Good Medicine Is Bitter To The Mouth


Anyone who has ever had a sore throat that lasted more than a week will know that it’s agonising. You can’t even swallow your own saliva without feeling as if your throat is on fire, never mind swallowing regular food.  Even drinking water hurts like your throat is getting whipped by hundreds and thousands of tiny viruses inside. The pain was so excruciating and intense that I couldn’t even concentrate on drafting reviews which is why I have a lot of backlog.

Off I went to my regular GP who diagnosed it as a virus infection and I was prescribed 5 days’ worth of antibiotics along with tablets for flu and fever. Then along came the cough and that only added to an already very miserable existence. I finished all the antibiotics and other tablets to no avail. I resorted to getting OTC sore throat medication from Watsons. The tablets were supposed to reduce the throat inflammation. I took some 20 tablets over 3 days and it was still status quo.

Finally, I did what I should have done from the very beginning. I paid a visit to my neighbourhood sinseh or traditional Chinese medical (TCM) practitioner, man of few words and even less cordiality. Forget about bedside manners from this guy, it’s not in his vocabulary but I remembered that on the two occasions I went to see him, I was well when I finished his medication.

Of course, seeing a TCM practitioner means having to down the bitter herbal medicine. However, I am no stranger to TCM as I grew up in a family that believed in visiting the sinseh for all kinds of ailments. Back in the 80s, there was a nice, kindly old sinseh in Jalan Pudu, a stone’s throw from the famous market. After he passed away in the 90s, his business was taken over by his son and by then, it’d become quite difficult to go all the way there due to increased traffic congestion.

After a week of suffering the greatest pain anyone can ever experience from a sore throat, I was ready to down even the most bitter brews if only I didn’t have to feel like crap. Morever, my sleep was getting interrupted every night because I’d wake up hacking away uncontrollably with my throat feeling like sandpaper. I was ready to ingest anything to get my life back to normal.

After taking my pulse and looking at my tongue, the TCM practitioner (man of few words) prepared my brew and I went home with a bottle of 6 doses and 3 types of tablets. I was to take the antibiotics first followed 2 hours later by a dose of the herbal brew and the other 2 types of tablets.

Sure, the brew tasted bitter like drinking plant roots and leaves but after another night of coughing and feeling like nothing was going to cure this infernal sore throat, I woke up to a milder sore throat. For the first time in over a week, I was able to have a relatively  pain-free breakfast and lunch. Then I remembered the Chinese saying “liánɡ yào kǔ kǒu lì yú bìnɡ” or good medicine is bitter to the mouth/taste. How very true that is. The herbal medicine hasn’t cured me completely, coughs take a long time to go away and are extremely persistent but at least the herbal medicine ameliorated the sore throat which made life hellish.

I’m not advocating or recommending TCM to everyone but I guess it works for me. Where the GP’s consultation + medicine cost RM70, the TCM consultation + medicine cost RM35 and in my case, is much more effective than the GP’s medicine as well as the medication over-the-counter from Watsons.