This Dave Barry column was originally published June 21, 1998
Recently I was lying on the sofa and watching my favorite TV show, which is called, "Whatever Is on TV When I'm Lying on the Sofa." I was in a good mood until the commercial came on. It showed an old man (and when I say "old man, " I mean "a man who is maybe eight years older than I am") helping his grandson learn to ride a bicycle.
I was watching this, wondering what product was being advertised (Bicycles? Dietary fiber? Lucent?) and the announcer said: "Aren't there enough reasons in your life to talk to your doctor about Zocor?"
The announcer did not say what "Zocor" is. It sounds like the evil ruler of the Planet Wombax. I figure it's a medical drug, although I have no idea what it does. And so, instead of enjoying my favorite TV show, I was lying there wondering if I should be talking to my doctor about Zocor. My doctor is named Curt, and the only time I go to his office is when I am experiencing a clear-cut medical symptom, such as an arrow sticking out of my head. So mainly I see Curt when I happen to sit near him at a sporting event, and he's voicing medical opinions such as, "HE STINKS!" and "CAN YOU BELIEVE HOW BAD THIS GUY STINKS??" This would not be a good time to ask him what he thinks about Zocor ("IT STINKS!").
Television has become infested with commercials for drugs that we're supposed to ask our doctors about. Usually the announcer says something scary like, "If you're one of the 337 million people who suffer from parabolical distabulation of the frenulum, ask your doctor about Varvacron. Do it now. Don't wait until you develop boils the size of fondue pots."
At that point, you're thinking, "Gosh, I better get some Varvacron!"
Then the announcer tells you the side effects.
"In some patients, " he says, "Varvacron causes stomach discomfort and the growth of an extra hand coming out of the forehead. Also, one patient turned into a lemur. Do not use Varvacron if you are now taking, or have recently shaken hands with anybody who is taking, Fladamol, Lavadil, Fromagil, Havadam, Lexavon, Clamadam, Gungadin or breath mints. Discontinue use if your eyeballs suddenly get way smaller. Pregnant women should not even be watching this commercial."
So basically, the message of these drug commercials is:
1. You need this drug.
2. This drug might kill you.
I realize that the drug companies, by running these commercials, are trying to make me an informed medical consumer. But I don't WANT to be an informed medical consumer. I liked it better when my only medical responsibility was to stick out my tongue. That was the health-care system I grew up under, which was called "The Dr. Mortimer Cohn Health Care System, " named for my family doctor when I was growing up in Armonk, N.Y.
Under this system, if you got sick, your mom took you to see Dr. Cohn, and he looked at your throat, then he wrote out a prescription in a Secret Medical Code that neither you nor the CIA could understand. The only person who could understand it was Mr. DiGiacinto, who ran the Armonk Pharmacy, where you went to get some mystery pills and a half-gallon of Borden's chocolate ice cream, which was a critical element of this health-care system. I would never have dreamed of talking to Dr. Cohn about Zocor or any other topic, because the longer you stayed in his office, the greater the danger that he might suddenly decide to give you a "booster shot."
We did have TV commercials for medical products back then, but these were non-scary, straightforward commercials that the layperson could understand. For example, there was one for a headache remedy - I think it was Anacin - that showed the interior of an actual cartoon of a human head, so you could see the three medical causes of headaches: a hammer, a spring and a lightning bolt. There was a commercial for Gleem toothpaste with Gardol, which had strong medical benefits, as proven by the fact that when a baseball player threw a ball at the announcer's head, it (the ball) bounced off an Invisible Protective Shield. There was a commercial for a product called "Serutan." I was never sure what it did, but it was definitely effective, because the announcer came right out and stated - bear in mind that the Food and Drug Administration has never disputed this claim - that "Serutan" is "natures" spelled backward.
You, the medical consumer, were not required to ask your doctor about any of these products. You just looked at the commercial and said, "A hammer! No wonder my head aches!" And none of these products had side effects, except Gleem, which, in addition to deflecting baseballs, attracted the opposite sex.
I miss those days, when we weren't constantly being nagged to talk to our doctors, and we also didn't have a clue how many grams of fat were in our Borden's chocolate ice cream. Life was simpler then, as opposed to now, when watching TV sometimes makes me so nervous that I have to consume a certain medical product. I know it's effective, because it's "reeb" spelled backward.
© Dave Barry
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