Our love for Medication until we get sick.

An apple a day keeps the doctor away.

The latest health concerns are the over-reliance on antibiotic usage in the elderly at nursing homes. Nowhere is the super-bug more at ease than at those places where the elderly come to live out their last few years. Alarm bells are ringing and experts are pointing to gross negligence in prescribing drugs willy-nilly to the elderly as a matter of course.

What is it that we seem to be so reliant on medication? One answer might well be the over reliance on fat profits by the big pharmaceuticals. I have yet to hear protests by them about the extraordinary indulgence by so many on getting pill prescriptions. It seems to have worked like that for decades.  My mum was one of the first to become alerted to the doctor giving her pills to overcome a cold or a bit of pain or feeling a bit ‘down’. I want to get better but without pills, she bravely told the quack.

In Holland the medication was often as a last resort, not always as a first line of action. The doctors were more often inclined to take a wait and see approach, allowing nature to do its healing first.

On her arrival to Australia, it became clear that things were done differently.

There were slot machines everywhere freely dispensing heavy pain-killers by the drop of a coin. The slot machines were in factories, offices and other workplaces. Advertisements on TV were rife singing the praise of a BEX or VINCENT APC. Children skipping on their way to schools were humming the little headache powders ditties, heard on the radio or TV.


When I asked some factory workers,” why are you taking those APC powders all day?”  The answer was, “oh, you know, it picks me up and makes me feel better”. “Are you sick then, I asked?”  Many felt they could not start the day without downing a couple of powders.

Australia was becoming a nation addicted to taking headache powders.  This habit continued throughout the day, year in year out. It wasn’t till renal failures started to turn up at hospitals, before any action was taken. By then tens of thousands, mainly women, were heavily dependent on the aspirin- phenacetin-caffine laced headache powder. The shopping trolley wasn’t complete without a couple of cartons of Bex (slabs maybe). Amazing, at the Easter Shows there featured near the exits  ‘Vincent APC and Bex powder Bars where mum and her show bag laden pram and kids in tow could get a couple of free powders and recuperate before catching the bus back to Erskineville or train to Granville.


It might be a long draw to compare the carelessness of a previous society hooked to those killer headache powders, to the phenomenal intake of antibiotics and painkillers at present, but there are the same voices raising concerns now about overprescribing drugs as there were in the sixties about the headache powders.

I suppose my mum was on the right track for questioning the doctor about the absolute necessity of taking drugs before allowing the discomfort or illness to be tackled by our immune system first. The first line of defense ought to always be to thoroughly diagnose the reasons for a visiting patient and prescribe drugs when necessary. Her reluctance to take pills as a first and only option paid off. She lived, despite numerous operations, to 94 years of age.

I hear about the dangers of being admitted to a hospital. The super-bugs are lurking behind every bed, behind every curtain, ready to pounce and strike the hapless patient expecting recovery. Antibiotics are getting stronger and more potent, so are the super bugs.

It seems amazing, due to concerns about the doctor shopping habits of painkiller addicts , that in the year 2011 there now finally appears consensus for patient file sharing between patients, doctors and hospitals. Could this not have been implemented many years ago? It seems so logical. Why wasn’t this seen as an absolute necessity much earlier?

I am not sure if the sharing of Electronic Medical Records is based on the approval of patients or that privacy concerns are still preventing total and open scrutiny by doctors. Surely, when a patient is sitting in the surgery, doctors should have all past records available at the push of a button. The EMR is a tool for better health. Of course the usual ‘privacy concern’ detectives are raising their heads. I wonder if many lives can be saved by almost instant access to a patient’s medical past, those concerns about ‘privacy’ should be made superfluous. It’s not as if patients intimate sexual histories or preferences are heralded around the public park or The Cricketers Arms. It’s dealt with within the confines of the doctor’s surgery. It is kept private between doctor and patient.

We mustn’t get too silly with ‘privacy’ .Preventable death is very private, isn’t it?

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2 Responses to “Our love for Medication until we get sick.”

  1. herman Says:

    What a prolific writer you have become Gerard. Good on you, well written as usual. Mum also used homopathic medication, a lot of people in the Netherlands apparently follow that root.


  2. gerard oosterman Says:

    Glad you liked the piece Herman. The problem with health is that cures have to provide profits. Sometimes the profits stand in the way of moderation in the way we are prescribed medication.


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