My Illness, Myself

How the Medical-Industrial Complex Turns Patients into Consumers

The ideal medical consumer suffers from one or more chronic ailments that are treatable but not curable with drugs. They want to convince them that they will need these drugs for the rest of their lives. The medical-industrial complex in the United States is a disease-management system rather than a health-care system.

Pharmaceutical corporations want us to embrace our diseases, cherish them, find comfort in support groups, treat them forever but never banish them, never shed the identity bound up in the phrase my disease. They have given sexy names, like Erectile Dysfunction and Overactive Bladder, to certain unmentionable symptoms, promoting them from mere symptoms to full-fledged diseases. Join the Type 2 Diabetes Fraternity with B. B. King (RIP). Solve, but don’t heal, Your Acid Reflux Disease. Find Friends and exchange stories of misery in the Society of Migraine Sufferers.

“Me and B. B. King have a lot in common,” says this appealing round-faced adolescent. “He has diabetes. I have diabetes.” B. B. King strums his famous guitar and laughs paternally. Testing becomes a ritual of bonding between the aspiring guitarist and the master. There are reasons to treat diabetes, to invest in sexy little testing devices, but there is no motivation to seek a cure. Diabetes is who they are. There is no mention, of course, that there are people like Marc Ramirez, who reports that he and his wife Kim reversed Type 2 diabetes by adopting a whole food plant-based lifestyle. It’s more fun to share an illness with an idol.

This middle-aged woman calls herself “a problem solver.” However, she tells us, she has not succeeded in “solving” what she calls “my acid reflux disease.” Solving. Not healing. Not eradicating. She goes back to her doctor, although we are not told when or why she went to him in the first place, nor why the doctor didn’t tell her the whole truth to begin with (“over time, the esophagus is eroded”). So, with a little prodding from this enlightened patient he prescribes Nexium. “I don’t just feel better,” she says in closing, “I AM better.” Better. Not well. Not over it. Not healthy. She is not just grateful for that little purple pill. It will be as much a part of her life as her acid reflux disease*. The ad does not, of course, direct us to articles like this one: Plant-Based Diet Alleviates Reflux as Effectively as Medications. She doesn’t want to know. Acid Reflux, by the way, is a symptom, not a “disease,” but Acid Reflux “Disease” is who she is, and Nexium is her drug.

Elizabeth Moss makes it painfully clear that her character is A Migraine Sufferer. It is her identity. If I am equally miserable, she invites me to join her. Migraines will always be part of who she is, and Excedrin is her drug of choice. Don’t tell her about the Physicians’ Committee Plant-Based Prescription for Migraines because she–or her character, anyway–is well on her way to becoming a good little profit generator for pharmaceutical companies.

Apparently, in spite of dire warnings of death and permanent damage in the ads themselves, people are embracing the “my disease” lifestyle, and there are big bucks in it for pharmaceutical cartels and a bloated medical establishment.

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