I'd been having lower back pain due to an injury that escaped my recollection, so because it had progressively worsened I decided to go see my doctor. After prodding and poking (I’m not sure of the difference) and lots of questions, she gave me some sample pills and said, “See if these help.” I was also given a prescription for x-rays.

She told me the pills were non-narcotic and were in the category of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. Since I was in pain, I didn’t much care what “category” they were in. I interpreted ‘non narcotic’ as my not having to worry about becoming addicted to them. Great!

The pills were free samples, courtesy of G. D. Searle, LLC, a division of Pfizer, Inc. As I started to take one I noticed some bold print that said, “…may increase the chance of a heart attack or stroke…” This definitely warranted a closer look, so I decided to read the paperwork that accompanied my free sample. 

Under the bold heading of “Serious side effects include:” were the following…

  • Heart attack
  • Stroke
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart failure from body swelling
  • Kidney problems including kidney failure
  • Bleeding and ulcers in the stomach and intestine
  • Low red blood cells (anemia)
  • Life-threatening skin reactions.
  • Life-threatening allergic reactions
  • Liver problems including liver failure
  • Asthma attacks

Under “Other side effects include:” were these possible things…

  • Stomach pain
  • Constipation
  • Diarrhea
  • Gas
  • Heartburn
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dizziness

The reality of the situation came down to this. I could to look forward to the possibility that I might get some pain relief, but also the possibility of dying or being worse off because of one or more of eleven serious side effects.

Did I really want to risk any of these life-threatening conditions on the chance that I might get some pain reduction? Even the eight lesser side effects were not ones I would care to risk having. And what are life-threatening skin reactions? Does your skin fall off and you bleed to death? My mind was out of control with gross possibilities, and suddenly my pain didn't seem so bad.

If restaurants had to post possible side effects from eating their food, I would imagine their list would certainly include stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, gas, heartburn, nausea, vomiting, and dizziness. Why do drug companies list these things but restaurants do not? Both industries are producing and selling consumable items. I've had most of these less serious symptoms in my life, and they were almost always caused by restaurant food and never by medication. When was the last time you saw any such warnings on food products sold at grocery stores?

I took one of the pills and waited for my heart attack or stroke. My body didn't swell up nor did my skin didn't fall off, so after a few hours I had ceased worrying about it. But my pain didn't go away either. It didn't even moderate. I had risked bodily harm and possible death for nothing. But my doctor did say, "See if these help," so I can't say she didn't try to help me.

A classic, and not entirely humorous, cartoon from the New Yorker magazine shows an attorney talking to his client. The attorney is saying: "“If we’re being honest, it was your decision to follow my advice that cost you money.” In that light we, as patients, have a similar relationship with our doctors. They give us advice. It may or may not be good advice, and we need not blindly follow it. It's up to us what we do about it.

My doctor gave me some new medication that is a narcotic and can cause seizures, among other nasty things. I just tried one and it seems to be .............................