Give Me Walgreens or Give Me Death


THERE’S NOT MUCH to love about the current state of the American health care system. Compared to the rest of the developed world, who can’t seem to understand why we’re squabbling over different ways to not offer universal care to our citizens, we seem to be lagging a bit in the “take care of your fellow man” department. But since America has had a rough couple of months, what with the shutdown and inane marches against the shutdown and now the whole mess, I would like to point out one small way our country is actually winning in the health care department: yeast infections.

Stay with me.

You see, in America, we approach health care with a “pick yourself up by the bootstraps, even if you are dying from ebola” kind of attitude. While this may not be very helpful if you are in fact dying from ebola, it is extremely beneficial if you really just want to take care of something yourself, without having to bother with a doctor. Thanks to our country’s thriving pioneer spirit, you can treat almost any common ailment with a quick trip to Walgreens. Got a stuffy nose? Grab some Nyquil and be on your way. Throbbing headache from too many Manhattans the night before? Find yourself some ibuprofen, no questions asked.

This efficient, self-serve approach is especially critical when you’re dealing with something non-life-threatening but completely mortifying, like toe fungus or hemorrhoids or, you know, a little yeasty beasty. In these cases all you have to do is peruse the aisles, pretending to be interested in shampoo and toilet paper until the coast is clear enough for you to surreptitiously grab some Monistat. Then just pick up a jumbo bag of Twizzlers on the way out so the cashier knows that everything is cool, that vagina medicine is totally for your mom.

Sadly, many parts of the world do not offer the same candy cloak of dignity. In Europe, for example, you have to go to the pharmacy and speak with an actual pharmacist to get any kind of medicine, even the most benign over-the-counter stuff. That means to treat a yeast infection, you have to first explain your vagina problems to a complete stranger (or worse: to the sweet old man who runs the pharmacy and sells you ibuprofen on a weekly basis). And for tourists and expats like me, it also means you have to explain your vagina problems to a complete stranger in a foreign language.

In case you’re thinking it’s probably better to talk to a professional about your illness before choosing a course of treatment, let me give you an idea of how visiting a Parisian pharmacy might go: After typing some very suspect things into Google Translate and making a pharmacy translation cheat-sheet, you may still end up talking for 30 minutes to a very confused pharmaciste about an infection de la levure in your vagin. And while you’re wondering why she’s looking at you as if a baguette might spontaneously erupt between your legs, you realize that perhaps a literal translation of “yeast infection” was not the best route. So you venture the more technical candida, which garners a much more positive response. The pharmacist finally pulls out the medicine you need, medicine for what’s apparently known in French as champignons du vagin. Or, vagina mushrooms.

You might have better luck in a place like Austria, where the pharmacists speak a bit more English. But don’t think you can get away with just whispering “candida” and hoping for the best. Because the stern-looking pharmacist will ask you where the candida is flourishing—on the hands perhaps? Or between the toes? And since you don’t know the German word for vagina, you will be reduced to a very odd hand gesture, pointing sheepishly downwards and then inexplicably button-hooking your hand back upwards to indicate “up in there.” Thankfully this is an internationally recognized sign, and you will be on your way with the appropriate treatment in a matter of minutes.

But did I mention there’s probably an old lady breathing down your neck throughout this ordeal because she needs to talk to someone about her hemorrhoids, STAT?

I personally cannot think of anything more horrifying. I don’t care if the medicine and the medical advice are totally free and 100 times better than anything America has to offer. Call it stubborn patriotism, but I would rather die from vagina mushrooms than suffer through one more trip to the apotheke to talk with a health professional about the best course of action for my nether-region. Give me Walgreens or give me death! America may be losing the war over health care, but we’ve certainly won the battle on yeast.


About Jennie Willson

Jennie Willson writes from the land of snow and schnitzel, otherwise known as Austria. Her work has appeared on Babble, CounterPunch, and her blog, UnlikelyDiplomat. She swears she doesn't have that many problems with her lady parts.
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3 Responses to Give Me Walgreens or Give Me Death

  1. Zack R says:

    Very insightful and humorous and gross. Well done Jen!

  2. Tamar L says:


  3. Barry Fay says:

    Strange that you write about Austria and don´t know that the German word for “vagina” is “Vagina”. (with the accent on the “vag”- ee-na). Hope this helps.

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