Monday, August 17, 2009

Side Effects

It frightens me to think that, one day, I may have to count myself among the millions of people who take prescription medications. I know that I shouldn’t be afraid. These medicines have been developed by some of the finest minds in medical research. Developed and improved upon since the days of Hippocrates and the alchemists. They offer the opportunity to lengthen life, improve the quality of those extra years, even help you jump tall buildings in a single bound after your double hip replacement.

Knowing this should make me feel better, but it doesn’t… not at all. This is because every time a new pharmaceutical hits the market, and the ad campaign hits the airwaves, the only thing I remember about the drug is its side effects.

The side effects are always summed up by the soft-spoken, speed-talker at the end of the 30-second spot. It’s the verbal equivalent to fine-print. “May cause headaches, nausea, bleeding from the ears, goiters, ocular cysts or, in rare instances—death. This product should not be taken by people who are considering air travel, as changes in atmospheric pressure have been know to cause spontaneous, human combustion. Consult your physician, neighbor, mechanic, and gardener before taking this product.”

Now, all that may not sound so bad to you. But what is one to do when their doctor prescribes two medications. What if one of them has the potential to trigger an uncontrollable urge to binge-eat and the other may cause the inability to swallow? What do you do then? How about if each of them causes drowsiness? If I take them both, as prescribed, am I going to sleep through tomorrow? Doesn’t that reduce the value of the whole longer-life principle?

Or, what if both drugs have their own unique set of side effects, all of them bad? The side effects that the drug companies are willing to admit are never good. You don’t ever hear Speed-Talker say anything about experiencing a deep-seated sense of well being, or a tendency toward healthy weight loss, or the ability to read people’s minds.

No, it’s always: “This product could cause seeping lesions of the skin which may be mistaken for leprosy. A sensation of insects crawling over the entire body has been known to occur. Actual insect attacks have been reported by some survivors. You should not take this medicine if your doctor determines that you are ill, or becoming ill, as the manufacturer will deny all claims of liability that come as a result of your weakness.”

No, this isn’t for me. As I grow older, and the indiscretions of my youth begin to manifest themselves physically, I think I’ll just ignore them. And when the pain and suffering become more than I can bare; when I feel that it may be time to fill the ream of prescriptions that my doctor has written for me; when I begin to question if life is still worth living—I’ll just listen to a pharmaceutical ad on the radio. I imagine the picture painted in my mind as I listen to Speed-Talker will convince me that I don't feel so bad after all.

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