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Put a pill in it!

- Schalk Mouton

Column: When it comes to health, we have grown into a society that is looking for a quick fix, rather than treating our lives holistically.

August 2022. I am lying in bed. Suffering from cold night sweats, blinding headaches and extreme exhaustion. I am so tired that even opening my eyes is an effort. I have been sleeping for two days continuously, not even waking up to eat. The SMS with the test results just confirmed what I already knew. COVID.

Through heavy eyelids I see a moving shadow. Sounds of drawers opening. Movement in the bathroom. The opening of packaging. Footsteps. Louder and louder. Closer.

“Open your mouth.” It is my wife. I respond. Obediently. No will or energy to do otherwise.

A huge syringe is stuck into my mouth. The plunger goes down and my mouth is filled with a gush of reddish brown, metallic gunk. Utterly defenceless, I have no other option but to swallow.

I feel the thick, dirty brown muck as it enters, making its way down my oesophagus, and into my stomach. It courses through my body, doing … nothing. I open one of my eyes, look up at my wife questioningly. I hear a voice croak “ … Whaaat …?” and realise it’s my own.

“Ivermectin,” my wife says. Smiling. Lovingly, as always. “Horse medicine!”

Put a pill in it | Curiosity 16: #Drugs ©

Gambling with horse medicine

A couple of weeks before I fell victim to the dreaded disease, a family member managed to sucker us into “investing” in two “Covid survival packs”. It contained various supplements, paraphernalia that you’d never use and the dreaded horse medicine. We reluctantly bought it, but for some reason, this survival pack was the drug of choice we reached for when Covid struck. There was no other option.

Even the prescription that my brother, a doctor, sent me was gathering virtual dust, unopened, in my inbox. Granted, though, the horse medicine survival kit cost us something like R120, while the heap of tablets in my brother’s prescription would probably have cost thousands more, likely with exactly the same effect on my recovery from Covid.

Two weeks later, I was out of bed. I was still weak, but feeling better. Other than the one shot of Ivermectin, I had taken no other medicine. I just slept for two weeks solidly. Luckily the horse medicine had no noticeable side effects, other than the fact that I occasionally feel like the odd gallop around the house, and every now and then an involuntary whinny escapes from my mouth. I did notice, with interest, however, that when my wife also later got sick with Covid, there was not the slightest consideration given to the horse medicine in her Covid survival pack to help her get better.

Growing up, I had a relaxed relationship with drugs.  I got treated for just about any illness or injury with exactly the same medication by my GP. Whether I broke my leg, needed my appendix removed or had a common flu, the diagnosis from my GP was always that it was a “kiem in die lug” (a bug in the air), and I left the doctor’s rooms with a yellow pill packet filled with Tetrex antibiotics and Kantrexil for stomach cramps.

Drug naïveté

When it comes to any kind of recreational type of drug, I lived a completely sheltered life. The closest I came to taking any drugs was smoking a cigarette when I was in standard 8 (Grade 10). I immediately felt so sick that I vomited, and never touched a cigarette again. I couldn’t stand the taste of alcohol until varsity (and then, like everybody else, started to try and make up for all the drinks I missed). My first encounter with “real” drugs was at the OppieKoppie music festival one year, when I was offered a Daggakoekie – which I declined.

The next time I came across any form of drugs was one night walking down Long Street in Cape Town with my wife. A smartly dressed dude approached me and asked “Do you want some Charlie?”.

“Who the hell is Charlie?” I asked. My wife chuckled. I whinnied.

I have absolutely no medical training. The closest I am to being a doctor is the fact that my wife is working on her PhD in financial journalism and my brother and father are both doctors, so I probably don’t have any right to say this. However, I do believe that we too often reach for a packet of pills as a quick fix for something that could, and should, be treated in a more holistic way, such as a change of lifestyle or diet, or just taking care of ourselves and each other.

To be clear. I have nothing against conventional medicine. The work that the people in health sciences are doing with medicine is incredible, fascinating and lifesaving. There are many cases when medication or surgical treatment is the only option, but in most cases in daily life, small changes in our lifestyles can cure many more health issues that we think.

There's a pill for that

For instance, after coming home from a holiday in the Eastern Cape with my brother, braaiing every night, drinking vuil Coke and just overindulging in general, I came home with a terribly sore foot. It was one of the most excruciating pains I had ever experienced, so I went to a doctor. It was gout. The doctor gave me an injection and the pain receded almost immediately.

My brother prescribed chronic medication that I was to take daily, probably for the rest of my life. The pain from gout scared the life out of me, so, I took the pills daily for over two years. That was until my wife changed our diet – and no, it was not to a diet of oats and barley! Very soon after, I realised that I no longer needed the gout medication. Now, I very rarely experience gout attacks, and if I do, it is very mild and often goes away quickly.

My point is that we have become too dependent on drugs. There is a drug for everything, and it is too easy to reach for the pill bottle. Whether it is obesity, smoking or a condition like gout, we too often reach for the pill bottle. Children get put on medication to treat things like depression and ADHD as quick fixes, rather than the doctor spending time and energy to find the root cause, and to fix it holistically. And again, yes, while I do understand that there are cases where medication is the only option, I believe we often treat things symptomatically.

I had Covid again earlier this year. While we generally make a point of getting our flu jabs and Covid booster, this year we were busy and missed them. Before I knew it, I was knocked out, in bed. This time around, however, there was no horse medicine, and I declined my brother’s prescription. I just stayed in bed, and rested it out. It took me more than a frustrating month to recover properly, and I am determined not to get it again. So, next year, you’ll see me at the front of the Covid and flu vaccine lines, getting my jab. But now, it is time for a gallop.

  • Schalk Mouton is Senior Communications Officer.
  • This article first appeared in Curiosity, a research magazine produced byWits Communications and the Research Office
  • Read more in the 16th issue, themed: #Drugs, where we highlight the diversity, scope, and multi-dimensional nature of drug-related research at Wits University.