"Give me your coughs, your scratchy throats,
your congested noses yearning to breathe free…”
I never cease to be amazed at the split personalities of patients with the Common Cold. You don’t seem to know what you want!
On one hand, you enter my clinic acting as if you are the index case of a brand new disease that will rock the CDC to its core. I always grin at the hysterical descriptions given to our secretaries (who, by the way, are not medical experts, and are just asking “Why do you want to see the doctor?” so that they can write a 1-to-5-word headline next to your name on the patient list — regaling the front desk workers with descriptions of mucus color and the size of your tonsils is not speeding up your health-care process!):
- "My throat hurts, my head hurts, my chest hurts, I want antibiotics!" (We’ll get right on that.)
- "I haven’t slept in 3 days because my nose is so stuffy and I just can’t stop sneezing and my body feels like a truck ran over me and I’ve never been this sick before." (Congratulations!)
- "I’m dying." (Really? Or is this just your clever idea for trying to jump ahead of the waiting-room-full of patients?)
My more “seasoned” secretaries will sit through your 30-to-90 second speech, nodding sagely, and then type “URI" (Upper Respiratory Infection) into the computer.
The melodrama continues when I enter your exam room. You look at me with big mournful eyes, pull back in horror from my offer to shake your hand (I appreciate that you don’t want to be responsible for your doctor’s death, but you act as if I’ve never shaken a sick person’s hand before — good grief, why do you think the first thing I do upon entering a room is wash my hands?! I washed my hands on the way out of the previous patient’s room too, in case you were wondering. And if you DO decide to shake my hand, it’s back to the sink or sanitizer bottle again! Quick tip: if I enter the room and do NOT offer to shake your hand, it’s because I’ve already decided that you might have something serious.), and then open the flood-gates. Taking the cue from my secretaries, I also sit quietly, nodding sagely, making little marks on my paper, and waiting for you to say ANYTHING which might indicate you have an illness more life-threatening than a hangnail.
Eventually, your mewling whithers and dies, and I can perform my physical exam to confirm what I usually already know: you are a weenie. I can also then deny what you THINK you know: you are NOT dying. You have a simple viral infection which is probably already on it’s way out, since you suffered valiantly at home for 3 days (without trying a single over-the-counter or home remedy for your horrible symptoms) before coming to see me.
But then, here comes the split-personality: I inform you of my findings, and then propose simple OTC and home remedies which will help you survive the remainder of this illness. I offer you a prescription for stronger stuff (cough medicine, steroids, anti-inflammatories) if I think you might benefit from it. I even offer you free samples if I have them. And at the end of my customized presentation, you stare at me and blurt, “You want me to do ALL OF THIS STUFF? It’s just a cold!”
(then I cough into my hand and offer to shake…)
*sigh* Here we go again, cold and flu season.