TB or not TB

February 3, 2006

So I had to go to the doctor because I’ve had a persistent cough for the past month. I consider myself pretty lucky because I only get one cold a year. It starts some time about halfway through November, and I get over it about halfway through March. The cough is different. It’s not one of those throaty, crackly coughs but one of those dry deep-lung coughs, the type that makes you sound like a duck that swallowed an oboe. When I was a kid and would get this kind of cough I was afraid it was "whooping cough", even though I’d been vaccinated for that. Actually I thought whooping cough was something doctors made up as an excuse to stick kids with yet another needle. In all the 19th Century novels I’ve read people suffered from consumption, chilblains, the vapors, dropsy, and catarrh, none of which I got vaccinated for, but I don’t remember a single reference to whooping cough. But I digress. The trip to the doctor went exactly as I expected. After I sat in the waiting room reading a Newsweek article titled, "Will The Berlin Wall Stand Forever?" they put me in a supply closet with a defibrillator, a jar of tongue depressors which doctors never use anymore but keep around in case someone comes in with a case of the vapors, and a model of a kidney. That wasn’t exactly reassuring since I was in for a cough and, last time I checked, lungs and kidneys aren’t anywhere near each other. There was also a clock on the wall that said, "Plaplaxidil–For Life!" The clock was a nice touch because it allowed me to track exactly how many hours I sat there and wondered why all new drugs are named after Mayan deities. Plaplaxidil was the Mayan god of big dangly earrings. He had the head of a snake, the body of a monkey, and the feet of Gene Shalit.

But I digress. The clock also had a picture of Plaplaxidil tablets, which, according to the fine print, are really just benzothenominide hydrocyanosulfonate, at twelve, three, six, and nine o’clock. It was kind of like those clocks you see sometimes in antique stores that have Doctor Pepper all around them. Back when people were so naive they thought carbonated water, sugar, and extract of coca leaf had medicinal value they were encouraged to drink Doctor Pepper every three hours to prevent consumption and dropsy. Now we’re much smarter and know to take benzothenominide hydrocyanosulfonate every three hours to prevent whooping cough.

But I digress. When I wasn’t staring at the clock I contemplated the inevitable question the doctor would ask me: "Is it a productive cough?" I never know how to answer this because I have no idea what a productive cough is. I’ve thought about saying, "No, mostly it just lies around on the couch eating potato chips." Actually it did give me an excuse to write a long, rambling piece about my visit to the doctor, which probably makes it the most productive cough I’ve ever had.

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