Dave Barry

Good for what ails you


This Dave Barry column was originally published June 21,1998

Recently I was lying on the sofa and watching my favorite TVshow, which is called, "Whatever Is on TV When I'm Lying on theSofa." I was in a good mood until the commercial came on. It showedan old man (and when I say "old man, " I mean "a man who is maybeeight years older than I am") helping his grandson learn to ride abicycle.

I was watching this, wondering what product was being advertised(Bicycles? Dietary fiber? Lucent?) and the announcer said: "Aren'tthere enough reasons in your life to talk to your doctor aboutZocor?"

The announcer did not say what "Zocor" is. It sounds like theevil ruler of the Planet Wombax. I figure it's a medical drug,although I have no idea what it does. And so, instead of enjoyingmy favorite TV show, I was lying there wondering if I should betalking to my doctor about Zocor. My doctor is named Curt, and theonly time I go to his office is when I am experiencing a clear-cutmedical symptom, such as an arrow sticking out of my head. Somainly I see Curt when I happen to sit near him at a sportingevent, and he's voicing medical opinions such as, "HE STINKS!" and"CAN YOU BELIEVE HOW BAD THIS GUY STINKS??" This would not be agood time to ask him what he thinks about Zocor ("IT STINKS!").

Television has become infested with commercials for drugs thatwe're supposed to ask our doctors about. Usually the announcer sayssomething scary like, "If you're one of the 337 million people whosuffer from parabolical distabulation of the frenulum, ask yourdoctor about Varvacron. Do it now. Don't wait until you developboils the size of fondue pots."

At that point, you're thinking, "Gosh, I better get someVarvacron!"

Then the announcer tells you the side effects.

"In some patients, " he says, "Varvacron causes stomachdiscomfort and the growth of an extra hand coming out of theforehead. Also, one patient turned into a lemur. Do not useVarvacron if you are now taking, or have recently shaken hands withanybody who is taking, Fladamol, Lavadil, Fromagil, Havadam,Lexavon, Clamadam, Gungadin or breath mints. Discontinue use ifyour eyeballs suddenly get way smaller. Pregnant women should noteven 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'tWANT to be an informed medical consumer. I liked it better when myonly medical responsibility was to stick out my tongue. That wasthe health-care system I grew up under, which was called "The Dr.Mortimer Cohn Health Care System, " named for my family doctor whenI 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 aprescription in a Secret Medical Code that neither you nor the CIAcould understand. The only person who could understand it was Mr.DiGiacinto, who ran the Armonk Pharmacy, where you went to get somemystery pills and a half-gallon of Borden's chocolate ice cream,which was a critical element of this health-care system. I wouldnever have dreamed of talking to Dr. Cohn about Zocor or any othertopic, because the longer you stayed in his office, the greater thedanger that he might suddenly decide to give you a "boostershot."

We did have TV commercials for medical products back then, butthese were non-scary, straightforward commercials that thelayperson could understand. For example, there was one for aheadache remedy - I think it was Anacin - that showed the interiorof an actual cartoon of a human head, so you could see the threemedical causes of headaches: a hammer, a spring and a lightningbolt. There was a commercial for Gleem toothpaste with Gardol,which had strong medical benefits, as proven by the fact that whena baseball player threw a ball at the announcer's head, it (theball) bounced off an Invisible Protective Shield. There was acommercial for a product called "Serutan." I was never sure what itdid, but it was definitely effective, because the announcer cameright out and stated - bear in mind that the Food and DrugAdministration has never disputed this claim - that "Serutan" is"natures" spelled backward.

You, the medical consumer, were not required to ask your doctorabout any of these products. You just looked at the commercial andsaid, "A hammer! No wonder my head aches!" And none of theseproducts had side effects, except Gleem, which, in addition todeflecting baseballs, attracted the opposite sex.

I miss those days, when we weren't constantly being nagged totalk to our doctors, and we also didn't have a clue how many gramsof fat were in our Borden's chocolate ice cream. Life was simplerthen, as opposed to now, when watching TV sometimes makes me sonervous that I have to consume a certain medical product. I knowit's effective, because it's "reeb" spelled backward.

© Dave Barry

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