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  • Writer's pictureLezlie Wade

Hard to Swallow

Updated: Feb 13



There are a lot of things I find difficult to swallow. Food prices, the cost of housing, the number of women directors who have won Oscars, the sheer volume of shampoos to choose from in the hair and beauty aisle. But nothing is quite as bad, in my opinion, as cough medicine. 

Every time I get sick - cold and flu sick - I buy a bottle of Buckley's cough syrup. Let me begin by saying that I think the word 'syrup' is entirely dishonest. According to the dictionary, 'syrup' is a thick, sticky liquid derived from a sugar-rich plant, especially sugar cane, corn or maple. I find no evidence of any of this in Buckley's. The use of this word is simply a marketing ploy to entice you into thinking, "Maybe this time it won't be as bad as I remember." When, in fact, it's worse - way worse - than you ever imagined. 

I buy Buckley's as a last resort. I've usually reached day five or six of unbearable, insufferable agony and HAVE to find some relief from whatever ails me. 

"Are you absolutely sure you want it?" my husband asks on a mission to save me from wanting to chop off my nose.

"YES!" I plead, "Bring home the Buckley's."

As everyone knows, their advertising slogan is: "It tastes awful. But it works." which you gotta hand it to them is 100% true. No sugar coating there. (Forgive the pun.)

At the drugstore, he calls me again.

"Last chance," he says, "There are other brands, other options."

"No, "I insist, "Bring home the poison."

The truth is, Buckley's is anything but poison. It's mostly made up of things au natural. Canada Balsam, pine needle oil, and even their thickening agent is made from Carrageenan (a type of seaweed) that's vegetarian. One can imagine the original recipe being passed down from generation after generation of healers who at one time or another, slaved over a cauldron while experimenting with tree bark before being hung for performing acts against nature. The truth, however, is that Buckley's was invented by a Canadian. Nova Scotia native William Knapp Buckley, who I imagine grew up with the aphorism, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger."

Almost worse than the flavour is the colour. It's grey. Murky, fish-eye grey puddled on a teaspoon, daring you to swallow it like something you'd get paid to do on a show like Fear Factor. Grey food is not, in my experience, ever something you want to willingly ingest.

My husband puts the offending concoction on the counter, where it sits for hours while I psyche myself up to take it. While it sits there, the bottle becomes anthropomorphic. I can hear it whisper, "I can wait. You'll succumb. They always succumb. And when you do, I'll be here." 

Just the thought of imbibing it is almost enough to cure me. ALMOST but not quite enough, damn it! And as I always knew, I eventually cave in. 


There is a method to taking Buckley's. 

First, you have to have a chaser ready. You ABSOLUTELY MUST have a glass of something to follow up with, or you'll vomit. At least, that's my way.

Second, you must put the first spoonful into your mouth and hold it there without swallowing while preparing the second spoonful, or you will NEVER do the second spoonful. Forget a third as directed. I've never been able to swallow a third. I never will.

How to describe the taste...I imagine it's pretty close to paint thinner or bottled reflux. Possibly a combination of both. As the second spoonful goes down, I start to gag. Thank god for the chaser. 

Immediately, the mentholyptus begins to work, as well as a sensation in my gut that tests my faith in this being legal to sell. 

Eventually, the horror passes, and along with it, a sense of relief because miraculously, amazingly, incredibly, after only two doses, I am better. Is it the medicine? Or, and here's my theory, is it that I will myself to get well to keep from ever having to take that stuff again?

Whatever the reason, I'm just grateful that I can, once again, with a clear mind and unstuffed sinuses, get back to dealing with the other stuff that's difficult to swallow.





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Oscar Fellini
Oscar Fellini
Feb 15

Thank you for putting into words what I've long thought myself. It DOES taste awful but... thank your stars that 3rd teaspoonful has never been needed.

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