Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Snake Oil

Thursday, March 18, 2010, 6:30 A.M. – Debby and I are playing cribbage at the breakfast table. My appointment calendar is open and I’m making a “to do” list for the day. The list includes, “Write the blog about high blood pressure.” Debby notices a yellow post-it stuck in my calendar. Written on it is “3/17/10” and “120/74”.
She says, “Did the school nurse take your blood pressure.”
I say, “Yeah.”
She says, “Those numbers are great!”
I scowl.
She says, “What is that face about?”
I say, “I don’t care if it is working. I still hate it. I fucking hate it.”

Since Wednesday, March 3, 2010, I have popped a petite, pink pill every morning. It looks like a pill an eleven-year-old girl would feed her Barbie to prevent Ken from knocking her up.

I usually bring the plastic pharmacy bottle with the childproof cap to the breakfast table and wash the pill down with a gulp of coffee. Some times I combine taking my medicine with the morning cribbage game. I say, “I’m only taking it if I’m in the lead.” Debby rolls her eyes, otherwise ignoring me. I have adopted this routine after about five years of resisting my doctor’s advice.

(This is Dr. Maguire’s second appearance in this blog. I also wrote about him on January 1, 2010. Probably only in a blog on aging would a physician make such frequent appearances. I certainly hope he stays a minor character. In the movie version I’d like him to be played by Richard Jenkins and not Tom Hanks.)

So, now I am “on” a daily dose of 5 milligrams of Lisinopril. Supposedly, this is going to keep my blood, which courses through my veins with more pressure than is good for me, from bursting through a vessel, pooling in my brain and depriving me of the ability to talk and/or walk. You’d think I’d be grateful, but instead of being full of gratitude, I’m full of resentment.

The only positive reaction I have to going on medication to control my blood pressure is due to Lisinopril being made from the venom of a poisonous pit viper found in Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina. I am literally taking snake oil to lower my risk of a stroke. For me, that carries a certain juju mystique.

The model for western medicine tends to be the sucker punch. Hit the damn disease straight in the face with everything you got. This is in contrast to the taekwondo of more holistic approaches; eat a lot of garlic, drink green tea, meditate and soon the body will heal itself. Personally, if I’m going to take anything, I’ll go with the knockout approach. I once went from feeling the worst I ever felt to feeling the best I ever felt in about a half hour just by downing a fistful of steroids. Nonetheless, I have a strong preference for taking nothing at all.

Let’s get back to the snake, Bothrops jararaca by name. If it bites you, it is not unusual for you to die of internal bleeding or kidney failure. If it doesn’t kill you, typically the site of the bite will bruise, blister, and fester. There will be spontaneous bleeding from your gums and eyes. There is also a belief that the jararaca is a kind of vampire snake. It is said to live not off of blood, but off of breast milk from sleeping women. If you’re lactating below the equator in South America, you can’t be too careful. This is all pretty cool, if you ask me.

I am not accusing my doctor of being a snake oil salesman. First off, it is not the case that the labs at Merck Pharmaceuticals employ snake milkers to extract the venom from withering jararacas. It all happens scientifically, through patented processes, in test tubes and petri dishes, without a viper in sight.

(In the spirit of full disclosure, someone from the Merck family once gave me $100 to support an art project I was working on.)

To compare Dr. Maguire to someone selling elixirs out of the back of a gypsy wagon, would be to imply that he was trying to pull a fast one on me, getting me to do something that he knew to be useless or even detrimental for his own gain. The opposite is the case. Dr. Maguire has counseled me over the years to “embrace the benefits” of an angiotension converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitor because he is a good physician who believes this will keep me alive. I resisted going on medication because…

It has taken me a while to articulate this. For a long time I just didn’t want to do it, because I didn’t want to do it. Now, I don’t want to do it because it is old guy stuff. I took pride in being medication free. Now, I am “on” a medication. Instead of focusing on how fortunate I am that there is such a medication and that I can afford it, I say to myself, “It is a slippery slope. This is the beginning of the end. You are old!”

Yep. I am.

1 comment:

  1. I can completely see Richard Jenkins playing Dr. Maguire, that's perfect! And maybe that new James Bond guy, Daniel Craig, as Dr. Kostrzewa. Who plays you? This blog is how I feel about my reading glasses. Especially because now I ACTUALLY need them to read. I keep trying to memorize stuff out of fear that someone will take over our country and for some reason, I'll be deprived of my reading glasses and I won't be able to read which apparently is more frightening to me than someone taking over our country. Love every word, John!