“How’s your cough Colm?”
I’ve been home a few days for Christmas and news that I have a cough has leaked out. My mother is concerned.
“Fine, fine” I say, airily, trying to sound like someone who has never had so much as a wheeze.
“Are you sure?I thought I heard you coughing last night in your sleep” (Damn! – betrayed again)
Of all the ailments to arrive back at the ancestral home with, a cough is the severest indictment of a mother’s main suspicion: That her son is not looking after himself properly. As a matter of fact, unless her son married Doctor Spock, nothing would reassure an Irish mother that her son would get the same level of fussing in the big bad world as they got at home.
“Do you have a cough bottle?”
“Erm, not yet, haven’t got around to getting one”
“No cough bottle?!!!”
The look of horror is equal to the one I could expect if I’d declared my interest in becoming a Scientologist.
When we were growing up, there was always cough mixture in the house. A sticky brown bottle occupied the same place in the cupboard for years. Many’s the night, as a bleary, squinting-after-the-light-was-switched-on, child, I was dosed by a 25ml white spoon that materialised in the glare, brimming with pink liquid. Sometimes, because I was a little sleepy, the handover of the floating spoon from my mother to my mouth would go slightly awry and some drops would fall onto the collar of my pyjamas. Where it made for a sweet snack before falling back to sleep.
At some stage during the night, like one of those ads which (completely scientifically) shows some sort of “rapid” or “fast-acting relief” spreading down the gullet, the cough bottle would go to work. A cough which previously sounded like a seal barking to warn the herd of an approaching orca, was transformed into a much softer, phlegmatic, shrapnel-ly affair <COUGH?> <COUGH?> <COUUUUGH-BLEUUHGH!-BLEUUHGH!-BLAHAGHHHGAGLE>
“Ahh…That’s better. Nice one, Mr Cough Bottle”
Of course, as everyone knows, what’s actually happening is that “the pseudoephidrene is triggering a release of endogenous norepinephrine from storage vesicles in presynaptic neurons” but that’s a little difficult to represent in a five second video on the telly.
This Christmas was my first Big Cough in many years and without proper mothering, it had gone untreated. Wives nowadays seem to have the rather garbled notion that husbands are sentient human beings, in charge of their own health, whereas many of us prefer to act like bullocks waiting for someone to spot the gashed hoof and call the vet.
I’m not exactly sure why, as a gender, we’re still such poor custodians of ourselves. Perhaps it’s that for some, denied a chance for a bit of a war against IMF troops, or to work in a real job where you grow, make, rescue, cut or knock something, there’s very little for us to be really stoic about. Many men – forced to call themselves integration administrators or brand representatives or management consultants for a living – have no opportunity to grit their teeth, stare into the middle distance with a steely glare and soldier on as the rain drums off their helmets. Even if they did, they’d still have to spend four hours outlining their risk-mitigation strategy in a status report. So for many, the only way to be manly is to ignore symptoms of illness.
“Actually, my cough is much better today – I’d say that was the end of it last night” I tell my mother.
“I still think you need to get a cough bottle”
“It’s fine, it’s just a ti-<cough>-ickle, I’ll soldier <cough> <cough> on <cough> <COUGH> <COUGH> <COUGH> <COUGH><COUGH> <HONNGH> <HONNGH> <HONNGH>”
The cough was out of the bag. My seal impersonation cemented the impression that there was Only One Thing For It.
At the chemist’s I recognised some old favourites – the Calpol siblings: Infant and his elder brother 6Plus. For many children, the leap from minor to senior Calpol was a landmark event, though any satisfaction was shortlived. 6Plus didn’t taste as nice. It was an early salutary lesson that growing up is hard to do.
Further along the shelf, the choice of expectorants, anti-tussives and decongestants on display was vast, so I needed some assistance.
“What kind of cough do you have?” asked the woman in the white coat.
“One of these” I said, giving a demonstration.
She mentioned a couple of popular natural-based bottles, but I didn’t want any of that. It was like that moment when, faced with a blocked drain in the shower, you go to the hardware shop deliberately seeking out the evillest, most skull-and-crossbones-labelled liquid you can find. None of your organic nonsense.
I was here for hardcore cough bottle. One made by a multinational, preferably one that was a major contributor to the US Republican party.
She handed me one to look at. I liked the sound of the ingredients: Promethazine, Dextromethorphan Paracetemol. In your FACE cough. And it was all in a “demulcent syrup to aid a restful sleep.”
After spending a couple of nights demulced off my head, it seems to have done the trick. And if my mother is reading this, my cough is practically cured.
Listen: <cough?><cough?> <cough><cough><HONNNNGH!>. Well almost.