Sleep is still the best medicine

Saturday May 13 2006

I suppose you have to have a low point in any illness, don’t you? Yes, of course you do. If you didn’t have a low point, and recognise it, you’d not be able to say something like the doctor in the old black-and-white movie who announces to a solemn faced family in the Old West that “The fever has broken.” And you’d not be able to experience the gladness when everyone starts smiling again, the sun comes out, birds sing, and the wise old doctor fastens his Gladstone bag to his saddle and rides off into the sunrise, job well done.

And that’s quite enough of that. A stinking post-cold attack of the bronchials requires nowhere near as much drama and romance. Though I confess that a very short period in bed, snuggled under a comforter and lovely cool white linen, being spoon-fed delicious chicken soup would feel awfully good at the moment.

The low point of this sickness, when it hit me while sitting at an Internet terminal in the Williton Library this morning, was bad but not that bad. My chest suddenly bubbled, I had the most appalling coughing fit, and was obliged to log-off there and then and make my way out into the sunshine where I could walk over to the car and sit quietly for ten minutes, filling paper tissues with gunge.

The doctors’ surgery is just up the road a few steps from the library so I plodded along to see if, on the off-chance, there might be a stray Saturday morning medic hanging around. Some hope.

Fortunately, the pharmacy attached to the surgery was open so in I went and and, shame be upon me, coughed and wheezed all over the pharmacist until he gave in and sent me off clutching a small bottle of some dark, evil smelling and tasting linctus, with instructions that, if the condition didn’t improve in 24 hours, I should present myself and my cough to the local emergency medical care service, over in Taunton.

Back to the car and, after wrestling with the child-proof cap, I held my nose and swigged what I reckoned was close to the 10ml recommended dose. He was right about the evil smell and taste. Oh, but what a blessed relief! I felt an instant, warming comfort as the stuff trickled down my throat, my chest loosened, and a few minutes later, let me cough productively and without pain.

That was my low point. I came back home, slept, woke for a hot drink and another dose of the evil linctus, and repeated the treatment for the rest of the day, feeling miles better at each step. Sitting down to write this the next morning, before I allow it to be Sunday, I honestly think I’ve shifted it. I still have a bit of a cough but it’s so much reduced in intensity that there’s no comparison. If I had a sputum cup and a good old-fashioned nurse to inspect it right now I think she’d likely be nodding her satisfaction and telling me I’d had a lucky escape. And then she’d go on to enquire about bowel movements, just to save me from over-confidence.

Those most certainly were the days, my friend.

Now you get your annual ‘flu jabs, a one-off pneumonia jab, a health care service that takes the weekends off, and pharmacists who need blackmailing before they’re willing to sell you anything stronger than slightly-medicated sugar water. It’s a system that works but you need a good deal of imagination to get the same degree of comfort from it that came with those cool white linen sheets and pillow-cases.

On the other front, this was the last day of the tranvestites’ Spring dress-fest. The DJ packed his gear and records away at midnight and Graham was able to shout the last of the blokes in frocks out of the bars in time for him to stumble through the caravan door shortly after two o’clock, some two hours earlier than it’s been all week.

“Oh, well done, chicken,” I said. “That’s it now until next year. Would a nice cup of tea help?”

Well, of course it did, but he was wilting fast before he finished it, and had a bit of a struggle to gather strength sufficient to turn in. I glanced at the clock last thing and whispered something about him being able to get a full six hours sleep in before getting up for the breakfast session. He didn’t hear me, though. I think he was asleep before actually hitting the pillow.

I lay for a little while, listening to my chest whistle gently in the night. Dolly came to snuggle up at my side and I whispered in greeting: “I think we’re all of us over the worst of it now, Dolly.” She didn’t hear me, either, having started to snore already. “Good,” I said. “Now it’s my turn.”

When you come down to it, old-fashioned medical care systems or new, sleep is still the best medicine.



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