Monday, August 31, 2009

A Purge For Our (Healthcare) System

As I was writing book 3 of the Possessed series, POISON TO PURGE MELANCHOLY, I found myself dealing with the realities of healthcare in America both personally and as a caregiver to my parents. Writers tend to sneak in elements of whatever is on their minds as a story comes together (not to mention sometimes needing a nice safe way to get revenge), so I inserted one 18th century doctor and an apothecary into the historic plot, plus 5 modern day physicians and a pharmacist in Pat's end of the story. I not only had fun playing with poisonous "physicks" and deadly prescriptions, but I could point out the problems of healthcare as I observed them firsthand.

Now, years after that book was published, medicine in America seems to change for the worse almost daily. If Pat lived in the real world today, as a self-employed person with a pre-existing condition, she'd almost certainly have her insurance canceled. Even if not, on her income, she wouldn't be able to afford it or the non-covered costs which seem to at least double each year. I know because I can barely afford mine. (Your favorite authors may soon become extinct if we're all forced to go back to work full-time to get health benefits.)

One of my reason's for writing POISON TO PURGE MELANCHOLY was to ask the non-musical question, "How far has medicine come since 1783?" Sure, we have more sanitary conditions and anesthesia and antibiotics now, and we have machines that can look at our innards. All great things, I won't deny that. Still, part of me secretly longs for the good old days, when you could go to your health professional the moment you feel lousy, without having to wait 3 weeks for an appointment. Your health professional, of course, would be your apothecary, not a doctor (unless you could afford the extra shilling consultation fee). Then again, if you were really ill, the doctor or apothecary would come to you, bringing nifty non-FDA approved drugs, like quicksilver (yes, lovely poisonous mercury) to calm an upset tummy. Or you could self-medicate with the plants in your garden. Like putting onions on your feet to bring down a fever.

That may sound funny, but frankly, the last few prescriptions I tried didn't work, made me sicker, and cost a minimum of $2 per pill. Onions I can afford. And I love them stir-fried with bell peppers on just about anything. Want garlic with that? Go for it--garlic helps lower blood pressure and cholesterol.

So what did I find in my research? Yes, modern medical technology is more advanced, but without insurance, none but the rich can afford it any more than most early Americans could afford a doctor. Many of this year's new drugs don't work any better than the drugs they're replacing, they just cost more. We understand medicine more now, but as a society, we're less concerned than our 18th century counterparts with wanting to make patients well than with making money.

Depressing? Not to worry. You can purge your melancholy with licorice root, which contains compounds that are MAO inhibitors, just like some anti-depressants.

Or read my book. Ask your doctor if POISON TO PURGE MELANCHOLY is right for you.


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