Two weeks ago, I was thrilled to get a call from my youngest brother studying abroad in France. Overseas calls are a luxury at nearly 50 cents a minute. But between his recounts of Paris, Nice and Cannes, he was snorting, sniffling and coughing phlegm balls in my ear. We could hardly carry on the conversation. Like any devoted sister, I asked, “What’s wrong with you?” To which he unfurled his tale.
Apparently, weeks before, he’d come down with typical sinus issues: cough, congestion, stuffy nose, aches and pains, etc. Being married to a doctor, I’ve come to shrug off most “viral” afflictions. There’s nothing you can do except drink fluids, rest and wait. But then he threw out the red-flag symptoms: “Now I’m coughing up green stuff. My chest aches. I can’t breathe.”
My sisterly antennas perked. Green = no good. It could be a sinus infection, which could lead to pneumonia, which could lead to hospitalization, which in severe cases could be fatal! Yes, 95 percent of the time, my imagination goes to worst-case-scenario. Blame my dad, the Army ranger. It’s his baseline modus operandi.
So I said, “Go see the university doctor.” Seemed like the obvious next move.
And he said, “I can’t. I called the clinic and the French nurse said she didn’t speak English and hung up.”
I was baffled. He’s a university student. The university is legally bound to care for all students regardless of their nationality, right? But then, we are talking about France. I hear they’re still peeved at anything Bush-America related. Excellent. My baby brother was being punished for the reckless commencement of a world-recognized war. (This is where my brain went.)
Oh, but it gets worse. My brother goes on to say he felt so incredibly lousy that he went to the town “Pharmacia” with a list of OTC drugs my husband has prescribed in the past. He couldn’t find any of them. In desperation and speaking no French, he turned to the Pharmacia worker. Their conversation went something like this:
My brother: I’m sick
Pharmacia man: Que veux-tu ?
My brother: (Coughs. Pats his chest.) Sick. Sick.
Pharmacia man: Toux? (He goes into the back and returns with a bottle.)
My brother: For my cough?
Pharmacia man: (Nods.)
My brother had never heard of the ingredient. (Note: He’s pre-med and shadowed my husband during a surgical rotation. So while he’s not Dr. Oz, the kid has some basic knowledge.) Despite all his inklings to the contrary, he buys the stuff and takes it. Twenty-four hours later, he experienced a migraine unlike any headache he’d ever had in his life; his left ear became plugged; his eyeballs burned; and he had an enlarged lymph node on the side of his neck. It was at this point, he called me.
So what did I do? What any good sister would. I freaked out. “That could be mercury or arsenic for all you know! Stop taking that witches brew!” Hello—they don’t have an FDA in France. Honestly, it could’ve been liquid crack and spider venom. Who’s to say?
In my panic and thousands of miles away, I devise a plan of action: “I’m sending you medicine. Stat.” I got off the phone and immediately called my husband at work. “The kid obviously has an infection. Can you bring meds home?”
My husband complied. Though, like most doctors, he tried to downplay my hysteria. Too late. My imagination was already galloping away. Next, I ran to the store and loaded up on the basics: Tylenol, Sudafed, instant chicken noodle soup, anti-bacterial wipes, and beef jerky. That last item was on request.
By the time my husband walked in the door, I had the items bubble-wrapped, boxed, and ready for his final RX additions. Early the next morning, I stood in an hour-long post office line (why are they perpetually so long!) intent on sending my package with the fastest delivery possible. That was until they told me it’d be $110.00 from El Paso to Dijon. Uh, sorry, kiddo. Pneumonia wouldn’t kill him in a week, so I sent it at a much, much lower rate (we are in an economy slump) with the promise of a 6-10 day delivery.
I didn’t hear from my brother for over a week and worried, prayed, and hoped divine intervention and a strong constitution would uphold his bronchial tubes until my Z-pack arrived. This past Friday, I finally got a call.
“How are you feeling? Did you start the Z-pack? Are you breathing? Where have you been!” I asked.
“We didn’t have class for a couple days—some French holiday—so I went to Ireland and Galway.”
Huh? I’m glad I wasn’t on Skype because my face was not pretty. “I thought you were dying over there.”
“I was, but I stopped taking that French medicine and felt a lot better. I started the Z-pack just in case. But, man, Ireland is gorgeous!” And then he went on to describe the cliffs of Mohr without a single cough or sniffle.
I had to shake my head. I couldn’t be perturbed. I love the kid. Bottom line: I’m glad he’s feeling better. He said the beef jerky was manna from heaven and the chicken noodle soup would feed him for a week. He’s broke, spent all his Euros on Irish stouts and soda bread.
I’m meeting him in Barcelona next week and told him he better save his money. He owes me a large pitcher of Sangria.
Your truly, Sarah
My poor, sick brother basking on the cliffs.