Medical Matters – Hospitals… Meds… Oh My!

With all of the hospitals consolidating and competing for patients these days, as well as drug firms trying to sell this or that new remedy for a condition we might not even know we had or have, there are a lot of health-related ads out there asking for our attention. Some are in print, some on TV or radio and others on billboards. I think one thing they have done for sure is make each and every one I know a bit of a hypochondriac.

A shrink I used to see told me years ago all of this was merely making us all “a bit more health aware” and that might also be the case, but more and more of us seem to be running to the doctor, the ER or the doc in a box at the local drugstore or shopping center seeking answers to what ails us, even if we do not need to be there. That begs this month’s question of when’s an appropriate time to get help and what do we worry about and what do we not worry about.

Back in the day, before we had costly “miracle cures” for everything, remedies which have fallen out of favor usually did the trick.

For-Their-Protection-MercurochromeFor cuts, scratches and stings there was iodine, mercurochrome and merthiolate to name three which every mom had in her possession at all times — or so it seemed. Mercurochrome fell from grace when the Federal Food & Drug folks said it could be harmful in 1998 due to its containing mercury and while it’s still to be found here and there, especially in other countries where it’s still legal, most druggists around here will look at you cross-eyed if you dare ask for it — especially those under 35!

Iodine can be bought still, but we don’t know of many who use it and Merthiolate was the name Indianapolis-based drug-maker Eli Lilly gave to thimerosal — a remedy which one can still find at many drugstores, but which few use. Any of the above or Bactine (also still available and which bills itself as “the original first aid liquid which has provided soothing infection protection for over 50 years”) and a Band Aid seemed to be the cure for most skin ailments.

When we had stomach aches mom reached for Paregoric, which until 1970 could be bought without prescription at any pharmacy. As the remedy is really camphorated tincture of opium, the feds stepped in making it a controlled substance and tightening its uses and supply as the years passed. These days it can still be had as a prescription, though not too many drug stores even sell it and for awhile no one was making it, either.

There was also a long-forgotten remedy called Resion which looked like caramel and tasted like caramel ice cream sauce mixed with ground glass. In other words, it tasted OK, but was “crunchy” and I never did figure out what was in it. I only knew it worked and eventually it vanished from the shelves, too. If you had diarrhoea, Peregoric, Resion or Pepto Bismol were always the first lines of defense.

Also in the days before Nexium and Prilosec and their ilk, gas and what was called sour stomach always called for either Alka-Seltzer or its early-day competitor, Fizrin. The latter was more or less the same thing, but instead of the tablets (Recall Speedy and the plop-plop, fizz, fizz ads for Alka-Seltzer back in the day?) Fizrin came already ground to a fine powder in small packets one would put in a glass, fill with water and drink while trying not to let the concoction run over. Both resulted in a lot of burping and contained aspirin so they were always first line of defense in my college days for hangovers or too much weekend partying.

It’s also worth mention that back in the day Alka- Seltzer was made in Elkhart, Indiana, by Miles Laboratories and, of course, it won the stomach war and is still made in a variety of flavors and blends, though no longer manufactured in Indiana.

There were all manner of other items in the early-day medicine cabinets — from tonics and poultices to one (still made) my grandma always used called Osmopak which she swore would pull out the poison of a bee or wasp sting so it did not become inflamed. Back then it was a gooey mass in a green glass jar, while today’s version looks way less sinister!

So what about our original question? When do you need to go see the doc or the ER or just deal with something? A psychologist we know suggests a “basket system” to help you decide whether to give in to all of the various ads we seem bombarded by today. Under that, you have four “baskets” or levels and you use those as a test when something happens. If it’s totally minor — a mosquito bite or self-inflicted hangover, then that goes in basket one. You take care of it with nothing or some at-home remedy and move on.
A bit more serious like that bite getting quite red or what you thought was too much drink at the weekend lingering goes in basket two. It needs watching, but not panicking over.

More serious yet — a streak from that red wound or high fever with that diarrhea and it’s basket three and time to call your doctor or make a trip to the doc in a box at the drugstore without delay to get it checked out.

And finally, basket four needs immediate attention. Blood flowing or chest pains like an elephant sitting on your ribs or loss of vision and / or other stroke symptoms and it’s time NOW to go to the ER or call 911 without delay.

Have we tried this? Yes and the method does work fairly well, though we will admit after years of worrying, fretting and over-reacting to those billboards (“I told them to take me to fizrinSt. Francis!” is the most memorable one to us, featuring a lady who’d survived a heart attack, but there are others with clocks cautioning about delay in strokes, listing urgent symptoms and on and on.) we sometimes throw things in a basket too far and need reminding by either our partners or our doctor that not every ache and pain is an emergency and many can (and should) be treated at home with a $5 remedy from the drugstore which requires no medical insurance, deductible or wait for treatment which really sick people need.

The key, several medical professionals told us recently, is “read your body and know when and what it’s telling you.” Or to put it another way: think about those baskets and put what ails you in the right one without giving in to paranoia and those advertisements — even the ones with cute characters saying plop, plop fizz, fizz.

As for me, bringing back Resion and Mercurochrome would also help, though I don’t think that’s going to be happening anytime soon.


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