What’s your approach to health? Check your medicine cabinet – Harvard Health Blog
Do all the kids spy? Just me? When I was a child, I spent hours rummaging through my parents ‘nightstands, Grandma’s wallet, my older brothers’ dresser drawers. I’m not sure what exactly I was looking for other than validating my suspicion that the teens and adults in my life were keeping secrets from me.
And no research opportunity seemed richer than the two mirrored medicine cabinets hanging on the wall in my parents’ bathroom. My mother’s was rather boring, its glass shelves lined with bottles of aspirin and antacids, plus a dusty jar of jewel-toned bath oil pearls. My father’s was a treasure – at least for me. Orthopedic surgeon, he had access to all kinds of accessories with which he stored his medicine cabinet: syringes, alcohol, sterile gauze, tincture of opium, ACE bandages, gentian violet, and even butazolidine, an injectable anti-inflammatory drug. long out of the market. for humans, but still used by veterinarians.
Attractively, these objects seemed mysterious and vaguely dangerous. Indeed, they probably inspired me with a desire to one day become a doctor myself, to join the exclusive club whose members knew how to use such things. What I realize in retrospect, however, is that my father’s pharmacy offered a window into his attitude to health. Although often indisposed with one disease or another, he never gave up the identity of his doctor, never fully adopted the role of the patient. The contents of his pharmacy said that no matter how sick he was, he could take care of himself.
Family culture of illness: are you maximalist or minimalist?
In addition to our family medical histories – the ones our doctors record when they ask which of our loved ones have had cancer, diabetes or heart disease – each of us has a side story, which I like to think of as culture of disease. Ten years ago, in Your medical Esprit: how to decide what is right for youHarvard physicians Jerome Groopman and Pamela Hartzband broadly divided people into medical “maximalists” and “minimalists.” Maximists are more likely to go to the doctor, take medication on purpose, and have invasive tests. Minimalists take more of a wait-and-see approach; they prefer to seek remedies in diet and exercise. Groopman and Hartzband, who are married, discuss how such attitudes are formed early in life, deeply rooted in the family approach to health and disease.
In the case of my own family, I now see that my father’s pharmacy reflected maximalism – with a twist: Dad would opt for aggressive treatment, but he wanted to maintain some control, perhaps even administering the treatment himself- even. My mom, on the other hand, was a minimalist through and through. What a hot bath couldn’t cure, a few TUMS and a long phone conversation would.
A look at our own approach to health
So, having grown up with this mixed culture of disease, what’s in my own medicine cabinet? When our children were young, my doctor-husband and I were pretty minimalists. We had on hand a thermometer of questionable accuracy, outdated calamine lotion, and a crispy bottle of liquid Tylenol. We were not irresponsible parents, but maintaining a well-equipped clinic at home has never been a priority for us. I admired a friend who was ready for whatever – she has always had an antihistamine combined with Tylenol, Advil, and simple – but never felt moved to imitate him.
Now that our children have grown up, I see a continuation of our minimalism. But there is also a new element: a touch of palisade, which the substitution of large bathroom drawers for wall cabinets seems to encourage. We have accumulated dozens of small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion while staying at the hotel, in addition to regular-sized bottles; we’re never without at least one gigantic bottle of Costco Ibuprofen; and we have a hot water bottle, a heating pad, and a hot microwave compress – which we never used. What exactly are we preparing for? The sudden onslaught of old age, which we fear it will give us an account of?
Take a look at your medicine cabinet now. What does he say about you?
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