Chitra Ramaswamy: ‘It’s me and my immune system against the world’
IT’S ANOTHER Tuesday in Leith and I’m buying Lemsip. Again. You see, apart from being the year of the Olympics, Charles Dickens, and Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes’s divorce, 2012 has been the year of low-level illness. The common cold has become so very common in your correspondent’s nose that I’m convinced it’s no longer an organ for sniffing roses but a full-time receptacle for snot. In my mind’s eye, or perhaps my nose’s eye, its inflamed, reddened inside resembles the seventh circle of Dante’s Inferno, guarded not by the Minotaur but Fungus the Bogeyman.
Every morning, it’s the same. Wake up. Sniff. Blow. Ear-pop. Cough. Moan.
For C, the moaning is the worst part, closely followed by the request to check my glands. I suppose it’s not easy turning to your beloved every morning to ask if they slept well, and getting a foghorn and a shower of expletives as a response. And then a pair of swollen glands thrust between your thumb and index finger. Ah, the joys of old love.
Everywhere I turn I get conflicting advice. Like Twitter, the cold turns everyone into an expert. My gardener friend advises me to gorge on kiwi fruits and blueberries. “Superfoods,” he says sagely, “that’s what you need.” I scoff vast quantities of both obediently. No change to the nasal passages, but I do get a bit of an upset tummy. I’d probably have more success if I stuffed a blueberry up each nostril.
A South African friend tells me I am deficient in vitamin D.
“We all need more vit D in Scotland,” she lectures me in an e-mail. “Especially us dark-skinned people.” Great. I am allergic to this cruel, cold country. Scotland is literally destroying me. My parents should never have left India. I start taking a vitamin D supplement and consider emigrating.
C buys me a tonic, which I glug straight from the bottle, like an alcoholic. I may actually be an alcoholic, considering the amount of ethanol I’m consuming through various remedies. A quick check on the NHS website, the place where healthy people go to become hypochondriacs, reveals there is no evidence that cough mixtures work. Great. I’ve now spent a whack of my salary on a quack cure. I abandon the medicine and switch to whisky. Much better.
Another friend swears by Berocca. “Reassuringly expensive,” she promises me. I start taking it immediately. It tastes like childhood and turns my pee a disconcerting neon yellow. Back to the NHS website, which by this point is one step away from taking out a restraining order on me.
It offers me no help but I do pass a cheerful few minutes doing an online ‘do you have asthma?’ survey.
Eventually, I take Ma R’s advice. Go to my GP. And so it has come to pass. I have turned into one of those bonkers Brits who pitch up at their local surgery with a cold. I am a bad specimen of humanity. If this were an extreme situation, I would be one of the ones who did not survive. And also, who would be left to feel my glands?
My GP hears me out and nods sympathetically. “Would you like antibiotics?” she asks. I detect the disappointment in her voice. “Would you take them?” I whimper, hanging my head in shame, the infernal beak starting to drip. “I never take antibiotics,” she says cheerfully. “Except for once, when I had to go into hospital with pneumonia.” I feel doubly ashamed. I pick up the antibiotics but can’t bear to start taking them. To crack open the blister pack would be a sign of failure. No, I must soldier on; just me and my immune system against the world. And so, armed with nothing more than tissues and Berocca, the battle goes on.