Monday, August 31, 2015

Tell Your Doctor If You Die

Monrovia, California

August 31, 2015

You've got to love the ads for prescription drugs that run on TV.  After telling you about the wonderful things the medication can do for you, the voice-over then spins out a string of caveats, some of which leave the viewer's mouth agape with wonder that the drug is being sold at all, much less that anyone would buy or use it.  Since you need a doctor's prescription to get them, you have to ask your doctor various things, and hope that he or she is going to know the answers.

One of my favorites is the one that goes something like, "Ask your doctor if you've been to a country where certain fungal infections are common." What I always wonder is how anyone is supposed to know this.  I picture a patient sitting on the examining table with the disposable paper on it and saying, "Doctor, have I been to a country where certain fungal infections are common?" and the doctor replying, "How should I know?  The last time I saw you was six months ago when you were here.  You've been somewhere?  Well, so have I.  I went to the Caribbean for a medical conference  and my trip was paid for by Pfizer.  Now let me write you a prescription for Exculpia for that itching.  Be careful, and good luck."  I mean, do doctors, much less their patients, know what countries have "certain fungal infections"?  I doubt it.  My doctor doesn't even know exactly where Michigan is.  Okay, okay.  I understand that part of the problem with the caution in the ad is semantic, or more precisely, grammatical.  What they obviously mean is, "If you've been traveling recently, tell your doctor where you've been, and then the doctor MIGHT know, if it's some God-forsaken third world country, that some sort of horrific galloping crud is know to exist there, in which case our drug may so seriously impair your immune system that you shouldn't risk taking it and being eaten alive by a disease that could be latent in your system and which a normal healthy person would be able to fight off without even knowing they had it."  But that would take too long and would turn people off to the idea of begging their doctor to prescribe the medication even more than the shorter warning would.

Other warnings seem equally sinister.  For example, "Women and young girls shouldn't even HANDLE this medication, much less take it."  There's a problem there, too, wouldn't you say?  Big red flag.  Or, "Do not take this medication if you are now pregnant or might become pregnant."  Or have ever been pregnant, or if your mother was ever pregnant or if you have been to a country where pregnancy is common.

Then there are the ads where one of the side effects of the medication is Death.  Man, that's got to turn anyone off from using the product.  It's one thing to use something like booze, where maybe you could drive drunk and kill yourself or others, but that wouldn't be your intention.  Or to be busy eating a Whopper and fries in your car and veer into a guardrail while you're dealing with the wrapper, or the sauce.  Again, purely unintentional, and not the recommended (although probably a very common) way to consume the products.  But when the advertisement specifically states that one of the consequences of taking the product is that it might kill you, you have to wonder.  We know this to be the case with cigarettes, and the ads do most certainly warn you of their danger.  And no one pretends any more that cigarettes are in any way safe, or healthful, or beneficial, or that you should ask your doctor if it's okay to smoke.  But to have a DEATH warning as part of the advertising campaign for a doctor-prescribed medication that's supposed to help you is another story entirely.

On a less sinister note, my all-time favorite warnings are in connection with erectile dysfunction medication ads.  Let's just call them Viagra ads for short, even though there are at least three such brands commonly touted on TV.  The promise of these products, of course, is that they will give you a hard on, with the implied promise, created by the women in the ads, the blues music that plays in the background, and the walks along the beach at sunset, that they will turn you into a hootchie cootchie man, a porn star, or Casanova himself, and that you will at last be able to service and satisfy those ravishingly beautiful and sexy women who desire you but just can't get enough of you.  Okay fine.  Advertisements for all kinds of products routinely deal in the creation of moods and in feel-good imagery.  Nothing new here.

But then comes the warning: "Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough for sex."  This warning alone is enough to make someone go limp and to make the women in your life run for the exits.  Think about it.  Who wants to have some guy die on top of you while you're both naked?  Suddenly the man toward whom the ads is aimed isn't the good-looking, square-jawed, late-middle-aged stud who plays the parts--the Most Interesting Man In the World--but a wizened old dude with a pacemaker and an oxygen tank sitting in a ratty La-Z-Boy chair smoking Pall Malls and watching football.  A feast for the imagination, whether you're a man or a woman watching the commercials.  And I can again imagine the doctor-patient conversation.  "Doc, is my heart healthy enough for sex?" asks the man.  The physician answers, "Well, Mr. Jones, I think you know the answer to that one.  Right now your heart isn't healthy enough for you to walk across the room, which is why you're in a wheelchair."

On the plus side, however, is the other warning in the Viagra ads, probably the only instance where the possible side effect is designed to sell the drug, rather than to put the purchaser off: "Call your doctor or seek immediate medical help if you have an erection lasting longer than four hours."  Yeah, right.  That's what I'm gonna do if I get a four-hour woodie--call my doctor.  And he's going to say what?  "Mazel tov.  Enjoy yourself and call me in the morning."  Seriously, although I'm sure this could be a painful experience, in the imaginations of most men watching the commercials the idea of getting a marathon boner doesn't seem so much a problem as a blessing from the gods.  Take a number and wait outside the door.  If my heart holds up I'll be with you in a while.

Well, enough of this silliness for now.  Stay thirsty my friends.  But don't drink the water in a country where certain fungal infections are common.  And tell your doctor if you die.

1 comment:

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