Saturday, October 17, 2009

In Touch with the Season: Scary Reading

In celebration of the impending Halloween season, I decided to read something really scary, so I pulled out my prescription fact sheets. My insurance provider refers to the full page, single-spaced, ten-point font sheet as “Participant Counseling.”

The older I get, the more drugs I have added to my arsenal. My health insurance company strongly encourages annual health screenings. Because of this annual testing, it has been easy for my doctor to following my escalating numbers. I’ll admit that he has been cautious about prescribing the maintenance drugs for my accumulating conditions. The preferred line of action was to lose weight, but it seems like I lose the same five pounds over and over.

One of my prescriptions has side effects of dizziness, headache, nausea, gas, stomach upset/pain, diarrhea and constipation (not at the same time, I hope).Those are the minor side effects. My participant counseling sheet for my cholesterol drug has a large section under “caution” which tells me I might have muscle pain or muscle damage which could lead to kidney damage and “a very serious condition” rhabdocmyolysis. I don’t know what that is, but I betcha I don’t want it.

Another interesting part is when the sheet counsels me to not take the medication if I am allergic to any of the ingredients in the product. I am not a chemist and most of the “ingredients” don’t look like anything I’ve ever knowingly taken.

Lately I’ve noticed that television commercials for prescription drugs show active people playing tennis, bike riding, or participating in other activities that make me tired just to watch. The voice over extols the benefits of a prescription for about the first quarter of the commercial. For the remainder of the commercial, a predictable pattern has emerged. A rapid fire voice describes the side-effects and in a slower, soothing tone finishes up with “ask your physician if (fill in the blank) is right for you.” Did I hear something about “sudden death” in that quick disclaimer? It makes me wonder how important a prescription is if it’s supposed to make you happy, healthy and active, but “oh, by the way” it might cause stroke, cardiac arrest, or liver failure.

One night I was taking my medication and my six-year-old granddaughter asked “What do those pills do, Grandma Linda?”

I looked at the handful of pills and started pointing to each one. “This one is for my cholesterol, this one for high blood pressure, this is a vitamin, this is for my knee pain,” pointing to a half of a Tylenol PM, I said, “and this one is to help me sleep.”

“Oh, and look,” she said, “it is two colors—blue to help you get to sleep fast and white to help you stay asleep.”

Her comment shows which part of the commercial sticks with us the best. After all, I’m sure no drug company would advertise if we weren’t more impressed with the benefits of medication than we are with the downside.

With his dementia, Jim took a lot of medication. Through the trial-and-error to find the best drug regimen for him, I diligently read the side effects of everything he took. He was no longer capable of reading them, and I felt responsible for looking out for his wellbeing. Once I mentioned to the doctor that a new drug Jim was taking had a side effect of confusion. The doctor told me that all medicines have potential side effects. That doesn’t mean that everyone has them. He pointed out that no one would take prescription drugs if we worried too much about side effects.

It’s not just prescriptions that have unexpected side effects and warnings. All over-the-counter medication has them too. That night-time cold formula “so you can rest” medicine cautions you to quit taking it if you suffer from “sleeplessness.” On non-drowsy cold capsules, one of the first side effects mentioned is drowsiness. That certainly won’t help your job performance if you take it to help control your runny nose during the day.

One good thing about it, Halloween will soon be over and we will be moving into the Thanksgiving and Christmas season. There’s nothing scary about those holidays and my reading needs to reflect that. I’ll put away the prescription fact sheets and dig out some inspirational holiday reading instead. I’ll stick with the delightful and forget the frightful.

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