MEDICINES ARE A LOT LIKE media studies in that no one ever completes the course. Up and down the country, people have little Museums of Medical History, otherwise known as bathroom cabinets. These contain pills and ointments so old that they are likely to kill rather than cure. The reason for this build-up is that all medicines come in two sizes: two-thirds of what you need, or a third more than you need.
Pills are the household gods of a post-industrial society. Every morning and night, people worship at the shrine of various pots and blister packs to help them cope with the evil spirits of headaches, heartburn and wind. On average, people in this country take pills five times more frequently than they make love. Maybe they’re taking the wrong sort of pill.
Some people find it impossible to swallow pills. They pop a couple in their mouth, drink 14 gallons of water, and end up with two very wet, clean pills still in their mouth. Other people don’t need any water to take pills and simply throw them in and swallow. Often these pills get stuck halfway down and they end up with a very healthy oesophagus. It can sometimes be tricky to persuade young children to take their medicine. The solution is simply to smear the evil-tasting linctus on some delicious broccoli and pop it in.
Instinctively people believe that a medicine should be applied close to the illness. That’s why it wouldn’t feel right taking a suppository for a sore throat, or eye drops for piles (although, interestingly, suppositories can make your eyes water). Patches are an excellent way of taking medicine. In an ideal world, nicotine and hormone patches would carry the same kind of health warnings as cigarette packets, such as ‘Liable to be Cranky’ or ‘Slightly Insane’.
The insertion of a suppository is actually a rather difficult thing to do and replicates some of the trickier yoga moves. It’s no coincidence that they never prescribe suppositories for lower back pain. Hypodermic needles come in one size: large. There is another size, which is extra-large, but people tend to faint as soon as they see this one and can’t remember much about it afterwards.
Placebos are very effective in medicine. This is something that looks like a pill but doesn’t actually do anything. Even more interesting is the fact that over half of doctors are placebo doctors, in that they have no medical training but just nod and prescribe a placebo. Interestingly, their clear-up rate is as good as real doctors.