May 31, 2012

My lifetime engagement with the pharmaceutical industry has been minimal. This, I know and regret, is un-American. Every red-blooded native-born citizen of this republic is an amateur pharmacologist. He can tell you the names and proper dosages of drugs, as well as their indications and side effects. I have tried to Americanize myself in this respect, browsing the Physician’s Desk Reference in libraries, but all that came out of it was a spoof column once.

Until my lymphocytes got out of line, my entire self-medication regimen was a couple of Tylenol when I had a headache. An American-born friend even scoffed at me for that. “€œIt’s an antipyretic,”€ she explained patiently, as to a dim-witted child. “€œFor pain relief you want ibuprofen.”€ I had to look up “€œantipyretic,”€ though I waited until she’d left.

Then the Big C came calling, chemotherapy commenced, and suddenly I was in pharmaceutical hell. Allopurinol; ciprofloxacin; methylprednisolone; prochlorperazine; ondansetron…whatever they are, it wasn’t enough. My appetite was shot and food tasted awful. On a visit to the oncologist two months into the chemo I learned that I had lost twenty pounds, dropping from 195 to 175.

The doctor frowned and shook his head. If I went on slimming at that rate, he said, he’d have to recalibrate the entire treatment. Typical medical professional: Me being able to feel my backbone through my belly button was OK, but him having to rework his sacred schedules would be a cosmic disaster.

(My son was born on a July 3rd after being induced. The actual due date was July 4th, which would have pleased me to no end, but as a medical friend explained to me later: “€œOB/GYNs don’t like working on public holidays any more than you do.”€)

“€œI’ll give you a prescription,”€ said the doctor. “€œAppetite enhancer.”€

“€œI am no longer the helpless tool of fleshly appetites.”€

I took the prescription to my pharmacist and gave it to a beautiful young woman. Half an hour later I called in to collect it from a different, but equally beautiful, young woman: Let us call her BYW2. She handed me a small bottle of liquid.

(Brief pause here for a general-interest question. What is it about pharmacology that attracts so many hot babes? There is more female pulchritude behind the average pharmacist’s counter than you get in an Olympic beach volleyball team. Has the whole industry been quietly absorbed by the Hooters chain, or what? OK, back to main narrative.)

BYW2: That’ll be $60, please.

Derb: Say what? But I have insurance!

BYW2: Yes, it’s $60 even after the insurance.

Derb: Good grief! What would it be without the insurance?

BYW2 (consults computer): $780.

Sell utilities! Buy pharmaceuticals!

You get what you pay for, though. That stuff is a miracle drug. Within a couple of days I was eating like a pig. I could have eaten an actual pig, properly roasted. I was eating the leftovers on family members’ plates. I was eating free snack samples in the mall, then circling around for seconds. I was scavenging forgotten week-old potato salad, the bloom of mold already visible on it. I was popping boiled eggs like jelly beans. I was chomping through bags of potato chips, normally of no interest to me. “€œYou can’t eat just one”€ used to be the slogan. I was having trouble holding the line at one bag. Toby’s Purina Beneful was starting to look good. (Not the wet food, though. I was not that far gone.)


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