Bad Medicine

Why in the name of Hippocrates hasn’t medicine for common ailments changed in TWO THOUSAND years?  We’ve landed an interstellar probe on a comet moving at 40,000 mph – It was launched a decade ago, powered itself from the heat of the sun and landed on a moving rock in the middle of space billions of miles from here.  Why can’t we cure Bronchitis or the Flu? Maybe that’s asking too much, but I think we should be able to at least treat them with something more advanced than honey water and opiates.

I will grant you, we have fancier medicine bottles, and less mold than our ancestors but all we’ve got in the 21st century is Honey Water?!  I’m beginning to suspect the long words the nurses and doctors chant are really incantations to an elder god instead of legitimate science, because the words they are say to me are not the words on the papers they hand me or on the bottles I take home.  I think calling medications the ‘generic substitute’ is their way of covering up using the language of the old gods in front of the uninitiated.

After 6 weeks of interactions with the medical community, I find their lack of science disturbing.

This is how the thermometer episode of our fiasco began.  Kris had the flu: fever, chills, the whole bit.  A few days later, I started feeling unwell and took my temperature.  It was a little high, but not strangely so.  3 bottles of NyQuil, 6 boxes of Kleenex, 2 seasons of Arrow and a week later, Kris felt a little better and I was feeling worse.  According to the thermometer, we both still had a fever.  That seemed… odd.  I used our other thermometer and discovered that we both had temperatures so low we were probably dead.  I looked a little zombie like but I’m pretty sure I would have remembered dieing.  I stumbled off to the pharmacy and bought a new thermometer which said we weren’t dead, but our fevers were lower than the first thermometer.  3 thermometers, each different from the other by more than 2 degrees.  After some groggy interneting, and asking every medical professional I encountered in the following 2 weeks, I learned that:

1) There is no way to calibrate a modern digital thermometer (removing and replacing the battery does dick-and-all).

2)The only way to be sure a thermometer is accurate is to buy a mercury thermometer (only sold to scientists and veterinarians now) and compare the result to your digital thermometer.

3) You should never take a persons temperature with a mercury thermometer because it might implode spectacularly on contact with human skin causing instantaneous and horrific death by mercury poisoning.

If you’re wondering how they know that the fancy thermometer in the Dr. office is correct, so am I.  Not a single Dr., Nurse, Tech or Pharmacist could tell me how they know they’re correct.  Digital devices are always right, why would you calibrate anything….

Episode 2: Sudafed is daaaaaaangerous.

I sounded so awful on the phone when I called, that the nurse asked if I wanted them to call in a sudafed prescription for me.  Foolishly, I thought “The pharmacy is closer to my house than Vancouver, so that will take less time and energy.  Yes please, I’ll pick up my sudafed after work today”.   I stumbled into the pharmacy on the Kaiser campus that had the shortest walk from my car to the counter because I’d hit the walking-dead, rattle-when-I-breathe, shake-when-I-cough, starting-to-wonder-if-I-have-pneumonia stage of bronchitis.  When they called my number, the pharmacist told me they couldn’t fill my prescription.  Not because they’re out, mind you.  Because Sudafed is so dangerous, I have to go to the pharmacy that has the physical copy of the prescription my Dr. filled out for me.  Everything is computerized!  I didn’t even know they still had physical prescription pads.  Well they do, but only for the super duper dangerous drugs like Sudafed.  Codeine and Vicodin cough syrup on the other hand you can just pick up whenever from any pharmacy with only your ID.

I drove across the campus to the other pharmacy, waited in line again and presented my ID to another pharmacist.  After another hour, 2 consultations with a pharmacist and exposure to enough germs from other people in the waiting room to cause the spontaneous creation of a virus that could kill cockroaches, I had a bottle of Sudafed.  I really should have just driven through rush hour traffic to Vancouver, it would have taken less time.  I almost had an aneurysm when the pharmacist agreed with me.

Which leaves Fiasco The Third.

After 2 weeks of coughing day and night I was a whiny, sleep deprived 10 year old with a twitch under my eye that acted up every time I thought about being in the pharmacy again.  After a game of medical phone tag that should be a Flying Circus episode, I was given 2 pieces of sage advice from the combined medical community:

First: “Cough more carefully”.  WTF that means, I still have no idea.  I had bronchitis, not surgery.

Second: Drink honey water (as in hot water with honey dissolved in it).   Seriously.  The only other option I was given a choice of 3 cough syrups – all of which are variants on something that China had at least 1000 years ago and used similarly… probably mixed with honey.  I could have taken any one of the three, but all of them would have resulted in an unfortunate weight loss regimen generally disapproved by medical experts and rendered me the unmovable owner of the single bathroom in our house for the duration.  So honey water it was.

There was a third bit, but it wasn’t sage advice, it was just stupid.  I knew perfectly well that antibiotics would not help, and I turned them down because the Dr. admitted it would just be a placebo.  I’m horrified it’s still even offered as a placebo to people it genuinely won’t help.  And really – that’s what we’ve come to?  We can’t help you, so we’re going to give you a placebo?  For something as common as Bronchitis?  As a consolation prize, I was prescribed an inhaler.  Given the previous antibiotic-placebo conversation, I’m highly suspicious of how useful that was.

So in 2000 years, we have honey water, digital devices that medical professionals don’t understand (but use daily) and a medical system terrified of giving people something that will keep their sinuses clear for a few hours.  But we can make a rocket that can land on a moving comet.  Earth is really the comedy channel of the galaxy isn’t it.  Is that a laugh track I hear?

Can anyone see the cameras from where they’re sitting right now?  They have to be here somewhere…

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Vivien NicUldoon

Vivien lives in Portland Oregon with two cats, a smart dog, a happy dog and a brilliant husband.