I’ve got a cold. Not a big deal, really–but there is enough head-aching, sneezing, eye-watering, and general ickiness to warrant something a little more intense than hot tea. So yesterday, I betook myself to the apótek, or pharmacy, which is conveniently located near school, across the street from the Vesturbæjarlaug (west side swimming pool) that I was also making a pilgrimage to. (I figure hot pots and geothermally-heated pools have to be good for colds, too, right?)
Normally, if I had a cold, I’d just go to the drug store and grab a box of Day-Quill or something. But not in Iceland. Over-the-counter drugs don’t seem to exist here. This was a bit of a shock to me. No aspirin, no cold meds that any ‘ol person can pick up and (over) self-medicate with? Whaa?
Instead, in the Icelandic apótek, you approach the counter, explain your symptoms, and the pharmacist decides what medicine or remedies you need. And there don’t seem to be catch-all meds, either–like the general cold syrup for these 10 general symptoms. Rather, you’re given a remedy for each specific symptom you are experiencing, and no extras.
So, after explaining that I was congested, had headaches but no sore throat, and was coughing, the pharmacist in a drapey leopard-print top gave me:
- A red powder to mix in with hot water (this tastes terrible–like hot Robitussin–until you get used to it and it tastes okay)
- A mentholated nose spray which kind of numbs your nose at first
- A bottle of liquid for coughs that I haven’t used yet because I actually have stopped coughing as much. Based on what I’ve seen around, it’s probably made with Angelica and volcanic moss and birch bark and other such restorative things. I’ll report back.
As I was making my purchases, I also handed the pharmacist a jar of cod liver oil capsules. Cod oil, I have been led to believe (along with shark oil), is a magical cure-all which taken daily by Icelanders to stave off colds and other such illnesses. The pharmacist looked at the bottle, looked at me, looked at the bottle, and then said, “for you, I recommend something else.” I said okay and she went off and came back with a bottle of Omega 3 oil (still fish oil) with a Vitamin D supplement. “It is very important in Iceland to take lots of vitamin D,” she said. “Because of our…non-sun thing.” She also assured me that after taking the capsules for awhile that I would get less colds. Score.
So off I went with my bag of remedies, none of which actually stop my nose running in class or really cover any of the icky cold symptoms, but do at least make them more bearable. This is certainly a more
hippie holistic approach, and one which it may take me awhile to get used to, but maybe it’s better in the long run? I mean, cold medicine doesn’t cure your cold. It just bashes it into submission for 4 – 6 hours. And I–like many people (Americans) am probably much too free with my over-the-counter drug use.
So we’re growing. Sniffling, but growing.