As you grow older, you start to be able to recognize familiar patterns and predict exactly how your body’s going to betray you. That’s how I knew that instead of the man flu I wrote about last week, I was developing a banner case of bronchitis.
Bronchitis is an old friend, one that’s been kicking my ass almost every year since 1956. Even as a baby, they told me I’d get “the croup,” which I figure is code for baby bronchitis.
So when I started to develop those familiar symptoms last week, I already knew it wasn’t a case of simple man flu. I already knew I wasn’t going to get better on my own, no matter how much soup and citrusy sunshine I poked down my gullet. The only thing in question was how long was I willing to wait before taking my perch on the doctor’s slab.
You have to make it appear respectable. Even if you know on Day One that you’re going to get bronchitis, I’m convinced that doctors don’t want you darkening their doorstep until you’ve suffered awhile. I mean, one of the first questions any doctor will ask is, “when did your symptoms start?” and if you reply “yesterday,” you’re going to get the glare, guaranteed.
And I suppose the whitecoats are right to be skeptical. There is a chance — albeit a small one in my case — that the sniffles might not take that southerly turn. That’s why my modus operandi is to wait until I’m half dead before dragging myself in for inspection.
The reward for waiting is that I can usually look forward to some pretty good drugs. Today, I figured that when the doctor came in, I’d give honest, yet descriptive answers to her questions in hopes that she’d see my suffering and pony up the good stuff. The conversation went something like this:
DOCTOR: “Hi, I hear you’re not feeling well today.”
ME: “I’m circling the drain here, Doc, circling the drain.”
DOCTOR: “Okay, when did all this start?”
ME: “Middle of last week, I started feeling bad, took a nap, and when I awoke, felt like someone had shoved a steel spike up through my nostril and into my brain.”
DOCTOR: Writes furiously in my chart, but says nothing, which I take as my signal to continue.
ME: “Well, I was just really badly congested for a day or two, but with a constant headache that ranged from bad to worse. Felt like my head was going to explode.”
DOCTOR: “Any fever?”
ME: “Well, our thermometer is busted (true), but I think I had fever because I definitely got chills from time to time. Then, it was Friday night I think, I felt everything shift toward the south, and I started coughing pretty hard, a kind of wheezy cough that sounded like a steam locomotive with a leaky pressure valve. But the nasal stuff never really went away, so it was just all over by then.
DOCTOR: “Were you bringing up any mucus?”
ME: “Plenty through my nose, but I wasn’t coughing any up. And I can’t sleep, Doc, I haven’t slept more than 15 minutes at a stretch for 3-4 days!”
See, by this point, I thought things were going swimmingly and I’d get a shot of morphine like some wounded soldier on Saving Private Ryan, or maybe if not anything that extreme, then at least some other drug strong enough to ease the pain in my savaged lungs . . . something to put me into a medically induced coma where I wouldn’t have to suffer another second until it was over.
By then the questions were over and it was time for the exam. I raised my shirt so the doctor could give me a listen. After several deep breaths, she hit pay dirt. “Yes, I hear wheezing! You’ve got bronchitis all right.” Coming around to the front, she listened there, too, and said, “Yes, I hear it in front, too.”
By now I was practically tasting the heavy-duty codeine cough syrup she’d prescribe, maybe it would be that deep purply stuff that lets me settle into its velvety embrace while the room sways gently like a cradle, rockabye babying me so I could sleep, sleep, sleep until spring.
The doctor walked back to her table and whipped out a prescription pad. “I’m giving you two prescriptions …”
Yeah? Yeah? I thought to myself.
“This one is for antibiotics that will stop the bronchitis before it gets any worse, and this other one is for prednisone. And I also want you to get this over-the-counter drug called Advil/Sinus that will help with the headaches and congestion.”
WHAT!?!?!? OVER THE COUNTER???? I saw my shot of morphine and the sweet promise of a velvety slumber going up in a puff of purple smoke. What about the steel spike up my nostril? What about the leaky pressure valve? What about the constant headaches and the lack of sleep? Doesn’t any of that count for anything?????
Sigh. I see by the clock that I’m due for another steroid pill, one of about 50-60 that I’m supposed to take today, gradually reducing the number with a formula so complicated even Albert Einstein probably couldn’t figure it out. Already I’m sweating like a pig, and I’ll probably be shaving my tongue by morning.
My doctor is a good doctor, and yes, I’ll probably start to get better now, but I’m giving her zero style points! She sure knows how to hurt a guy!