Irish people I know that know these words are the sickos, the permanently sick. And the ones that live in America.
With my new found knowledge of these big words I once used one in Ireland. I was talking to a doctor, my former local G.P. in fact. Not only did he not know what I was talking about, he severely scolded me, wrote a cliched indecipherable prescription for something he wasn’t telling me what it was, and slapped me on the back rather gratuitously.
Lay people, civilians, those of us Irish who get something not serious every couple of years, don’t know the names of pharmaceuticals. We just know the odd brand - for conversational purposes - as in, Ah I like the oul Lem Sip, ya know? or I thought we kept the Vicks beside the whiskey not the vodka?