Tuesday, July 14, 2009

May Cause Drowsiness - Or Internal Bleeding

When we first came back from Uganda I was amazed at the number of pharmaceutical commercials there were on television. Prescription medications were no longer just targeting doctors with salesmen and unlimited samples. They were now going to John Q. Public to sell their wares. On the one hand, I am a firm believer in taking responsibility for your own health. You ought to know what your options are. What works for one person may not work for another and you should have some say in your physical well-being.
But on the other hand, I can't believe how medicated the average American is. A couple of years ago I went in for a routine physical. The nurse asked what medications I was currently taking, and I told her I take ibuprofen occasionally if I have a headache. She didn't believe me. She must have asked four or five different ways if I was taking anything else. When the doctor came in, he looked at my chart and then asked me the same thing. Four or five different times. They simply could not grasp the fact that a woman in her late thirties (okay, it was more than a couple of years ago. It was five years to be exact) was not on any sort of medication.I find this amazing. Why would you want to be taking medications on a regular basis for the rest of your life?
Not only that, but based on the "side effects" of some of these medications that they're hawking endlessly, you'd have to be in pretty bad shape to want to take them. Watching these commercials would be hysterically funny if they weren't so frightening. A calm, pleasant voice talks about your symptoms and then touts the healing power of whatever they're selling. And then in a fast, read-through-the-fine-print voice they list possible side effects such as stomach ulcers.
Some commercials don't even tell you what the medication is supposed to cure. They just show pictures of happy people living full lives and then advise you to talk to your doctor to see if this medication is right for you. I wonder how many people suddenly decide they need that medication when they don't even know what it's for.
And then there's the commercial where people sit around discussing the medication in a "normal" conversation. They talk about how much the medication has done for them and then in the course of the give and take, they mention that several blood tests are necessary before starting the medication in order to insure that your internal organs can handle the havoc the medication will cause.
I think the commercials I find most amusing are the ones for medications that cure depression. They show a bunch of unhappy people staring off into space. These people are usually in their pajamas (I always found that to be a happy time, not a sad time) and looking utterly hopeless. Then they talk about how this medication will help them rejuvenate themselves and give them a new lease on life. And then they list the side effects. Side effects such as dizziness, sleeplessness, constipation, diarrhea, decrease in sexual function and possible thoughts of suicide. Wait a minute! Aren't most of these symptoms of depression anyway? So why take a medication that is--at best--going to have enough side effects to make you more depressed than you already were? Why OH WHY would you try to cure depression with medication that makes you contemplate suicide? This is a cure?
As for me, I think I'll try to see how long I can live my life without popping a bunch of pills. My quality of life is just fine, thank you very much. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go take my vitamins. And my ginseng for energy ... and my ginkgo balboa for memory ... and my red raspberry for ... well, you get the idea.

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