This week The New York Times ran a disturbing article about hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and menopause, talking about how, for decades, women were pitched a message of decreased symptoms, disease protection, and a perennial youthful glow. The salesmen? Pharmaceutical companies and the medical profession. Their tools? Exceedingly effective advertising campaigns. The result? Countless women now battling cancer and other life-altering health issues.
We have become a society that is too often educated by advertising. And many believe the ads we see on TV, or read in magazines, to be true. Someone out there is doing a remarkable job convincing us we can be thinner, happier, more sexually active, calmer, younger, if we take the right pill. We can minimize our symptoms, ignore our bodies, leap frog over traditional therapies and healthful lifestyle changes by filling a prescription. I'll never forget a commercial, aired during children's programming, with two moms, their kids in the backseat, discussing fast food at a drive thru window. One ordered everything under the sun: burger, large fries, milk shake. The other shook her head, explaining her body couldn't tolerate fast food. But, the first woman assured her, with the right medication she too could eat whatever she wanted. Next scene? Same drive thru, with the same artery-clogging fat-laden meal ordered by both. Just pop a pill ladies, and eat whatever the hell you want.
We are becoming, or perhaps we now are, a society of quick fixes. Of convenience. Of taking the easy way out. Inconvenienced by periods? Sign up for Lybrel. Can't get it up anymore? Take Viagra. High blood pressure? Reflux? Depression? Restless-leg syndrome? There are pills for those too.
There are people out there who benefit greatly from prescription drugs. Some who couldn't live without them and in no way would I ever presume to say they shouldn't be available for those truly in need. But perhaps, they shouldn't be the go-to option. Exploring underlying causes would be a good place to start, especially in the midst of the health care crisis gripping this country. I told my doctor recently I'd been having severe cramps, each first day of my period. She blithely suggested going on birth control pills for a few months to "give my body a break." Would that address the symptom? Yes. But the cause? Of course not. Personally, I want to know why I'm having a rough time, to figure out how I can adjust, change, to help my body better cope. Throwing chemicals into my bloodstream for short-term relief, not knowing if comprehensive research has been done with regard to long-term ramifications and potential contraindications makes me uncomfortable. Hey, I like quick fixes too. When the fix is reputable, and doesn't come with possible disaster ahead.
But, perhaps we live in a time that's so stressful, so overwhelming, where planes have flown into buildings, poison's been sent through the mail, countless businesses are folding and jobs have been lost, suicide bombers and tsunamis are expected and inevitable, that we've internalized the fear, the anxiety, and the potential pain. Perhaps medicalization is the new happy hour. Short-term solutions to immediate pain and suffering. But, scarily, with potentially terrifying side effects that are far more serious than a morning-after hangover.