Sunday, April 22, 2012

Side Effects

The expression "side effects" has a curious effect on many people. It's quite frequently used in the medical field, especially when talking about drugs and food supplements. Only trouble is that that expression "side effects" is almost always associated with negative side effects; it is strange that many people are almost unaware of the positive side effects. For example, when talking about drugs in general, people always emphasize on how the drugs can cause severe long-term effects such as liver or kidney damage, but they always forget that those drugs can also cure illnesses.

Strictly speaking, even drowsiness and sleepiness are possible side effects of some drugs, but those are not necessarily life-threatening, unless of course when one decides to drive after taking them. The way I see it, sometimes it boils down to the weighing of pros and cons between the positive and negative effects of the drugs.

But people like my mother-in-law is extremely sensitive to the expression "side effects". To her, all side effects are negative ones—there is just no such thing as positive side effects! And this reminds me of how she tried to play doctor many years ago, shortly after I married Mia. We were then still pursuing our studies and were not ready to have kids. So we sought the advice of a doctor on possible family planning methods. He spent a good half an hour or so explaining to us on the pros and cons of the contraceptive pills, and then in the end recommended one to Mia.

But then mommy heard about the forsaken pills. And she wasted no time to offer her take on the subject of contraceptive pills. I can't quite remember all the side effects according to her (there were many), but I distinctly remember one which was that contraceptive pills can cause permanent infertility! So the pill was a no-no. Instead, she recommended the "withdrawal method" of family planning. 

I was, like, "Withdrawal what?...You're kidding me, right?"

I thought the next thing she'd do was to demonstrate the method to us, but by the grace of God, she did not.

Years later—in fact just a couple of weeks ago—her problem with her right leg had gotten so bad that she was unable to walk. She's in her seventies, and arthritis has been giving her recurring problems, but she bravely endured the pain until now. Anyway, she was admitted to the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Damai. There, her leg was put in cast. She spent her days mainly confined to her bed. The doctors seemed unsure whether a surgery would help, but in the end, they decided the best thing to do was to get an MRI scan before deciding the best course of action. And that MRI scan was somehow scheduled not the day after; not even the week after, but about a month later—in fact, on 17 May. So in the mean time, we thought we should invite her to stay in our home.

So about a week ago, having been discharged from the hospital while awaiting her MRI scan in May, Mia and her sister arrived home with mommy; and both of them struggled to get her out of the car and into the house (Yes, she's not a thin woman). As they just were at the bottom of the staircase, I arrived home from dinner. Mommy was in excruciating pain. The doctors had prescribed her the painkiller, Celebrex, but she refused to take them, I suppose because of the dreadful side effects.

But she made it to the upper floor in the end, where we spent some minutes to convince her to take the painkiller. It was getting a little late, so the sisters helped her to the toilet where she could brush her teeth before bedtime—not that she had any more teeth left, you know.

Well, she's been taking the painkiller, which is apparently helping to relieve her pain substantially. I suppose she's now spending her days in bed, thinking of all the horrifying side effects of Celebrex on her body, but totally forgetting all the good the drug is doing for her leg.


Juin Yi Ng said...

Technically 'side effects' can be defined as effects from the said treatment/medication that is secondary of the main desired effect. This is my personal take of the term. Sadly I had a run through the internet and most of the website defines it as 'undesirable effect'.

Certain side effects, although not desirable, are not meant to be long-lasting. Anti-histamines (for acute rhinitis and hypersensitivities) induce drowsiness, but only for a few hours. No chronic side effects are known to be associated with it otherwise.

In fact, some of the 'side effects' were found to have pharmaceutical values that companies actually rebrand their drugs and sell the side effect as the main effect. Take retinol for example. This vitamin A derivative was originally for cancer treatment. Then they found out it cures the cancer patients of their acne problems as well. Now companies offer a dosed-down version of it for acne treatments (but take note this drugs has some SERIOUS side effects to consider, one being teratogenic.)

Ever wonder how Viagra was invented? It was intended for angina (chest pain), but they found it not that useful. Instead it produces marked penile erection. VoilĂ !

Cornelius said...

Well, I'm not a doctor, but my take is that not all side effects are harmful. In fact, some may be good. Some drugs have the effect (other than the intended effect) of sleepiness. That may be good as if it's a kind of sedative to allow the body to wind down so that it can rest. Some people, when they are sick, may become restless and have trouble sleeping, so a drug that has the side effect of sleepiness surely is not a bad thing.