Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Particularly Perplexing Pill

A few years ago, a friend of mine in the health care industry told me that a man my age needed to take an aspirin every day. Something about thinning blood and preventing heart attacks or something like that.

I have to say that it was a friend of mine that told me to take the aspirin because I never go to a doctor. Never. I can’t remember the last time I was at a doctor. I went to a Marcus Welby-type for a few years. Then he retired, as all good Marcus Welby-types do. I haven’t had a decent reason to visit a doctor since then.

You know all those commercials where they say things like “be sure to consult your doctor” for whatever? Well, I don’t have anybody to talk to.

Back to my story. So I was told by a friend to take an aspirin each day. So I did. No big deal. Later, I found out, oops, not just any aspirin. Think of your sensitive stomach! You want ulcers? It has to be children’s aspirin.

Really? I had been taking regular aspirin for several months and I didn’t notice any difference. No heart attack. No stroke. No ulcers. Just a half-empty aspirin bottle to show for my efforts. (That’s why I don’t like preventative medicine. How do you know when it works?)

Nope, that’s not good enough, said my friend-the-surrogate-doctor. It had to be a children’s aspirin. Or at least, it had to be one of those new mini-dose aspirins.

Mini-dose aspirins? Yeah, it seems that so many middle-aged men were being advised by their doctors (I guess they actually had doctors) to take children’s aspirin that there was a rush on the stuff. But a lot of guys didn’t like the idea of taking “children’s” aspirin.

So the marketing suits at the drug companies came up with a brilliant idea. Let’s make children’s aspirin but put it in a bottle that says “Mini Dose”. Same drug. Different label.

It was a hit. Soon millions of men in America were relieved of the embarrassment of buying the kid stuff. Now they could get real he-man drugs. Little bitty, tiny pills.

Okay, so I went to the store in search of the new drug. Hmmm... I guess this is it. But look at the size of the dose. 81 milligrams. Eighty-one? What’s the deal with that? Why not an even 80? Or 100? What’s the business about a silly milligram more?

Back to my friend with the question du jour. That’s just the way it is, I was told. A mini dose is 81 milligrams. Get used to it.

Never one to be satisfied with an answer like that, I had to do some digging. This is what I found out.

A standard aspirin is 325 milligrams. Back in the days before children’s aspirin, parents were instructed to split an adult aspirin. And then split it again. The kid was to receive one-fourth of the original pill.

When children’s aspirins came around, it seemed logical to introduce a pill that was exactly one-fourth the size of the adult aspirin. Well, technically, 325 divided by 4 is 81.25. I guess they figured the extra quarter milligram was taken up in the dust left behind on the kitchen cabinet when the pill was split. Whatever. The drug companies weren’t going to quibble a quarter milligram, but by golly, they were going to get that extra milligram in there.

So a children’s aspirin is 81 milligrams only because the drug companies are good at math and they like rounding.

When the adult mini doses appeared, it made sense to manufacture them in the same molds that were used for the children’s aspirins. So the 81 milligram adult mini aspirin was born.

Doesn’t matter. I take them every day. I still haven’t had a stroke or a heart attack. Or an ulcer. Or an upset stomach, headache, diarrhea, night sweats, fainting spells, or anything else. I still operate heavy machinery any time I feel like it.

And I still don’t have a doctor to call my own.

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