Saved by the bell … and the bell ringer

I’ve always considered myself lucky, especially with my health: The fact is I’ve never been sick.

Oh sure, I had all the usual childhood maladies that have since been eliminated by vaccines. And as a kid, I had my share of sneezes and sniffles. But in the 50 years, from my going to college to my retirement, I missed about five days due to sickness. And just FYI: I’m not counting operations or broken bones as “sick.” If I did, the grand total of my days missed might be 20.

It’s a record I was always proud of — probably too proud, since we all know pride cometh before the fall. Which is exactly what happened to me, This fall.

One day about five weeks ago, I developed a cough. And when I say “one day,” that’s what I mean. On a Monday I didn’t have so much as a teeny, tiny throat tickle. By Tuesday noon I sound like I was hacking up a hairball.

The cough itself was a dilly – loud, long, rumbling, rheumy, wretched, and damn near continuous. It was, in short, a classic old man cough. You know the one: You’re in a store and some alter kocker is honking and hawking his head off, as if he’s about to heave out both lungs, but instead of pitying him, you hope he’ll keel over and croak and put an end to your misery.

Famous last words

Now the weird part (and there always is one, isn’t there?). Even though I sounded like The Last Days of Doc Holiday, I felt fine. I had no temperature, I had energy galore, my spirits were at 100 percent. Unfortunately, so too was my ego.

“It’ll take care of itself,” I thought. “I’ve never been sick, and I’m never gonna be sick.”

The “coughing-bad-but-feeling-good” phase lasted a bit over three weeks. Then, again overnight, everything went sideways. Now I was coughing worse and feeling worse too. Sparing you all the phlegmy details, let’s just say I was a mess and leave it at that.

I waited three days to feel better. But on day four, when I found myself thinking fondly of hitching a ride on the nearest tumbril, I called Lake Placid Health.

When silence is 24 carat

The secretary told me I could see Dr. Bartos the next morning and I jumped on it like a dying Dope, which was just what I felt like.

Dr. Bartos?

I knew of only one Bartos — Boppin’ Beth Bartos, the Cowbell Queen of the North Country’s finest party band, Double Axel. But Dr. Bartos did not, if you’ll excuse me, ring a bell.

The next day I was sitting in an examining room at the Placid hospital, when there were two gentle taps on the door and in walked Boppin’ Beth, AKA Dr. Bartos!

Once I thought about it, it all made sense. There’s no tougher business to survive in than rock ‘n’ roll. So medicine as a side gig is perfect.

We exchanged pleasantries, she asked me the usual litany of questions and I gave her the usual litany of answers. Then she got out her trusty stethoscope and while I did a bunch of serious inhaling and exhaling, she did a bunch of serious listening. She mulled over it for a minute and then spoke.

“All right, here’s what’s going on,” she said. “A cold doesn’t last more than a week, maybe two. So while this may’ve begun as a cold, it became a secondary, bacterial infection.”

“Like an upper respiratory infection?” I asked.

“Exactly,” she said. “And since it’s bacterial, I’ll prescribe an antibiotic to clear it up. You should feel a lot better in two or three days and you should be all better in a week.”

“Brilliant diagnosis!” I exclaimed.

“Oh?” she said, taken aback, “And how do you know that?”

“‘Cause it’s exactly what I read on the internet,” I said.

“Well,” she said, without missing a beat, “where do you think I read it?”

Now I was taken aback.

“I mean,” she went on, “you don’t think I went to medical school, do you?”

Now here’s the thing. I’m a fan — a huge fan – of repartee. And I was one before I ever even heard the word in Mrs. Godson’s French class, back in 1960. I love getting in the War of Words — especially when I get in the last one. And when it comes to the W o W, getting in the last word is what it’s all about.

And after her last comment, I suddenly came up with the last word, and it was a certifiable killer.

So what did I say?

Nothing, that’s what.

Listen: When you’re trading quips with someone who has your best interest in one hand and a prescription pad in the other, there’s only one good comeback — the one that remains unspoken.