I got chatting with a woman today at Parco about medicine, one of my favorite topics and one I have unwittingly begun writing about recently as a freelancer for a women's magazine that is placed in doctor's offices. I have an assignment this week to write about how to really avoid the flu and/or colds this winter, and am charged by my editor to dispel myths such as the one that the cold weather plays a role in getting sick. Not true as it turns out.
I was explaining to my new cafe friend how a pediatrician had suggested trying honey instead of Benadryl or Robitusson for coughs because it is natural and has no side effects. The topic of unforseen side effects from pharmaceuticals got us deeply enmeshed in the dangers of solving one problem with medication while creating another, a subject she seemed all too familiar with from personal experience. I, too, have personal experience with this, a minor incident in high school when I had a rash that a doctor prescribed a sedative for and it not only calmed my skin but made me comatose as well. The constant chatter stopped and I became mute, mouth open but silent. (I know, many of you who know me are saying, can't you take that medicine again sometimes? The answer is no. I didn't enjoy being a zombie much as others might have:)
In this day and age, as I've said on this blog before, doctors walk in ready with a prescription pad and pen in the hopes of pleasing people, fixing them with one easy pill. But, often, that pill is just to alleviate some symptoms of a larger problem, diabetes from being overweight for example. The doctor cannot make someone stop overeating or get them to exercise, they can only do what they can do. It must be very frustrating. On the other hand, doctors and pharmaceutical companies have together created an often disastrous quick-fix team where they offer things that only serve to fatten lawyers' purses.
Take the birth control pill Yaz or Yasmin as it was earlier called when it was introduced in 2001. At the time I remember thinking it was a little bit scary that it promised to cut off menstruation all together. Playing with my body's chemistry at all scares me, but to that level? I thought not, though my OB assured me it was fine. It was on the market after all, had been tested. No thanks.
Fast forward eight years and I am seeing all kinds of commercials on TV from law firms looking to make a buck by helping women who decided to take these pills sue Bayer for side effects that include little things, you know, small effects like heart attacks and strokes and, yes, even sudden death. I guess in the case of the latter, the family sues.
I have to say I wasn't surprised, rarely am when I see these things for I do not hold stock in companies' concern for me. Only I care enough about me to make such a decision and it should be better researched than just asking my doctor. I should ask many doctors, then check the Internet and read all sides, then trust my instinct. Most often with things that sound too good to be true, like not getting your period anymore, they are.
I can't say, though, that I vilify pharmaceutical companies. They provide a necessary service. They found a way to cure polio and to prevent so many other ills that once killed or left handicapped a large portion of the population. I just know that the decision is never so easy as just saying "OK" when a professional tells me what to do. My new cafe friend agreed and she told me a great story of a friend who worked for the legislature. He wrote up a law once and someone asked him later to define exactly what he meant by the law.
A good Irishman, he shrugged. "I don't know exactly," he said. "I'd had one pint too many."
Moral of the story for her: "I know better than to take things to the letter of the law."
"That," I said, nodding "can be applied to everything. We have to take prescriptions, laws, whatever we're told, with a grain of salt, we have to learn to decide for ourselves."
I gave her a gold star for even embarking on the conversation, for sticking around long after she'd put on her purse to go, for questioning. I wish it were easier to do things, like the Jetsons' model of full meals in a single pill or a moving walkway that took you through a tunnel in which your hair and makeup got done, your perfect outfit picked. Unfortunately, outside of TV animation, things are hard and often take thought and work. Bummer. I often wish it weren't so.