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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Pill Popping


Who opened Pandora’s advertising box, giving the nod to pharmaceutical manufacturers to buy air time and print ads? These corporations are cornering the psychosomatic market. I firmly believe that it is the goal of the pharmaceutical companies to turn us into a nation of over-medicated hypochondriacs.

My mother, God rest her soul, was a master hypochondriac, a person known to pharmaceutical companies as a “dream consumer.” She would read about some illness, get all the information she could about its symptoms, and then become convinced she had the disease. Then she’d persuade the doctor to give her the medication to fix it. After a few doses, she would read about the side effects, which she would promptly begin to exhibit. I am so glad they started advertising Viagra and Cialis only after she died. I would have had to help her to convince her doctor that she had erectile dysfunction.

I am not good at public speaking. My knees knock. I am not the extrovert at parties and cannot comfortably go up and introduce myself to all the people in the room. Does this mean I have social anxiety disorder? Are you telling me that I can take a pill that will actually encourage me to wear a lampshade on my head at parties and jitterbug with a string mop? Wow, drugs are so cool! Can you create a pill that will make me dress better? And while you’re at it, one that can iron my shirts?

If you’re a Class A hypochondriac, you can make yourself crazy just by reading magazines. A couple weeks before my sister’s second wedding, my mother read an article in Scary Symptoms magazine about macular degeneration. She was in her early 70’s, and her vision was beginning to fade, but not any faster than anyone else in her peer group. After the vows were said and just as the reception started, my mother, who craved being the center of attention, especially on days that clearly belonged to others, blurted out to no one in particular, “Take me to the hospital. I need immediate laser surgery.”

I looked at her as if she were crazy, which, I remembered, she was, and then wiped that look off my face.

“I can’t see the lower half of the room. I have macular degeneration!” she cried.

Fortunately, the wedding was held in an old antebellum mansion that had bedrooms, so I led her upstairs and told her to lie down and rest with the lights out for a while, and I promised to come up later to check on her, which I didn’t do. After an hour, she realized no one was paying attention. Plus, she was hungry, so she came back down and helped herself to the buffet, which miraculously was now visible to her, along with the lower half of everything else in the room.

She had cried wolf so many times that whenever the admissions staff at her hospital saw her arrive, they would always say, “This way, Mrs. Munchausen.” Then they would put her in a wheelchair, steer her to the back service entrance, stick her in a cab and send her home.

I’ll be the first to admit that it’s a scary place out there, and there are diseases and disorders lurking that are just waiting to seize the opportunity to wipe the floor with us. But do we really need a constant reminder of that?

The next time a drug commercial comes on, pay attention to the list of side effects they throw at you. Nine times out of ten, one of the side effects is the symptom you’re treating. So if after you take it and your symptoms persist, how do you know if the drug doesn’t work, or if it’s working but you’re just experiencing a side effect? Sometimes the side effect is worse than what you’re treating. “Side effects of this prescription-only dandruff shampoo include lymphoma, melanoma, carcinoma, Barceloma, and uncontrollable Macarena dancing. In some instances, scalp flaking was observed.”

My favorite side effect, and I’m not making this up, is for a medication for Restless Leg Syndrome. The manufacturer warns that taking it might cause compulsive gambling. What would you rather have: fidgety feet or your life savings lost? It’s amazing that a pill can steer you toward vice. Stop taking the medication if you are experiencing the desire to write bad checks. If you have already written bad checks, please turn yourself in to the local authorities.

I fully appreciate the black humor that accompanies the increased suicide risk for people taking anti-depressants. Now there’s an answer to your problems. Feeling suicidal? Here, take this. Feeling even more suicidal now? Here, swallow a hundred of the same thing.

Drug companies also admit that sometimes their medications work too well. One erectile dysfunction pill manufacturer advises you to seek help if, after taking their pill, your erection lasts for more than four hours. Assuming you’re able to stand up and walk over to pick up the phone, who are you going to call? Boner Busters? Frankly, if I got a four-hour stiffy, I’d have fun with it. I’d play Olympic Springboard Diving Barbie Head. I’d spend the afternoon as a ring-toss stake. Hey, I thought I told you—no horseshoes! I’m waiting for the warning label for this drug to change. Stop taking this medication of you feel the urge to spring Barbie heads off your penis into a swimming pool. Put your pants back on if someone throws a horseshoe at you. Get help if someone uses you as a coat rack.

My favorite line in any prescription drug commercial is, “Ask your doctor if this medication is right for you.” Translated, this means, “Hopefully your doctor is so wrapped up in HMO red tape and malpractice insurance premiums that he’ll just give you anything you want. A lot of it.” What if we followed those orders? I would hope my doctor would be suspicious of my motives if I asked him, “Hey, Doc, I saw this TV commercial the other day and was wondering if you thought that maybe heroin was right for me?” Whatever happened to having your doctor examine you and prescribe something based on his or her expertise, not something you saw on Nick at Nite between reruns of Mr. Ed and My Mother the Car?

What kind of government forbids cigarette ads on TV because they’re dangerous and addictive but allows advertising for something even more dangerous and addictive, like prescription sleeping pills?

Don’t look to me for the answer. Ask your doctor or pharmacist.

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