- Health Care, Drugs & Insurance
Does Medicine Actually Make Us Sick?
Pills, Pills, and More Pills
Daily--several times daily--we are bombarded by assorted advertisments for drugs to treat every condition from dandruff to heart disease. Why is this information put before us? Most of us are not doctors, we don't have the training and understanding of how these chemical agents work in our systems: we are simply not qualified to make judgements of what to take, or go ask our doctors to prescribe.
When you listen to the side effects they rattle off in such a nonchalant voice, you'd be justified in thinking, "Never mind--I'll just keep the original problem!" These possible effects run the gamut from the embarrassing, such as bladder control issues, to the very calmly stated, "...or death," spoken as if it's merely an inconvenience.
Interestingly, only two countries worldwide even allow television advertising for prescription drugs: the U.S.A. and New Zeland. Here in the states, it was not always permitted. When I was growing up, we were not presented with these sorts of ads in both print and broadcast media. It wasn't allowed.
Even more dangerous than any single drug is the possible ill effects from mixing various types together. Even though your doctor is trained in the proper doses and safe combinations of various drugs, he or she is only human, not a computer.
There are many thousands of drugs available in today's pharmacopoeia. It would be the extraordinarily unusual and gifted person who could recall any and all of that information at any given moment.
What am I saying? That your doctor is fallible and can make errors? You bet!
Even though we may not, ourselves be doctors, we are the only ones living inside our bodies, and able to recognize when something has changed or does not feel right.
If you have been prescribed multiple drugs, do not hesitate to tell your doctor immediately if you suddenly feel worse. This also holds true even if you have been prescribed only a single drug.
If you give drugs to a healthy person, they will become ill, so why do we give drugs to sick people?"— Sign Seen In a Chiroprator's Office
Then vs. Now
Back in the days of our grandparents or great-grandparents, medicine was not as sophisticated as it has become today. The doctors were all general practitioners; there were no specialists. Whether you needed major surgery or an ingrown toenail fixed, it was all the same doctor.
People developed personal relationships with their doctors; they knew the family. Often, the next generation was cared for by the same doctor. The patients' and doctors' kids probably went to school together.
The doctor's child perhaps grew up to be the next generation's doctor in the town. It was a very close-knit society, in which everyone looked out for everyone else. Insurance was unheard of--if you couldn't afford to pay the doctor, he'd let you pay over time, or not charge at all. Or maybe accept a laying hen or an apple pie as payment. Things were simpler.
Simpler is ≠ to Safer
That said, things were not necessarily safer. People died of conditions that can now be treated. Diagnoses requiring x-rays were impossible, as that technology had not been invented.
Prescriptions for remedies were often very unsafe, including such things laudanum--which is a form of opium, and even small doses of arsenic! People got very seriously addicted to these pain killers, or were sometimes killed by them.
Diagnoses were largely guesswork, and were often wrong. There was a strong public feeling that if you were sent to the hospital, it was a death sentence. "You go to the hospital to die," was the popular opinion. (A belief I find very strange--since we are not immortal, we'll all die, regardless of hospital admission or not; plenty of people died at home as well.)
What has not changed much, is that there is still a lot of guesswork in the medical field. (Is this why we call what doctors do, 'practicing medicine?')
That is why we are responsible for our own health, and for demanding full explanations of all drugs and their effects from our doctors.
It is up to us to weigh the relative advantages and we are free to tell the doctor, "No, I don't like those risks; is there a different medication available?" We can ask for a second opinion. We can change doctors if we don't "click" with the "bedside manner" of the first one. We have the right to expect our doctor to listen to us, and respect our assessment of how we are feeling.
Patient's bodies have not read the medical textbooks; their symptoms may not match the textbook descriptions for a given illness."— Alex Lickerman, MD, quoting in his article, a medical school professor he once had.
Information At Our Fingertips
With the advent of the Internet, much has changed as far as patients being 'in the dark,' and forced to take their doctor's word without question, like an obedient child.
No longer are doctors the percieved infallible authority figure they were in the past. Each of us has virtually unlimited access to information on each and every drug a doctor might prescribe.
Additionally, despite the so-called "paper reduction act," mountains of paper are still generated, and you are usually given a 2 or 3 page informational handout on each drug your doctor prescribes.
Read it! Read it all the way through! It will tell you about many of the known possible side effects, and, it may even state that the list is incomplete!
If that is the case, hasten to your computer and look it up online.
Drugs and Foods
As if all this were not bad enough, there are entire classes of drugs that caution you not to take them with certain foods. This list of food/drug incompatibility can include (but is not limited to):
- grapefruit or its juice
- cranberry juice
- milk or other dairy products
- dark green leafy vegetables
Still Much Danger
There are still some extremely dangerous drugs out there, and it dismays me that safer alternatives have not been found. One of these is known as Coumadin. It is prescribed for people with heart problems, to prevent clots from forming, and belongs to the class of drugs collectively known as 'blood thinners.'
You may know someone taking this drug. You may also know it by its original use: rat poison. That's right.
The generic name of Coumadin is Warfarin!
You'll see "Warfarin" on boxes of rat poison, giving the antidote for accidental ingestion as, "blood transfusion and Vitamin K infusion." That's because the way it kills rats is to thin the blood to such an extent that it is able to pass through the walls of the blood vessels, causing the rodents to hemmorhage internally, leading to death.
Vitamin K is an antidote to the Warfarin because it acts to "thicken" the blood, or encourage coagulation.
For this reason, people on this therapy are denied many healthy foods that are high in this vitamin. It's a long list, but it contains most of the dark green leafy vegetables that we are encouraged to eat for good health. How ironic is that?
Coumadin = Rat Poison
More often than we'd like to belive, people are harmed by being prescribed a drug they do not need, for a condition they do not have. This is scary stuff, but it does happen.
Doctors today don't have the time to spend with each patient as did the old country doctor who made house calls. Rather, they are continually distracted by telephone conferences with other doctors, filling out government-mandated paperwork, and, espeically in larger metropolitan areas, pressured to see the maximum number of patients that can be crammed into the day's schedule. This often means fifteen minutes or fewer per patient. Not exactly the right brew for a full and proper diagnostic workup.
Don't Be Afraid to Ask Your Doctor Questions
The solution is to speak up. Advocate for yourself. Ask the doctor to slow down and explain further, if you are feeling rushed.
Ask questions about the medication(s). Find out if there are alternatives if the potential side effects seem too dire.
In short, you live inside your body; the doctor does not. You have the right, now guaranteed by law, to receive appropriate and helpful treatment.
Works Cited Fischer, Mary A. “Medical Misdiagnoses Of Health Symptoms By Doctors.” AARP, AARP, www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-06-2011/what-to-do-when-your-doctor-doesnt-know.html.
Kam, Katherine. “Rx Drug Abuse: Common and Dangerous.” WebMD, WebMD, 2005, www.webmd.com/mental-health/addiction/features/rx-drug-abuse-common-dangerous.
Lickerman,, Alex. “What Doctors Do When They Don't Know the Answer.” MedPage Today's Kevin MD, Everyday Health, Inc., 22 Feb. 2010, www.kevinmd.com/blog/2010/02/doctors-answer.html.
Lickerman, Alex. “When Doctors Can't Figure Out What's Wrong With a Patient.” Med Page Today's Kevin MD, 13 Mar. 2018, www.kevinmd.com/blog/2010/02/doctors-figure-wrong-patient.html.
Miller, Emily. “Drugs, Vaccines, & Biologics.” DrugWatch, Drugwatch.com, 17 Oct. 2017, www.drugwatch.com/drugs-vaccines-biologics/.
© 2012 Liz Elias