Toothpaste, Sun Screen, Tuna, Plastics, Alcohol, and Prescriptions
by Richard L. Howey, Wyoming, USA
We all know the world is full of dangers; Hippopotami, (I know hippopotamuses is the accepted plural, but I don’t give a flying fox, I like the sound, Hippopotami, Hippopotami, Hippopotami–so there!), Ebola virus, asps (and if you have a friend who is sneaky and a bit deceitful, but not really wicked, it’s O.K. to refer to him or her as a half-asp), sea wasps along with W.A.S.P.s (White Anglo-Saxon Protestants), lions and liars, snattlerakes–oops!, I meant rattlesnakes (one too many gins), black widow spiders (I hope that’s not racist yet), tsunamis, earthquakes, volcanic erections (sorry–that single malt Scotch!), Komodo dragons, or for that matter any kind of dragon in the commode, hurricanes–well, you get the idea; the world is indeed a dangerous place made worse by the craziness of human beings who still cling to tribal rivalries, hate others who are different from them, and create weapons capable of destroying millions of people instantaneously. So, perhaps until we get that under control, we shouldn’t worry about any of the lesser evils, but most of us know that these huge issues are beyond our influence.
So, let’s concentrate on some of the smaller stuff that we might be able to do something about, if we could cooperate, which means that probably not much will happen (CYNIC!–NO, REALIST!) But what the Heliaster, let’s give it a try.
Let’s start with a quotidian ritual, brushing your teeth. You want to get rid of those nasty food particles from your pearly grays, so that they are pearly Hollywood white. And, of course there are 57 varieties of formulas to help you realize that ambition. However, what you may not know is that many of these polishes contain glass (silica) in the form of diatomaceous earth which is a common ingredient. And, yes, these diatoms are silica (glass) and, yes, they scrub the surfaces of your teeth so that you’ll have that Persil white smile–for a while, because this abrasive is slowly removing the enamel from your teeth. So, when you get your dentures, I recommend that you select only a moderate level of shiny Hollywood white brightness and that you buy special denture toothpaste that doesn’t have any diatomaceous earth in it.
Sun screen, well, that’s good stuff, right? You don’t want to get skin cancer, so slather it on every few hours. Well, again you might want to check the ingredients; there are at least 7 chemicals that are potentially damaging to you and/or the environment. There are an enormous number of chemicals in our world and for 90% of them, we have no clear studies of their potential risks or benefits. When I was a teenager, I used to walk down to a local drugstore and buy a pint or two of carbon tetrachloride to use in my insect killing jars. Apparently then, nobody knew what a toxic reagent it is or perhaps (cynically), some knew, but didn’t want to cut into the profit margin. Perhaps there are individuals in the chemical industry today, who are as unscrupulous, uncaring, manipulative, and as greedy as those in the tobacco industry, and don’t kid yourself that the tobacco industry has become more responsible. On the contrary, they have merely shifted focus and target audiences. American cigarettes are still highly sought after in Asia, Africa, South America, and Russia, when available, which is often at inflated prices. Then, there are the e-cigarettes (but, so far you can’t vape them by e-mail, but apparently you can order them) and it goes on and on. I started smoking at 18–a pipe naturally; I had an image to maintain as an eccentric–but by 21, I was smoking unfiltered cigarettes which I enjoyed immensely and which gave my brain a boost. In short, I was quickly addicted. Back in my prime teaching days, one could still smoke in classrooms and seminars and smoke I did! Now, I’m 80, but I haven’t smoked for about 25 years–not once. I don’t really miss it, but I think I do miss the idea of it. The nicotine highs did throw my brain into high gear.
As humans, we wrestle with pain, boredom, and loneliness and we have the needs of being accepted, being stroked both physically and psychologically, and loved for who we are. This is an outrageously complex set of conditions which are frequently in conflict and can thus throw us into despair. So, it is not really a surprise that we often seek solace through the inhaling or ingesting of substances which we believe to be transformative.
Then there is the marvelous creation of plastics as we are told in the film The Graduate: “Mr. McGuire, there is a great future in plastics,” and indeed that has been the case. However, now we have a huge island of plastics out in the Pacific Ocean, an island the size of Texas, which is an ecological disaster. In addition, there are millions of tons of non-biodegradable plastics being placed in landfills each year. Plastics seemed like such a great idea and, indeed, it still is. There are many extraordinarily good uses of plastics in medicine, industry, and household products, but billions of garbage and grocery bags, beverage bottles, etc. are not among them. We are so close to the tipping point; we absolutely must decide whether or not we want to save this fragile planet for future generations or whether we opt for self-centered indulgence or divine intervention.
That brings us to the issue of tuna and other fish that have shown levels of mercury that can be hazardous to human health. Shellfish are becoming increasingly risky to eat as a consequence of more frequent episodes of red tide. Those large blooms of algae and dinoflagellates are, in significant part, a consequence of our use of fertilizers that get carried into streams, rivers, and eventually the ocean. This brings us to the Mad Hatter who went mad as a consequence of using mercury to tan leather, so if the general population is ingesting increasing quantities of mercury, perhaps this could explain the political and cultural madness that today seem ubiquitous. It certainly seems at times as though we are a self-destructive species or an extremely stupid one. Einstein said: “Only two things are infinite, the universe and human stupidity and, I’m not sure about the former.”
