Those Who Ask…

So, you may remember that a few months ago I got a cold and so ventured out to the pharmacy expecting–like the fully over-medicated American I am–to find rows and rows of cough medicine, pain pills, cold meds, the works–just waiting for me. What I found instead was a lot of vitamins and herbal remedies on the shelves and a pharmacist who was helpful, but not necessarily going to part with the hard stuff unless I put up a fight. Which I didn’t. And it was fine–the numbing nasal spray actually came in handy and the cough syrup was so entirely god awful that my body was forced to recover incredibly fast just so as not to suffer through any more of that deathly liquid. But perhaps because of the ever-dimming light, or the fact that I sit in front of a computer even more than I used to at my office job (really), or because of the crazy wind, or whatever–I’ve been getting persistent, insidious, and long-lasting headaches lately that just won’t quit. And though I’ve looked everywhere, I haven’t found a single bottle of Advil to be had.

I saw several possible solutions to this problem. Firstly, I thought perhaps I would embrace the herbal. So I read up and found that rosemary is supposed to be great for headaches. So I made rosemary tea and covered my head with a hot towel while inhaling the rosemary steam, which smelled nice, but did like, nothing. Maybe if you start earlier in the headache process that works, but it didn’t help when I was in full-head-throbbing mode.

My next plan was to have someone send me contraband over-the-counter pain killers. This seemed like it would be pretty easy, and I had just about convinced my mom that Homeland Security would not descend on her home the moment she mailed me Tylenol, when a fellow Fulbrighter told me a hilarious anecdote about the box that her mom sent her which included a small bottle of of pain meds. Apparently, the package was very gently opened, the Tylenol removed–DESTROYED, they informed her in a written communication–and the box resealed (very nicely, she said). But instead of forwarding the package to my friend’s home address, they held it at a center off the side of a highway, accessible only by taking two buses. Then my friend got there, couldn’t cross the highway from the bus stop to the package/drug-destroying center, and had to hitch a ride with a woman in a chocolate van to get across to where she needed to go. Although this certainly makes for a good story, I will say that this particular friend has very good luck when it comes to getting rides from kindly strangers when she gets lost in Iceland (it’s a bit of a thing for her, I think) and I wasn’t sure that I would have the same luck. Nor the time, nor the patience, nor the desire to have had my mother pay the equivalent of $20 (pills + shipping) to send me something that was only going to be DESTROYED upon arrival.

So, that was that, I thought. I would just have to learn how to bear pain. Viking-style.

But today, I had to go to the pharmacy to buy more contact solution and on a total whim, I just told the lady at the counter that I had been having a lot of headaches and asked if there anything that I could take. I paused–hopeful, but abashed–a little like a mangy puppy, begging for a treat. (Maybe not mangy…) But rather than shake her head skeptically, judgmentally, the pharmacist immediately said yes, grabbed a box of pills, and identified the product as a pain killer. I still thought this was probably some hippie herbal Iceland remedy, but said sure, I’ll take it.

And guess what?! I took it home, asked the internet what the main ingredient–paracetamolum–is, and bam: it’s honest-to-god acetaminophen, guys! It’s just called paracetamolum in some countries.

After all of that, all I had to do was ask.

Naturally, the woman at the pharmacy the last time wasn’t just going to hand me a box of painkillers because I did not specifically ask for a bottle of painkillers. Giving additional contextual information when asked a related question (such as “Can I have some cold medicine?”) is not the Icelandic way. But, if you just ask a very specific question, yea, but you will receive a very specific answer and just maybe, a box of acetaminophen.

I have never been so happy to have headache pills in my life. And I will not abuse this privilege, Iceland–I promise!

Now, all hopped up on headache meds, I’m in perfect condition to go back and buckle down over more pre-test review and the delicious Icelandic feast that I am preparing to welcome our first guests to Iceland, my friend Georgia and her husband Lance, who will be here for just about 48 hours before winging their way back to New York. But I’ll save the news and pictures of said feast and guests and related adventures for the next post. For now, I have to go decline six types of definite nouns. Wish me luck on my first final tomorrow!


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