Monday, August 03, 2009

Bacteria al-Halq

It's been so hot lately and I was sick of my hair. I couldn't leave it down and putting it up didn't seem to do much good, either. No matter what I did, I was a hot, sticky mess. So in a sudden Pedro-like stupor, I asked Andrew to cut my hair on Wednesday night.

Well, when I came home from school my head started to get really hot. So I drank some cold water, but it didn't do nothing. So I laid in the bathtub for a while, but then I realized that it was my hair that was making my head hot. So I went into my kitchen and I shaved it all off.
-- Pedro, from Napoleon Dynamite

Luckily, we stopped short of shaving my head bald. I asked Andrew to cut it just below chin length and showed him some pictures of how long I wanted it to be. I told him how to cut it--basically, don't cut to where you think I want it cut, cut several inches below that and slowly work your way up.

"I'll cut half way to start," he said.

"Sounds good," I said.

"Ooops," he said.

I looked at the chunk of hair on the floor. "That's more than half way."

"Yeah," he said, "How about I cut your hair this short?"

"There's no going back now," I agreed.

And that's how my hair ended up as short as it ended up.

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In other hair cutting news, Rachel also got her first hair cut on Wednesday night. Hers was more of a trim because I couldn't bring myself to cut off anything more than the little feathery wisps at the end. Also, I cut Andrew's hair and did the top using scissors instead of the clippers. I got it pretty even, too, and only snipped my knuckle two or three times. This is a serious breakthrough. It opens up so many other hair-styling possibilities for Andrew.

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The haircut is growing on me, literally. I guess it’s alright and everyone seems to like it, or at least to say they like it, but it’s just shorter than I wanted it to be. I figure this is a good time to cut my hair too short, though, since I’m taking prenatal vitamins and my hair growth is off the charts recently. Soon it should be the length that I wanted it to be when Andrew originally cut it. He did a good job (but was a little over zealous in his hacking off).

With my hair problems solved I still haven’t been feeling very well, especially since coming home from Alexandria. It’s been a weird not-feeling-well because I actually almost feel fine, except for that I feel rather cruddy.

Usually when I get sick I get laryngitis and headachey, so I can’t talk and I want to lie down to relieve the pressure from my skull. While I definitely feel sick, I’ve been trying to convince myself that I’m not sick because I don’t feel like my ordinary sicky-self. Mostly my throat hurts, but I kept trying to convince myself that I was making it up because I don’t have laryngitis, and I always get laryngitis.

Last night when we were out I picked up some throat lozenges to suck on, even though I don’t have even a hint of a cough. No matter how much water I drank or how many cough drops I sucked on, my throat kept hurting. Sadly, I’m not sure how much I actually managed to drink or suck on anything because swallowing was getting too painful.

This morning when I woke up, it was even worse. I felt like I was swallowing cotton balls...mixed with thumb tacks.

I actually did a google search to see if you could have a sore throat without getting laryngitis. I didn’t think you could, but that’s only because I never have. Turns out your pharynx can get infected, too, without infecting any other part of your throat, which explains my pain and lack of laryngitis. For once my larynx stayed healthy!

After reading some more about pharyngeal infections, I stumbled upon the topic of Streptococcal pharyngitis. Naturally.

I’ve only had strep throat once in my life. It was at the end of the Fall 2003 semester. I had been sick all semester long, running a high fever and feeling absolutely awful, but never coming out of the doctor’s office with any sort of diagnosis. It was the most frustrating semester of my life. Then, on the morning of the oral section of my Russian final, I woke up feeling, well, even more absolutely awful.

I remember checking out my throat in the bathroom mirror and seeing that it had broken out in cottage cheese. My mom took me to the doctor for the umpteenth time and I was finally diagnosed with strep throat. My doctor said I was probably sick all semester long because the strep bacteria was working its way through my body, infecting this and that along the way, and finally showed itself in my throat, and that I was lucky it hadn’t chosen to break out fully in my lungs or heart.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to be so sick. I finally knew what was wrong and after a few days of antibiotics I was feeling healthy for the first time in months. I hardly managed to squeak out a word for my Russian final, since I had laryngitis as well, but at least I had a solid diagnosis.

So this morning I went to look in the mirror, just to see, and there was my cottage cheese, which fully explained why swallowing was so hard this morning. Granted, this time around it wasn’t full-on cottage cheese mouth, but I did have several white flecks growing on my tonsils. More like cottage cheese reside than actual cottage cheese.

