Last night I took some Nyquil, which evinced by the fact that I had to show ID before I bought it, is basically blue Jack Daniels. Sensitive to all things stimulant/depressant, I took a fraction of the recommended dosage – 7 ½ ml as opposed to 30 – and it still knocked me on my ass. Less than an hour later I couldn’t keep my eyes open, and when I woke up a while later to pee, I could barely walk straight.
From the time I was a kid, I’ve had a love/hate relationship with cold medicine. The moment my brother or I showed any symptoms, our mother would say, “Kuai chi yao!” Quickly, take medicine! as though some Tylenol Cold (which my mom called “Co-Tylenol”) could stop one of a billion viruses in its snot-inducing tracks. While I loved that the stuff knocked me out when I wasn’t feeling good – the way I loved the “sweet air” at the dentist’s, so much so that I hoped for cavities – taking too much could leave me a bundle of nerves.
For standard colds, there was “green yao yao,” chinglish for green medicine (in my house there were actually two green yao yaos, one for the sniffles and the other a menthol gel that my mother insisted cured everything from bug bites to pimples to infected cuts ). I don’t even know what it actually was, but I do remember it was the least foul-tasting of the bunch and the mildest, putting me to sleep in a soft, slow way.
Sometimes for a mild cough my mother gave us pi pa gao, a syrupy Chinese herbal concoction, which I found really disgusting and literally had to choke down. For the cough that wouldn’t quit, there was Contact, red and gross. My brother and I would take the dose fast, always in a Chinese soup spoon, and grimacing and convulsing, immediately afterwards gulp a tall glass of water.
Contact not only made me drowsy, it made my whole body feel strange, like I was wearing a giant body-sized glove made out of my own skin. And too much of it gave me the jitters. Nowadays we know about the dangers of giving kids too much cough medicine, but back then my mom thought, She’s still coughing, she needs more medicine.
When I was 8, I had the flu and lingering hacking cough. Contact to the rescue! But as the weeks went by, I developed a bad case of insomnia. I had strange dreams and a continual ringing in my ears. Already a nervous kid, I was even more nervous, bursting into tears for no reason. It didn’t help that around this time I watched the Exorcist for the first time, or at least part of it, and managed to convince myself that I was possessed, and that soon my bed would start shaking and I’d be ramming crucifexes up my crotch. It got to the point that I couldn’t sleep alone, and made my brother sleep in the same room with me, to his annoyance I was sure. But I didn’t care.
The insomnia and fear of sleeping alone lasted a good year, maybe longer, till finally I decided to wanted to be back in my own room, which my parents would have to pry me out of for the rest of my adolescence.
Today, while occasional sleeplessness and catching z’s solo don’t bother me, I’m still wary about the likes of Robitussin, Sudafed, and yes Contact and green yao yao. I take it only when absolutely necessary (ie, when I feel like a pillow has been stuffed up my nose and sinuses) and in very small doses, though sometimes I still wish for a cavity.