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Let's pop less pills in 2023

(OPINION column published in Khaleej Times dated 4 January, 2023)

‘Wishing everyone health in the new year. Only health please. The rest will follow’. These words from Indian actress and danseuse, Shobana, on her instagram handle added a new dimension to my New Year outlook that has been a tad uninspiring. There were no personal goals set nor plans mapped out. Things seemed to cruise organically from one calendar year to the next with no prominent finish lines marked out.

The idea of ‘accomplishment’ has become so nebulous that it vexed me to think of setting aspirational targets. It was then that the celebrity post triggered a genuine interest to give myself a motive in the year ahead. Health.

When my husband lost his job in the wake of the pandemic in 2020, what hit us the hardest was the disappearance of medical benefits we used to avail as part of the pay package. As the period of joblessness prolonged, the absence of an insurance card that covered us for almost everything from a minor cold to a root canal became the biggest deprivation of all. We took no time to settle into a frugal living, but it took a long time to come to terms with the fact that we couldn’t afford to fall sick frequently; we couldn’t sashay into clinics to take casual medical advice; we couldn’t flash our insurance cards against prescriptions and get medicines that cost an arm and a leg.

Since health insurance is mandatory in this part of the world, post job-loss, we opted for a basic one that had the least drain on our purse. It met the stipulation of having an insurance card, but the provisions and privileges were only a fraction of what he had hitherto enjoyed. A lot of money had to be shelled out from the pocket if we felt under the weather. Thus we began to make informed decisions about health and illnesses. From popping pills randomly because they came free to being rational about whether we needed medicines, our pattern of health care changed drastically.

The focus shifted from darting to the doctor for minor ailments to making sure we did enough to maintain overall health. If home remedies could work, we tried them first before seeking a doctor’s advice. Aches that we amplified in the halcyon days were tended to at home until it became clear that outside intervention was inevitable. The value of exercising became pronounced, and we found ways to get around a patch of passing illness with our own resources. Gone were the days when a sneeze or a sprain would send us scurrying to do tests that were superfluous.

I have always wondered if the ease of access to medical assistance and support has turned us all into hypochondriacs, making us pay undue attention to small matters that may only be a part of aging, weather or undisciplined living. Do we elevate small discomforts to serious levels and pump our bloodstream with chemicals only because they are easily and almost freely available? Are we turning our insurance cards into a license to become compulsively indisposed?

From my experience of the past three years, I must conclude that we are falling victim to what I call ‘sickness syndrome’ and poisoning our body with potions we could well do without.

This is not to say that we must shrug off signs of ill health, especially if they persist, but it would be prudent to know when to load the body with medicines and when to just give it rest in order to restore the ebbing wellness. Merely because the company that has hired us pays the premium to protect our health, we need not be so preemptive and prescription crazy.

My dad says that a cold prolonged for 7 seven days if we took no medicine, but it would leave in a week if we took some tablets. The hidden wisdom in his words has stood me in good stead when most minor symptoms were cured with minimal intake of medicines that I fished out from the kit put together from India.

Falling sick is not a pleasant situation for anyone, regardless of what kind of protection we have from the insurance companies. However, if we become habituated to seeing doctors at the slightest instance just because the money doesn’t go from our pocket, then we are only slighting our body and giving its ability to fight a short shrift.

The last thing our system wants is to be abused by overdose of chemicals. In the new year let us pledge to give our bodies a respite from needless antibiotics by making general health a priority. Our health cards are our safeguards, not a ticket to becoming neurotic about our health and illnesses. Let us use the sentry wisely for our protection and not for mortal combat.

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