The door suddenly opened; I think the moon was trying to get in. I got out of bed to shut it, but not before stepping outside for a moment to look out at the hills and feel the air. I’d been wide awake anyway. Earlier I discovered that I’d run out of Ambien. I even scoured the empty vial in vain for crumbs. I thought I had a stash somewhere, but no.
The problem is this debilitating flu, or whatever it is. I keep thinking it must have nearly run its course, but a cough is hanging on, a harsh, persistent and irrepressible one. I’m coughing so much my whole diaphragm aches, and of course it kicks in especially when I try to get some rest. Monte has it too. We sound like a pair of old truckers hacking in stereo after thirty years of Camels. We’ve tried cough lozenges, suppressants, expectorants, gelatinous capsules of some green medication that promises relief of multiple symptoms, good old ibuprofen, and various herbal teas. Monte also employs wine and beer options; I dipped into the palliative potential of ice cream only to discover that creamy cold stuff exacerbates rather than soothes. Basically nothing helps.
Maybe it’s time to see a doctor. But since it’s 2 a.m. I have turned to that other reliable source of health care and medical advice: the internet. Here’s a discouraging tidbit I just unearthed: studies show that most people greatly underestimate the likely duration of a cough. Go ahead, google “duration of cough” and up comes a disturbing number: 17.8 days. That’s the mean duration for acute cough illness. Compare that to the pathetically hopeful 7 to 9-day expectation of those of us in its throes.
So because we cough victims believe our affliction has gone on far longer than it should, we tend to go to the doctor way too soon. Antibiotics are generally prescribed, but antibiotics won’t help because they treat bacteria, not viruses. Also, prescribing antibiotics unnecessarily is the sort of thing that leads to the development of resistant bacteria. The usual antibiotics become ineffectual in populations over time, and stronger ones have to be created, and…well, we can see this isn’t a good cycle. Based on Dr. Internet and my own experience, drugstore remedies won’t help much either when it comes to coughs. The conclusion: I will probably get better with no treatment. It’s a matter of patience, I guess. Not my strong suit.
Continuing to browse, I’ve learned that coughs are often classified by duration, and since mine is only in its first week, it’s still considered acute. That’s a relatively lightweight category, many weeks away from chronic. Its most likely cause: a cold or other viral illness. This confirms that I am not a candidate for antibiotics and might as well spare myself the trip to the doctor’s office, where even if I could get in I might very well catch something chronic from all those sick people in the waiting room.
Today we went into town, ostensibly to pick up our eyeglasses and do some errands, but maybe because we just wanted to get out of the house. Our first stop was the irrigation supply store for some waterline parts. I decided to wait outside in the car. I stared at the watery blue logo on the building and coughed, and I thought about how much we count on pumps and pipes, and how much we still need rain, and how even my cough is dry. Our friend Michael happened to pull up in his truck, and we talked about the swell that had come in, and being sick, and the drought of course and everything thirsty and struggling. Michael grows trees and does landscaping and cultivates exotic fruits. He pays attention, and he speaks in poems sometimes. “All around me I can hear the grief of the trees,” he said.
We drove on to the eyeglass place and a few more quick stops, but no matter how discreet one tries to be, fits of raspy coughing in public places draw sideways glances of concern or disapproval, neither of which feels good. One woman asked me if I needed to sit down and have a glass of water. A burly bearded man paying for an enormous bottle of vodka at the CVS checkout counter turned and gave me a disgusted look as I hacked into my sleeve. I retreated to the car and was pleased to be homeward bound. So much for our expedition.
And here I am, with not a flake of Ambien. But I’m going to focus on the good things. I don’t have to function tomorrow. I got to postpone my colonoscopy. And I’m starting to get sleepy.