Drug Shadows

Pharmaceuticals are risky business. Having them prescribed and monitored by a doctor is a safeguard, but it doesn’t make them safe. I chose to be repeatedly injected with toxic R CHOP chemotherapy because, after research, I believed it afforded me the best chance of staying alive. I’ve won that bet in the short term as my cancer is gone—along with several million healthy cells wiped out as collateral damage. But the price I’ve paid won’t be fully known for some time.


My next drug challenge will be weaning myself off the various sleeping pills I’ve been snorking since August. I don’t know how long it will take my brain to get chemically balanced—as if my brain has ever been balanced—or for me to get a normal night’s sleep. I don’t expect the transition to be easy.


In her book, Another Day in the Frontal Lobe, neurosurgeon Katrina Firkin notes that,


Anything strong enough to help you is strong enough to hurt you. No treatment, at least no worthwhile treatment, comes without risk. Even natural supplements, if you take unnaturally large amounts, can have untoward effects . . . There are plenty of medications that work wonders without us having a clear idea as to how or why they work. To me, that means there are probably other things those drugs are doing that we may not expect. It would be unlikely for a drug to have one and only one effect on the body. That’s not how the body works. One physiological mechanism can mediate numerous different functions. One natural chemical, blocked or enhanced by a certain drug, may have dozens of different targets. Those targets are probably not all figured out yet.”

It’s a Faustian bargain but I’ve adopted Dr. Firkin’s approach, “I’ll take a medication when I need it, when the time comes, if the benefits clearly outweigh the risks. But I won’t expect to get something for nothing.”



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