Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Wanted: New Name for the Common Cold

Outside it was 29 degrees. The temperature in my body reached 102.6, rectally speaking. I was nine years old in 1942. The war wasn’t going too well; not over there and not inside me with germs, (were they not Germans?) invading my nostrils, east and west and the only throat I had. My bones felt like they’d been overrun by a Panzer division. My mother blamed the dreaded draft and the three sweaters I didn’t wear.

When Dr. Schildkraut was summoned for a house call I hoped my fever stayed up deserving of his attention. He stood at my bed carrying that outside air with him. What my mother cursed as miasma suddenly was transformed into fresh air. He scoped my ears, tongue-depressed me with an AH and prescribed Argyrol to paint my throat. He also ordered Empirin Compound, Neo-Silvol nose drops and Terpin Hydrate with Codeine cough syrup along with Compound Tincture of Benzoin for the vaporizer.

Argyrol, by the way, may have had no therapeutic effect but it made Albert Barnes a millionaire with money sufficient to pack his museum with great impressionist art…but I digress.

All of those remedies have since been declared worthless even if the smell felt good. We’ve come a long way. Yet we’ve lost some good words in our progress. The doctor diagnosed my misery as The Grippe. When I returned to school at least my larynx and pharynx had earned the purchase of that word, Grippe. Anyone can have a cold but to be in a vise was serious stuff. We have to do better with our nomenclature if we want a Telethon to wipe out the Common Cold. A cold is bad enough even without the adjective.

When I came to California I first heard the word, Croup, a barking cough. Now that’s a good one. It gets closer to croaking. Back east we didn’t bark, we whooped, as in Whooping Cough or Pertussis. We also had nasal Catarrh or Rhinitis, a copious discharge of mucus from inflamed membranes. Those words elicit more sympathy than running nose or sniffles.

Back among the pages of Charles Dickens, people suffered from much better sounding ailments such as chilblains, ague, apoplexy or dropsy. Folks had consumption before it was even conspicuous. Such maladies have either been eradicated or the words have passed into the romance of medical glossaries. Even lumbago has evolved to sciatica.

It might take lower respiratory bronchitis with pulmonary involvement to get the remaining Dr. Schildkrauts of the world out on a bitter winter night in Los Angeles when the thermometer dips below 60 degrees. More than likely the call to a doctor will just say to dial 911 or get yourself to the emergency room.

1 comment:

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