hacking, illiterate

The doctor asks if I’ve had a productive cough.

I laugh, inhale some exhaled mucus, choke, cough through it like a warrior, and wheezy laugh some more.

Actual self-portrait
(Just kidding, stupid. I ditched that haircut a month ago)

“Of course not, silly. So far the darn thing hasn’t swept my floors, trimmed the hedges, or even acted like it was about to entertain my kid for the afternoon. I’d classify this cough as Mostly Useless,” I explain to the clearly clueless white jacket.

“No, ma’am. Has the cough been productive, as in producing matter, substantive…,” he flexes his scholarly muscle (looks like a bow tie and wiry glasses) in my direction.

I’m not impressed. I know some English.

“Like I said. The cough is fruitless, impotent, pointless, unhelpful, lazy, unproductive,” I try to make my “Take that!” trademark smirk (lips puckered all sassy, head weaving to and fro, menacing diva eyes). It comes off a little Barbara Walters Takes The Sleepy Pills With Scotch, and I worry the winning facial expression might be lost on the doctor.

“Ugh. Ms. Nelson, ok. Just fill this,” he hands me a prescription as he shoots a sterile look my way. I think he was going for Blue Steel only to come off a little mean/ Ice Cold Stethoscope-ish.

I leave the office, shaking my head. Not in disappointment, I’ve just found that shaking my head about while hacking produces the most mucus matter. It occurs to me that maybe that’s what he meant by “productive cough”. I read his spotty handwriting. He’s scribbled out an order for a month’s worth of mood stabilizers. I regret not going to medical school in that moment as I’m pretty sure the old doc and I are lost in lack of translation.

What happened the last time you misunderstood basic English?

Does anybody else think calling a cough “productive” is like calling Lindsay Lohan a lady?


37 thoughts on “hacking, illiterate

  1. I’ve had the productive cough discussion with my kids’ doctor so often I don’t even bat an eyelash. Technically, productive just means ‘producing something’, and you’re producing tons of mucous in a productive cough. But yeah, I always hear it like you describe. “No, it didn’t wash my floors”, and come to think of it, it’s made me VERY unproductive.

    1. My cough (despite producing a ton of… ummm…yuck) really has made me a total bum the past few days. Short of playing with the kid, I’ve been good for nothing!

  2. I’m not sure I have ever understood basic English.
    Which is my excuse for the wildly exaggerated gesturing and constant search for a pen to doodle-out a crude attempt at communication with. :)

    1. I DOODLE, TOO! I should also mention that I am not an artist. The doodles always end up looking a bit like a stick figure murdering another stick figure, but I keep trying :)

  3. hahaha! I so wish I could see your diva eyes look. Also, I’ve never seen a cough mop the floors so I’m with you–how could it be productive?!

    1. Seriously! I like to think of this cough as a 30-year-old son, playing Nintendo while hollering for more chocolate milk ’cause he still lives in my basement. Definitely not making anything of itself, that’s for sure :)

  4. I guess there’s no way to ask that question that doesn’t sound gross, because the whole business is gross! Nonetheless, here’s hoping you’r ecoughing up all kinds of gross in no time.

  5. This one was good! And yes, doctors don’t use the same language as most of us out here. Try the word impacted on a doctor. (I used to be in the business of teaching them basic sciences). And they mostly don’t have much of a sense of humor (though my ophthalmologist does); they simply don’t have the time for it with their ten minutes per patient limit. And I remember when doctors made house calls!!

    1. It’s the old Too Smart For Your Own Good syndrome. I’ve never had it, obviously, but I hear a lot of folks in the medical/ science industry suffer from this. Simple humor is so foreign to them that they assume you are crazy or dumb. In my case, both are a little bit true, but I enjoy having fun with those serious types!

    1. I am just turd enough to kind of enjoy messing with the guy. I could tell he was the type to go to a dinner party and stare awkwardly at a wall the whole time. He really could not comprehend that I couldn’t comprehend his medical dictionary.

  6. I want to go to the doctor who asks, “Has anything disgusting come up when you cough? Anything neon green or death-knell yellow?” That’s my kind of doctor.

    1. I’d go visit that doctor, too. Years ago I was having the stomach/ gallbladder funk. Oddly enough it was the doctor who entered the room and said “Well, you’re heavy and you eat like crap, so, you know, that’s not helping anything” that I totally liked.

    1. P.S. Can I come live in your back yard? It. Is. Beautiful. I should warn you, the toddler and I are known for causing a ruckus with our late night dance parties.

  7. I’m sorry your sick. I don’t care what they call a “productive” cough – there’s nothing that can make discussing the presence or absence of phlegm anything less than disgusting! Hope your cough gets busy packing up and getting gone do you can feel better :)

    1. Thanks, Janna! I actually don’t feel so awful. Just scaring the neighbors with what sounds like a Bird Flu hack. If anything, media will reference this blog post to pinpoint me as Patient Zero.

  8. I just hope this ‘productive’ cough does not ‘produce’ pneumonia again. You have been dealt more than any human being’s share of that nastiness. I hope you feel better tomorrow. Or now.

    1. Andra, we are thinking the same. The second I started coughing I went into panic mode. I’ve done everything short of standing on my head (which I’ll totally try if it’s a remedy, by the way) to make sure I don’t get the old monia again!

  9. In my experience, I’ve found that people doctors should be more like veterinarians. Like, if your doctor had said, “Did you cough up a hairball?” that would be perfectly clear, right? I hope you feel better!

    1. Haha. Great point! The only negative I can think of is that (after hours of listening to my rambling) the doc would find some legal loophole to “put me down”.

  10. I didn’t know I was to have expectations from my coughs. I thought they were just an annoying way to deprive your body of oxygen? lol If you COULD catch a cough that would clean the house and take out the trash, you will have to send that virus my way.

  11. Yep, you nailed this one, Tori.

    And why is it that as soon as you go to the doctor, the chances of the cold and cough getting better go up markedly? Almost like the cough is scared of going and wants to show the doctor up.

    Or, maybe I’m just reading too much into it! :) I’ll go on talking to myself, thank you very much.

  12. Ugh, I hope you feel better soon! Maybe they call it “productive” to help you feel a bit better about being near-your-deathbed-ill. Maybe?

    One of the (many) times I failed basic communication was when I was randomly assigned to be a teacher’s assistant for a class in technology. As you know, I am *not* very tech-savvy. At all! And yet I was being paid to help students learn all about technology. Anyway, during our “get to know each other” chat, the prof of the class started talking about Blackberries. THE TECHNOLOGY. I thought he was talking about blackberries: THE BERRY. What an awkward moment when the prof realized that his TA was totally clueless about everything. :)

Ramble on, little rambler...

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