Two small round pills and one long one form a suggestive shape


I strongly suspect that within every adult male there is an adolescent that is, at best, severely repressed. This is the part of each one of us that resists the urge to giggle or outright snort at things that we know to be funny but that we must pretend are not. The categories of such taboo sources of humor include, of course, all bathroom-related matters as well as any word that has a socially-acceptable meaning in addition to an off-color innuendo (usually dealing with bodily parts or functions). And although these days much of the social fabric of our society seems to be fraying, sometimes for good sometimes not, there nonetheless remain those subjects that we dare not laugh at in mixed company.

Terms that make us giggle

One such term that used to send teenage boys into fits of laughter and elbowing of one another was anything having to do with “protection.” Part of this is due to the reality that most boys of the age greatly desire to be in need of such protection but of course rarely (thankfully) are. As one gets a bit older – but no more mature – the vocabulary tends to expand even as the range of what is considered humorous remains constant. Thus, into the lexicon of the teenager enters the synonymous, but more grown-up sounding, term 'prophylactic'. It is a word that, in addition to being rather tricky to spell correctly, is typically used in the most serious of settings, which, when combined with the natural inclination of the hearer of such term to giggle at its mention, makes for an even more farcical moment. In fact, one is often first introduced to the term as either part of a health education class – an experience that alternates between sheer puerile humor and utter terror – or in the doctor’s office, which similarly has an air of horror about it. Or at least tremendous awkwardness.

Despite the enormous number of words that populate the Oxford Dictionary (unabridged), we English speakers nevertheless feel the need to recycle as many of these as possible. (We may not be too good at separating plastics and paper from our regular garbage, but we are quite adept at reusing terms for multiple purposes.)  And so it is with the term 'prophylactic', which we come to learn is not just limited to the realm of the boudoir but also any type of preventative, protective situation, although often also frequently of a health-related nature.

Too much cancer-killer?

In no realm is this perhaps more common than with cancer. Because cancer is often an immune system run amok, the treatment for it is to effectively decimate that over-zealous network of white blood cells back to a non-lethal level. (Proof, once again, that too much of a good thing is most definitely not a good thing.) In my particular case, with a white blood cell count rapidly approaching half-a-million (when it should be closer to about 7,000), I was sentenced to six months of white-cell killing chemicals, euphemistically described as “therapy.” And while I am glad to report that the chemicals knocked off hundreds of thousands of these underperforming cells, I am still struggling – more than a year-and-a-half afterward – to get my white cell count back to a normal level. Sometimes I wonder if I was given too much cancer-killer. (Again, too much of a good thing...)

Consequently, a portion of each day is now spent taking pills that are supposed to do the job that my overly-repressed immune system is not currently capable of performing. I must take anti-virals – to protect against all manner of viruses – and antibiotics to protect against a range of bacterial would-be troublemakers. But sometimes even all of that is insufficient.

"I had to ask the pediatrician about taking prophylactics"

This lack of basic protection came home to roost this week when my six-year-old, Andrew, was diagnosed with the flu. (Yes, of course, he had his flu shot: I have cancer, my wife is a doctor and we believe in science.) Since I was the one to take poor little Andrew to the pediatrician, I was given a list of specific questions to ask the doctor by my wife-doctor. Among this list of interrogatories was one that frankly I felt quite uncomfortable posing: Since Andrew has the flu, must I, as one with a woefully inadequate immune system, take something to reduce the chances that I too will contract influenza. In other words, I had to ask the pediatrician about taking prophylactics.

Notwithstanding what I stated above, this was far from a laughing matter. For one thing, I do not typically go around town advertising that I have cancer. (Please ignore that I have an entire blog about just that.) Telling anyone that I am cancerous, even a member of the medical profession is at its best an awkward-silence-producing experience. On top of that, I found myself now resorting to asking a pediatrician – which, for those of you who do not own the current iteration of the Oxford Dictionary (unabridged), is a doctor for children – for advice about the condition I possess as a 46-year-old. Fortunately, this pediatrician, being the exemplary doctor that he is (for patients of all ages apparently), did not hesitate: “Yes. You must start taking Tamiflu right away.”

My new protection regimen

Of course, since I have technically aged out of pediatric care (at least physically), I was thus left with having to do the one thing I dread most: Call my oncologist to get a prescription for yet another prophylactic. She, being also a superior member of the medical community, unflinchingly fired off a script for yet another drug for “protection.” We picked up the Rx for Andrew’s medicine and then my own and thus I added to my extensive inventory of prophylactics.

The good news is so far the latest addition to my “protection” regimen has seemingly allowed me to avoid the flu.  The bad news is that with all of this need for prophylactics, I am now too tired to actually need the kind of prophylactics that makes me giggle inside.

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