I totally blame this on Bridget. I don’t know if you can spread bacteria through a blog post, but it’s too ironic that we both got it in the same week. So, readers, beware, this disease is highly contagious and can spread through your computer screen.

Luckily we already have our insurance set up here, so I called to make an appointment with the doctor, but it’s hard to get an appointment right away here. So instead we just wandered down to the pharmacy and talked to the pharmacist. He agreed that it was strep and gave me some penicillin tablets. 35 LE for a full treatment of strep throat, without doctor’s fees. That’s a pretty good deal.

So now I’m at home, not getting ready for my mom’s arrival tomorrow. Instead I’m resting up so that I can hopefully be healthy enough to have fun.

And I’m sure you’re all wondering what hair cuts and strep throat have in common. Well, I’ll tell you.

We looked up how to say strep throat in Arabic before going to the pharmacy, just to be on the safe side. Who wants to pantomime strep symptoms? Not me. Here they call it بكتيريا الحلق/bacteria al-halq.* Andrew looked up halq in the dictionary (since it generally has to do with hair, not strep, per se) and found that it means: barber, to shave, and pharynx (or throat).

First our family went through a series of haircuts and now I have strep. How very appropriate. Although we all suffered through hair cuts, I hope that I’m the only one who has to suffer through strep!

*We were talking about it at lunch and I said بكتيريا الحلق, which involves a qaf (the q-sound at the end of halq). Oh, my goodness! It was the most painful sound I have ever produced in my whole life.

"Yikes!" I said, "Is qaf a pharyngeal?"

Andrew made the qaf sound before answering, just to make sure, "Yes."

"Good, then I'm saying it right because that hurt sooo bad."

It's actually a pharyngealized velar, so more velar than pharyngeal, but pharyngeal nonetheless. Definitely it's my pharynx that's sore. Definitely. Actually, that's a pretty good test to see if you have bacteria al-halq.

Doctor: "Can you say the name of this disease?"

Patient: "Bacteria al-halq...¡Ay, caramba! What in the world did you have me say that for?"

Doctor: "To make sure it was your pharynx that was the problem. Don't worry. It is."


  1. The last time I had strep, the culture came back negative, but the antibiotics he prescribed me in the meantime cleared it right up. Strange, but I felt better, so I didn't care.

    Also, you're braver than I. It's that stage of the summer when I wonder just why I keep my hair long if it's just going to frizzy/wavy when I want it straight, or straighten when I want it wavy, and I'm wearing it up all the time anyway because it's just so gosh darn humid (my glasses were fogging up outside). But I won't cut it, and I certainly wouldn't let a stinky boy do it for me. ;)

  2. Hi! My name is Ashley Parnell. Jennifer Fugate gave me your blog website:). We are a young family (2 and 4 year old girls) moving to Cairo on August 24th. My husband is a Phd student and will be taking Arabic classes at AUC. I was wondering if you would mind answering a few of my questions. My email address is or Thanks so much! We are excited to find a young family doing something similar to what we are about to embark on. Ashley

  3. I love the hair. But I'm sorry about the strep! Good luck and enjoy the time with your mom! :)

  4. I have teeny little tickle in my throat. If it turns into strep, then it really IS transferable via computer screen (you or Bridget) or cell phone (my brother.)

  5. (We just got internet at home so I'm catching up on all the blogs...)

    I am SO sorry I gave you my strep throat :). Wasn't it nice to wake up and feel so much better, though? I really identified with the way you described it here. So vaguely terrible before. So great once you get some medicine going.

    And I like the hair.

  6. wow! i hope you get well soon and that you have a good time with your mom in town :) this reminds me of my "strep story".. junior year of high school i was taking 2 advanced placement classes and finally around ap exam time, i got so sick i couldn't stand it. well, my ap us history exam was in the morning, and my class at school was normally in ... Read morethe afternoon and my teacher said "go ahead and take the afternoon off if you want.. there's nothing more to learn and you'll be tired" so i went to the doctor and 2 rounds of antibiotics and a shot later, i was finally starting to get better. probably only got so bad because i wasn't sleeping much :/ i tend to cram for tests... at least i got better before summer started!
    sending warm wishes!! all the best to you and your family :)