Saturday, February 21, 2015

Drugs R Us

My wife was sick. Thankfully nothing too major, but what started as an annoying winter cold seemed to be turning worse. Like many, she hated to make an appointment for the following day to go the doctor, only to a) wake up feeling better, and wondering if she should go anyways and waste time and money, or b) wake up feeling the same, but go only to discover that she had a, well, cold. In either case and as with many minor illnesses, rest, fluids, and some pain killers would likely do the trick in a week, whereas if she went to the doctor she could probably improve that to 7 days.

Since neither of us had been sick in quite a while, our medicine cabinets were pretty barren in terms of applicable OTC remedies. We had done a sweep a while back, and thrown out all the expired chewable cold pills, fruit flavored cough syrups and other staples of the well-stock parent apothecary. We were left with the more adult varietals, mainly stuff for treating emerging allergies, occasional irregularity and almost every headache/backache medication there was. If you wanted it in pill, capsule or caplet form in doses that worked from now to 2 to 4 to 6 to 12 hours, odds are we had a bottle.

What we didn't have was symptomatic relief for feeling icky. Our cough syrup was from the Bush years, while any antihistamine was at peak effectiveness back when "Law & Order" was still first run. So she reached out to a few friends, who suggested some stuff that might make her feel better. She called the local pharmacy, and all were in stock. I offered to go, and she handed me a piece of paper that seemed to be the name of a personal injury law firm, but was in fact what she wanted: Mucinex, Airborne and Zican. ("Good Morning! Mucinex, Airborne and Zican, how may I direct your call?")

Now, I am very good at following directions. Give me a your shopping list, and I will come back with one bottle of drain cleaner, half a pound of chicken thighs, both Spanish and Vidalia onions, and a box of muesli, if that's what you want. It may take me an hour walking up and down the supermarket aisles, but I will find the stuff. But this was three items, and they were likely to be next to each other on the shelf. So I figured zip, zip, before you can core a apple, I would be home and she could be well medicated.  

What I didn't count on was sheer number of permutations that exist for those types of products. Take Mucinex, one of the leading brand names for guaifenesin, a generic medication whose forebears have been around since the 16th century. Lined up on the shelf were a baker's dozen of variations, with the basic ingredient augmented by others. One was for cough alone. Another was specific for congestion. One combined the two. In fact, if you go the product's web site, you'll find a decision matrix listing nine conditions: cough, congestion, sinus pressure, stuffy nose, runny nose, sore throat, fever, headache and sneezing. Depending on which symptoms you select, it spits out the formulation that's best for you.

And that's just the drugs, not the delivery method. There were multiple options: pills, hot liquids, cold liquids, inhalers and more. Same went for the other two products, Zican and Airborne. There were variations in strength, formulation and flavor. Doing a quick mental calculation, I figured there were 1,375,283 possible combinations, with perhaps 36,473 optimized to make her feel better.

I pulled out my phone and called my wife, asking which she wanted. She was as clueless as I. I started to read the labels, but my eyes quickly glazed over. So I went eenie, meenie, miney, moe, picked one from each bucket and brought them to the counter. When I got them home, she dug in, then went to living room, turned on the TV, and pulled a blanket up to her neck.  

I'm pleased to report she's on the mend. While not back to 100%, she is far ahead of where she was. And it only took seven days. We'll have to wait till next time to know for sure, but perhaps if I had nailed better she might have been better in a week.


Marc Wollin of Bedford hates taking medications. His column appears regularly in The Record-Review, The Scarsdale Inquirer and online at, as well as via Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter.

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