So, do we want to poison ourselves? I heard of an oncologist who said of the treatments he was prescribing “What we do is poison people very slowly.” On television, we see the advertisements for various new “breakthrough” drugs and because of the law, the companies are required to report possible side-effects. In some cases, I don’t even know what these drugs are supposed to treat but, nonetheless, they tell you to ask your doctor about this new marvelous drug which turns out is a cactus oil derivative for canker sores at $2,800 per tablet. But seriously, some of these new drugs have reported (on the TV ads) side-effects that should make any sane person go out and buy a carton of cigarettes. There are some ads for highly selective cancer drugs (that is, they only work on a few types of cancers and are, even then, only effective for 20% to 40 % of patients for a period of perhaps 2 years) and yet the list of side-effects such as the following (and as the advertisements say–this is not a complete list) are lengthy.
Here is a sampling for ONE drug:
3) shortness of breath
7) loss of skin pigmentation
8) decreased appetite
11) joint pain
12) back pain
14) chills or shaking
19) feeling like you may pass out
20) “can cause your immune system to attack normal organs and tissues inany area of your body and can affect the way they work. These problems can sometimes become severe or life-threatening and can lead to death. These problems may happen any time during treatment or even after the treatment has ended.”
And we haven’t even gotten to the warnings:
1) Don’t drive a car or operate heavy machinery until you find out how this drug affects you.
2) Don’t stand up quickly as this may lead to fainting.
3) Try to avoid stress as this drug may produce aggressive behavior.
4) May cause restlessness.
5) May produce dehydration. Drink plenty of water.
6) May cause sleepwalking.
7) May cause edema. Limit fluid intake.
I take it that one should also not try riding a bicycle or even worse a unicycle. It’s fascinating that one drug can produce both diarrhea and constipation and dehydration and edema. (Hopefully not at the same time.)
Given all the possible side-effects and the warnings, who in his or her right mind would take such a drug? Very desperate people is the answer. The human brain is wired in countless different ways. There are those who will do virtually anything to survive even though that state may be horrifically painful and mind-numbing. Had I been scheduled to be sent to Auschwitz, I would never have gotten on the train. I would have provoked a guard into shooting me then and there. Also, I would never be able to accept the idea of going to prison. To me, the physical and psychological abuse would be intolerable. So, either I am a coward or my will to live has definite and decisive limits.
Well, that got rather grim. Let’s move on to alcohol. I’ll drink to that!! My main health care provider (in the jargon of the day) sometimes chides me about my indulgence. My response is to hand her a sheet of side-effects of the drugs she is prescribing for me. Fortunately she is both caring and good-natured. Alcohol, as I repeatedly point out to the medico quacks, can have all kinds of pleasant and creative side-effects. Yes, there are long-term negative side-effects, but in most cases they tend to be slow in manifesting themselves and one has a much happier time getting to that point than with extreme drugs. So here’s to moderate excess!
I quit drinking once and it was the worst six hours of my life. There are a lot of such jokes–and some very good ones–but none that I know celebrating extreme drugs. Perhaps, I’m out of touch and there may be some who celebrate the effects of street drugs, but then one has to draw the line somewhere. As Oscar Wilde said, “Nothing succeeds like excess” and then there’s W.C. Fields “Never trust a man who doesn’t drink.” Alcohol can be a depressant both physiologically and psychologically , but it has certainly provided some great jokes. The physicians and psychiatrists are constantly telling us that “Laughter is the best medicine.” So, I’m going to indulge myself and take a lot of medicine, but I’m not stingy, so I’ll share it with you. So, if you’re not in the mood for some good laughs, then you can skip the rest of this piece.
Let’s start with some classics of W.C. Fields.
“I cook with wine, sometime I even add it to the food.”
“I like to keep a bottle of stimulant handy in case I see a snake, which I also keep handy.”
“A woman drove me to drink and I didn’t even have the decency to thank her.”
“Reminds of my safari in Africa. Some fool lost the corkscrew and we had to survive on food and water for three days.”
“I drink therefore I am.”
“Drown in a vat of whisky. Death where is thy sting?”
“Some weasel stole the cork out of my lunch.”
“I exercise strong self control. I never drink anything stronger than gin before breakfast.”
“I never drink water because of the disgusting things that fish do in it.”
And there are plenty of other wits to amuse us.
“When I read about the evils of drinking, I gave up reading.”–Henny Youngman
“Without question the greatest invention in the history of mankind is beer. Oh, I grant you that the wheel was also a fine invention but the wheel does not go nearly as well with pizza.”–Dave Barry
“I drink to make other people more interesting.”–Hemingway
“It only takes one drink to get me drunk–the trouble is, I can’t remember if it’s the thirteenth or the fourteenth.”–George Burns
“Alcohol may be man’s worst enemy, but the bible says love your enemy.”–Frank Sinatra
“I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.”–Dorothy Parker
“It is the wine that leads men on, the wild wine that sets the wisest man to sing at the top of his lungs, laugh like a fool–it drives a man to dancing–it even leads him to bleat out stories better never told.”–Homer
“An alcoholic is someone you don’t like who drinks as much as you do.”–Dylan Thomas
Well, I’m glad we got that settled; flush all your prescriptions and buy stock in distilleries and convert at least one room in your house into a wine and whiskey cellar.
All comments to the author Richard Howey are welcomed.
Editor's note: Visit Richard Howey's new website at http://rhowey.googlepages.com/home where he plans to share aspects of his wide interests.
Published in the April 2019 edition of Micscape Magazine.
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