52: Whitney Houston’s Hotel Room

Canadian and Swiss over-the-counter medications are not always evenly matched.

Were I to die in my hotel room, the coroner’s office would not find any illegal drugs in my luggage or my system, but they would still find enough meds to make them think I have a Tylenol addiction.

I don’t.

People who live perpetually ‘on the road,’ have to pack a lot of meds because

  • They can never be sure of a 24-hour pharmacy and
  • They can never be sure of a 24-hour pharmacist that speaks their language and
  • They can never be sure of a 24-hour pharmacy that stocks the same brands or dosage levels familiar to them.

In this light, the drug stash  inside suddenly deceased celebrity’s hotel rooms (Whitney Houston, Heath Ledger) don’t look so bad.

Shockingly, despite the fact that drug companies have global reaches, we have seen some variation in meds not to mention how to acquire them. Dave very nearly lost the use of his airway in Spain in 1999 when a Spanish doctor insisted the antibiotics he was prescribing for Dave were super-duper and required only one pill a day for three days. As mother to a chronic-strep-sufferer, this violated everything I knew about antibiotic dosing, so as the week moved on and Dave’s swollen gland gained new real estate in his neck, I called in another doctor and we proceeded to drench Dave in antibiotics until it no longer appeared he was trying to swallow a baseball. I am not exaggerating.

I am thinking of all this because Dave ate some bad lasagna and spent a good part of the night volunteering up his bodily fluids and vital organs. As it happens, I have about 180 little pink anti-nausea pills, so not only was I armed for last night, I was ready to deal with either 60 other nights like it, or to provide assistance to our entire hotel’s guest roster, should it be required.

I am not a pill-popper, although a look into my luggage might suggest otherwise, however, I will leave Switzerland with very nearly the same amount of drugs as I brought into it. If you are travelling for an extended period, it is a good idea to pack your own mini-drugstore for common non-doctorly ailments.

Important tip: Prescription drugs are excluded from airline liquid limits, however, they must be transported in the same bottle with prescription labeling in order to qualify. Otherwise, some snotty security staffer will seize and dispense of them as one Canadian airport security official did to an elderly woman’s heart medication as she was boarding a 70-minute flight from Victoria (or was it Vancouver) to Calgary, necessitating a tremendous panic in her family that by itself could have been heartstopping. Never underestimate the stupidity of power-obsessed bureaucrats, even in airport security uniforms.

But I drift from my topic. Before you hit the road, visit your doctor and ask for a top-up on prescriptions, then fill enough of them to cover your absence (in my case, 18-months of absence from the comforts of Canadian pharmacies means I have 18 months worth of everything – it’s expensive, but better than dealing with a non-English-speaking doctor).

Add to that over-the-counter meds to cope with pain, fever, inflammations, nausea, diarrhea, stomach upset, cold, flu and allergies. It may seem like a lot, but if you are stricken at 3 a.m., when these cursed things seem to peak, you will have renewed appreciation of the Boy Scout motto: Be prepared.

*Yes, I have written about stocking your own drugstore for overseas trips, but it is worth a repeat, especially in light of last night’s horrors.

87: Dum dee dum dum dumb at the drugstore

Switzerland: Land where Nyquil & Melatonin users viewed with suspicion. Heroin-addicts and alcoholics are okay.

“Hola! Buenos dias! No! Er, hello. No, bonjour! Gruetzi! Dang! What country am I in?!”

This is what happens to me when I spend a protracted amount of time in a linguistic stew. I stumble over four languages in a nanosecond, which is what happened when I greeted the pharmacist at the local apotheke (pharmacy) yesterday.

“Why did you start in a language you can’t even speak,” my beloved asked. Why indeed. The pharmacist had Iberian skin tones and black hair, a visual cue that sprung the floodgates on the little reservoir of Spanish my brain has boxed up since our days in Madrid. The pharmacist’s responding look of incomprehension then caused the linguistic data to disperse at the synaptic cleft between my neurons, form into a ball and ping pong around my brain, hitting as many languages as possible. Given enough time, I might have recalled the Japanese that Mrs. Kirbyson tried to teach me in 1975.

I wonder if time-zone-trader Angelina Jolie has trouble sleeping.

It turns out the gentleman spoke English, but by then I had forgotten how to manage even that and so I persisted in my usual muddled melange. Dave just stood back and watched the show.

I am always in a slightly peeved mood when I go to a pharmacy in Europe, which is something like visiting a North American drug store in 1952 when everything was kept behind the counter and a conversation with the druggist was mandatory. I’m actually not sure about that being the case in 1952, but Hollywood tells me this is so and I’m too linguistically hungover to investigate further.

In Switzerland, something as mundane as NyQuil (called Medinait here, for those who need to know) can only be purchased after assuring a pharmacist that the buyer does not have asthma, glaucoma, a family history of glaucoma, neurofibromatosis, halitosis, a tendency to crack knuckles, arthritis, phlebitis, elephantitis or a cough that has lingered for over a week. Who would think a cold medication would come under such strict controls?

Costco's Melatonin: There's the good stuff.

But there’s more. Even the non-drug Metamucil (a non-medicinal soluble fibre product that does wonders for cholesterol counts, by the way) requires conversational counter-time with the drug-store staff.

Last week, I learned that melatonin* – a rather innocuous hormone that flits about in the pineal gland governing our sleep cycles – is only available in Switzerland by prescription. Melatonin has been an on-the-shelf product in the U.S. since the 1990s and in Canada it can be bought in comforting large containers at Costco stores, yet when I asked for it, the Swiss druggist gave me the studious stare associated with searching for signs of drug addiction – that is, my drug addiction. But then, considering how I opened our conversation in  a multiplicity of languages that I don’t actually speak, who can blame him?

I find this fascinating in a country where heroin and other narcotics are legal, and if I wanted such I could probably just drop in at the local injection clinic and load up my veins.

Alternatively, if I’m having trouble sleeping and can’t access my usual supply of melatonin, a cheap and ready source of alcohol of all sorts can be purchased at any food store. I looked down my nose at the men lining up at a nearby convenience store with their beer and booze during the supper hour, but now I realize they may just be fellow-insomniacs whose melatonin-prescriptions have run out.


On Hobonotes’ most recent daily report:

  • Most hits come from the U.S.
  • Least hits come from the Russian Federation
  • Weirdest search term that landed a reader at this site was “Paris restaurant Winnipeg”
  • Readers from Japan did not even register in my country list. I cannot break into that readership. Dang. 

DO NOT USE THIS WEBSITE FOR MEDICAL INFORMATION: To learn more about melatonin, go to legitimate medical websites, such as mayoclinic.com.