Ask Your Doctor If This Article Is Right For You

Ask Your Doctor If This Article Is Right For You

Whew! We Got Through It! 

Oh, not the midterms. Not the survival of Democracy, although good news there too.

 No, I’m welcoming the end of the political “advertising” that filled the airwaves from August until Election Day. The ads themselves deserve the calm scrutiny I bring to every cultural phenomenon, but the celebration of their departure is inspired by the return of the extremely important and helpful ads describing the side effects of medications I might be inclined to try, on a whim perhaps.

Serious television viewers who still watch broadcasts sponsored by a peddlers of goods and services, are aware of “The Crawl”, words that race across the bottom of the screen in tiny letters as the ad itself plays at full volume on most of the screen. I assume that legal teams somewhere have determined that while full disclosure of the side effects of medication is required by law, nobody said it has to be on the main stage. 

But who can we trust, really, in this age of competing realities? Airline pilots, the guy holding the harness when we bungee jump, game show hosts? What about doctors, you ask?  Uh, I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on television, but I do remember the solemnity with which actual physicians pimped spoke for the tobacco industry. I’m also pretty sure doctors stood with the Sacklers as oxycontin made the country dopesick. 

So, let’s put doctors on hold for the moment and get solid with science. Scientists may be goofy at times and dress badly, but there’s no questioning their dedication to science. For them it’s a sacred trust. And … it’s medicine, right? Scientific stuff. Fully researched and tested on rabbits. Scientific Research – What could possibly go wrong?

Well, leaving aside NASA’s failure to convert from the metric system in building spacecraft, let’s get right into the lab.

Imagine a phalanx of scientists sweating over their test tubes, dashing their failures to the ground as the sound of splintering glass fills the air. Finally one leaps to their feet and shouts, “Eureka! I’ve Got It! A Synthetic Fat Molecule, Zero Grams of Fat and Half the Calories of real fat. Synthetic FAT!!! The lab belonged to Proctor and Gamble, and the discovery shouted from the rooftops was Olestra, a substance arriving just as the company hoped to trot out (poor word choice) Fat-Free snacks. The products which arrived – “Fritos Wow!” “Doritos Wow!” and “Ruffles Wow!” – were eagerly gobbled up until experience and experimentation discovered that Olestra, fat free molecule that it was, turned out to be too large to be absorbed by the intestine; it traveled unencumbered directly to the digestion tract. 

Quickly. I mean, really quickly.

As a result, two phrases entered the advertising world for the first time: “Fecal Urgency” and “Anal Leakage”

Urgency of some sorts is not universally to be feared; leakage isn’t good. 

I can hear the question humming:

“Sure, but can I still buy yummy fat free snacks made with Olestra?” 

You can, and if you hunt rigorously enough, you’ll find it under the brand name Olean. 

“Sold only on the dark web and in Turkish prisons though, right?”

Well, Olean has been banned in Europe, but here in the good old US of A, you can pick up Pringles Light Potato Chips, Doritos Light Snack Chips, Tostitos Light Tortilla Chips, and BakeLean cookies which use Olean instead of margarine.

I’m not sure why televised ads for Light Potato Chips don’t have a crawl advising consumers that over-consumption may bring … well, you know … urgency. Those ads belong to the variety of advertisements directed at the consumer. So are the Pharma ads, the ones replaced by an unnamed political party’s pretty much accusing our local probate judge of vampirism. Televised Pharma ads are specifically directed to the consumer rather than to medical professionals. I’m sure you’d like to know more about the drug reps who market directly to physicians, but, you know, time marches on.

Most of the ads are pretty buoyant; those are my favorites. But even the scary ads have moderately reassuring Hallmark moments. We all remember the understated warning presented by Amgen in touting its drug, Repatha, an injectable medicine used in adults with cardiovascular disease. We’re at a wedding party. The father of the bride, still wearing his bow tie but without the formal jacket, walks by a half eaten carcass, sorry, standing rib roast, resists temptation, is in the act of loading his plate with a leafy salad (as if that would help) when his daughter’s arm gently takes his elbow. He begins to dance, all smiles, but Woah! The screen goes red. The arm on his shoulder is an EMT dragging him from the wedding to emergency surgery … or worse. Shots of the daughter are frozen and in black and white, her arm now empty in a maudlin salute to a father … lost to heart attack. Pretty grim, but in an instant sunlight returns as a smiling dad smart enough to use Repatha joins his daughter in what appears to be a combination of the macarena and chicken dance. Embarrassingly awful, but, you know, Dads? What can you do?

Large white print above the dancers claims a 63% reduction in bad cholesterol and reduction of heart attack risk by 27%. The crawl announces, “In a study, patients not treated with Repatha had more heart attacks (4.3%) compared to those treated with Repatha (3.4%).*

I’ll leave it to the statisticians in my reading audience to explain exactly what that means and whether “a study” is a wide enough range of observation to assure validity of Repatha’s claims. Without suggesting that the drug has notable side-effects, a later tiny caution appears. “Get medical help right away if you experience any of these signs- trouble breathing or swallowing, swelling of the face, lips, tongue, throat, or arms.” I’m always concerned with trouble breathing, but swelling of the ARMS?

Enough real world snark. 

Without further ado, here’s my Mega-Olestra ad filled with soft music and shots of jolly grandparents playing with children, husbands surprising wives with flowers, independent women cheerfully striding through the workplace, and so on. Without naming names and incurring the wrath and legal salvos of Big Pharma, a few of the terms appear in the crawl beneath their inviting world of prescriptive medicine.

A well modulated voice intones,“Ask your doctor if Mega-Olestra is right for you”.

Side effects may cause dizziness, nausea, mild discomfort, pain at the injection site, redness or rash, anal leakage, fecal urgency, death, paralysis, testicular explosion, clammy hands, lycanthropy, intestinal ballooning, death, fear of yellow things, dental necrosis, sensitivity to water, blindness, fungal heart infarction, loss of memory, inability to breathe, and loss of skin.

“Mega-Olestra is not for everyone, but may be just what the doctor orders.”

Fade to soft blue as laughing grandfather pets a fluffy dog chewing on his sleeping wife’s knitting bag.

“We can get through anything together, but … Honey, my arm is swelling.”

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