The vial I confiscated from my sister.
  • The vial I confiscated from my sister.
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I lifted my head and looked over my laptop to glare directly at the inharmonious cacophony of sniffling and snuffling. Jane wiped at her nose with the heel of her hand for the umpteenth time before she realized she was being watched.

“Ugh, I feel like crap,” Jane said as if I hadn’t already figured that out from her impressive one-woman hubbub. I tried to force my brows from their furrow to a more concerned, raised position. I was torn in the same way I am when David’s snoring wakes me in the middle of the night — my irritation pitted against my compassion, wanting to nudge him awake so I can fall back asleep, and wishing I wasn’t aware of how selfish that made me. I wanted to silence my sister, but I also wanted to demonstrate my consideration of her predicament (by pretending I cared about her physical comfort more than I did about shutting her up).

“What’s the deal? Is it allergies?” As if in answer, Jane sneezed and then performed her signature heel-of-hand swipe across the face.

“I don’t know. I was a little sniffly at home, probably because of Frodo,” Jane said, referring to the most recent addition to her family, a pug. “So I stopped by Target on my way over and grabbed this stuff to put in my nose so that it would stop running.” Jane dug around in her purse, pausing every few seconds to wipe her nose-flow, and finally produced the vial.

I read the label aloud: “Sinex: 12-hour DECONGESTANT” (which was actually written in all caps). “Jane, this is for people with stuffed noses, not runny noses. You’ve turned your mucus into water,” I said.

Jane snatched the bottle from my hand. “I thought it was an antihistamine,” she groaned.

“What do you mean you thought? Didn’t you read it?”

“I was in a hurry. I saw the word Sinex and thought...”

“The font of ‘decongestant’ is, like, twice the size of ‘Sinex,’” I said in the admonishing voice of our sister Heather, who developed the tone from years of teaching high school English.

“Oh, no, 12 hours of this?”

“I can’t believe you didn’t read it,” I said. “What, you just shoved this shit up your nose and took a bunch of huge sniffs, all based on your impression of active ingredients you gleaned from the word Sinex?”

“You don’t have to be mean about it,” Jane said. “If there’s one thing I hate, it’s snot. I hate snot.” She dropped face first onto my couch.

All of my frustration was released as laughter seized my body. The cackles came from somewhere deep in my chest, the force of air behind each Ha increasing as I recognized another hilarious layer to my poor sister’s plight. “You work for a pharmaceutical company,” I howled. “How can you be so smart about so many things and so uh, doy about others?”

It took a few minutes for my laughter to taper off, during which my sister suppressed a smile and pretended to hate me. “I will say it works really well, though,” Jane said, eyeing the bottle.

“Especially if you’re not congested to begin with,” I said, finding I had a few more chuckles left in me.

There was an I told you so in there somewhere, but I decided to let my suffering sister off the hook. Just because I didn’t say anything out loud didn’t mean I couldn’t think it. I silently congratulated myself for all the times I told Jane that her prophylactic drug use was going to come back to bite her. I hoped this 12-hour snotfest would serve as what Jane likes to call a “teachable moment”: the lesson being, “Read the bottle before you shove its contents inside of you.”

But there was another, more important lesson I thought she needed to learn, and that was, “Do not medicate yourself prior to experiencing symptoms.” More often than not, Jane is popping pills and inhaling sprays not to treat an existing condition but to prevent a possibility. Excedrin is her go-to. “It has caffeine in it, it keeps me awake,” is her explanation whenever I give her a hard time for ingesting the medicine pre-headache.

“Why don’t you just drink a cup of coffee?” I’ll ask, and she’ll respond that it sometimes gives her a stomach ache. She used to use Claritin D to jack herself up when she needed energy, but she has since fallen back on Excedrin. Now she only takes the regular Claratin if she’s about to enter an allergic situation (such as a house containing cats), but I can’t fault her for that — it makes sense, and I do the same. It’s so much better to cut symptoms off at the pass than to end up enduring them when you know they could have been prevented. Maybe she was onto something with the headache thing.

I fetched some tissues to help mop up the steady flow from her nostrils. “Sorry,” I said as I handed them over. Jane eyed me warily as she swabbed her face. “Come on, you have to admit it’s funny. You just randomly walked through the store, grabbed an item off a counter, bought it, and ingested it without even knowing what it was.”

“I thought it was Flonase,” Jane said. “I’ve used that for my allergies before.”

“But it didn’t say Flonase,” I said in the nicest, can you hear yourself right now voice I could muster.

“But it was the same kind of bottle,” Jane whined.

“They’re all the same kind of bottle.”

“That’s what I told you,” Jane said. I broke into another fit of laughter. Jane, no longer able to hide her smile, threw one of her snot rags at me.

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