“Full Pharma Ahead!” by Herbert H. Hoffman

Oct 12th, 2016 | By | Category: Nonfiction, Prose

He could not remember that he ever had been well, completely well. But he had faith. Always ready to try something new, he reached for the bottle of “Dopymilstonal, 85MG, Take one or two tablets a day as needed, with or without food”. Those labels are so helpful, so encouraging. One feels better right away because one has hope again. Till next day when the side effects kick in. For some inscrutable reason he tended to be one of those “in rare cases” patients. Sure enough, next morning he felt dizzy and passed a bucket full of pink urine, just as it said in the accompanying little brochure printed on very thin paper in a microscopically small type size. Well, what else is new, he thought, and went to get himself a snack. At night he took another tablet because he felt that it was needed.

He did not sleep very well. He actually never slept very well, come to think of it. When he awoke he had a sore throat and was itching all over. He crawled out of bed and passed black stool. Not much, but black just the same. But at least no more pink urine, and he was no longer dizzy, either. He now had a splitting headache, instead. Aspirin was out because it “may have adverse interactions” as the label on the bottle announced. Translated into English this means that it will probably make you even sicker. No point in taking Tylenol. It may leave you with muscle pain, nausea, dizziness and /or sexual dysfunction. And it would certainly be a mistake to take some Aleve because it is said to sometimes cause a headache rather that cure the one you have. According to the fine print you could also expect to be left with any of these symptoms: belching, bruising, labored breathing, cough, confusion, and canker sores, as well as blue lips, blindness, indigestion, itching skin, purple patches, chest pain, shortness of breath, wheezing, bleeding gums, night blindness, weight loss, tiredness, bloating, racing heart beat and, big surprise, anxiety!

So he took nothing and went back to bed, planning to get help later. But whom do you see when you have a headache? Since he was more worried about the black stool than the headache he made an appointment with his gastro-intestinal specialist. The result of this visit was a bottle of Rumblechurnobyl “20MG, one a day ad inf.” The instructions warned against “Co-use with Ketonazole, Claristhroupazin, and Erythroyourcin”, to which, by the grace of God, he had not yet been exposed. The first dose gave him stomach cramps within hours. By the following morning he had yellow eyes and felt like he might pass out after breakfast. Just as the “Side Effects” list promised. Reading on, he was now waiting for his legs to begin tingling, his skin to rash, his gums to bleed, and, Heaven forbid, the urine to turn pink again.

Instead he became aware of an intense pain in his left upper arm, a pain like rheumatism, not a sharp pain but sort of pulling, and constant: it did not matter in what position the arm rested, the pain remained. Neopreohomocraticin, they said, would help alleviate this pain. And it did. For three days he felt so much better. On the fourth day, however, the pain was back, and this time in the right arm as well. The potential side effects of Neopreohomocraticin, the accompanying brochure said, include anything from muscle pain and itching to constipation, diarrhea, or both at the same time, also drowsiness, bleeding gums, bloating, excessive thirst, hallucinations, and sudden death. Also included were warnings not to take this medicine if you have had whooping cough, influenza, hepatitis A, B, C or D, appendicitis, hip replacement(s), persistent running nose, plantar warts, and flatulence. All these effects were of the negative kind. There was no comparable list of positive effects. There was no promise that the pill would help you, only that it might hurt you.

It dawned on him then that apparently the same all-inclusive list of potential side effects was routinely inserted in every one of those hard to open little bottles you got at the pharmacy, regardless of what pills you bought. The best approach may be to just read the list of side effects before you take anything. Just read the list, period. That does not help you, but it also does not hurt you. If anything, it will scare you and make you afraid to even take the pills. Which may be a good thing, considering all the bad stuff that could happen if you do take them.

Oscar Wilde once described the sport of fox hunting as “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.” Drug therapy, we could say, often looks to the patient as “the ineffective in pursuit of the incurable.” Like fox hunting, it is also expensive. On the positive side, however, the pills you take can’t hurt the foxes.


Defenestration-Dapper GentlemanHerbert H. Hoffman is a retired librarian who is often mistaken for a boring person because he is dead serious about everything, including life, politics, and other forms of humor. In reality he is charming, vivacious, and hard of hearing; a man with many interests, at home in several languages, and a disciplined writer nourished, at age 88, by a wellspring of memories and observations on two continents. In the Library of Congress catalog he is listed under Hoffman. Herbert H., 1928- . Notice how important hyphens become as one ages.

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