Monday Morning Musings: There's a pill for what ails you!

"Something from the pharmaceutical cart?"

"Hormones rock!" - an American friend who's almost French

"2/3 of the French women who are premenopausal are on hormone therapy." - woman pharmacist

"Stop hitting yourself over the head with a hammer!" - French doctor at the American Hospital

Even though the first two comments provided me with strong clues as to how the French feel about hormone therapy, I was still baffled by the emergency room doctor's response to my question about the need for iron supplements after a particularly long menstrual cycle. When I asked him to clarify, he demanded, "Why would you put a helmet on your head when you could simply stop hitting yourself with a hammer!" Talk about complicated analogies! Apparently, iron supplements would be completely unnecessary if I simply popped the right pill. Why would I let the possible risk of heart disease, stroke, breast cancer or blood clots stop me from doing the sensible thing?

Being more accustomed to the Swiss approach that encourages women to manage premenopausal symptoms with natural methods, like herbal remedies and acupuncture, before resorting to hormone therapy, I would have been caught completely off guard by the French philosophy if I hadn't just read the following on "Les Médicaments" in A Certain...Je Ne Sais Quoi: The Ideal Guide to Sounding, Acting, and Shrugging like the French:

If you were suddenly transported into an unknown office and told to determine whether the office was in Britain or in France, all you would have to do would be to open the top desk drawer. If you found a newspaper, cycle light with a flat battery, some peppermints or a couple of digestive biscuits, you could be sure the office was British. If, on the other hand, you found at least two sorts of medicine, it would be clear that you were in France.

The French take a lot of médicaments - medicines - and they very often take them at lunchtime. And they don't do it discretely. If there are pills to be taken they will produce a selection of blister packs, ostentatiously pop out pills and capsules and then loudly swallow them. There is rarely any attempt to hide the name of the drug on the packaging. In any case, this would be a waste of time because you are always treated to some kind of explanation such as "Je dois prendre mes antibiotiques" - I have to take my antibiotics.

But if you want to look really French at mealtimes, taking a few antibiotics won't be enough. You have to produce a glass phial or two. Medicines in little glass tubes are relatively unknown in Britain. In France, they are everywhere. Assuming that you are having lunch with someone who is over forty, the chances of being treated to the glass phial show are high....

I guess that this penchant for popping pills partially explains why French women are the largest consumers of anti-depressants in Europe but does it also explain why French people have one of the longest life expectancy rates in the world? According to a CIA report, they're ranked #14, while Switzerland is #17, New Zealand #25, UK #30 and the USA #50. But what I really want to know is why the Aussies live so much longer than the rest of us. Is it the barbecues and beaches? They're ranked #9.

Comments

  1. "Why would you put a helmet on your head when you could simply stop hitting yourself with a hammer!"

    Wow... I certainly wouldn't have wanted to have to translate that, let alone make some analogy to it!

    Good for you for seeking the more natural treatment route. Our bodies are amazingly well programmed for self-healing, if we're fortunate enough to come across the right advice for facilitating this.

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    1. Peter, After debating with myself about if I should write this post or stick with a less personal subject today, I can't tell you how much your comment meant to me! I agree that our bodies do a pretty good of taking care of themselves and have been really fortunate to have the support of my Swiss gynecologist this past week even though he's currently at a conference in Istanbul. Moving from country to country, it has been fascinating to learn how doctors handle different health issues and to formulate my own ideas over the years. Nonetheless, I was still surprised by the conviction with which the French seem to advocate hormone therapy because it's so contrary to what my American and Swiss doctors have told me.

      Even though the doctor at the American Hospital was French, we were speaking English when he said that I should stop hitting myself on the head with a hammer. If the conversation had been in French, I would have been even more confused!

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  2. I always thought we were pill poppers here in the UK, but I was surprised when we visited a pharmacy in Paris for some simple painkillers that even the most basic seemed to be double the strength of those in the UK. They're so over-protective of what you're allowed to buy here. Recently I wasn't even allowed to buy Citric acid to make Elderflower cordial in case I used it to cut heroin....madness.
    Your analysis of desk drawers is spot on by the way!
    I really enjoy your blog. Thank you for your candid and sincere post - it's good to see. I'm no medical professional but from the sample of ladies we have in our shop i'd say you made the right decision. Hormones are powerful things. Hope you feel back in form soon and keep up the great blog!

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    1. Thanks for your comments about my blog although I can't claim credit for the analysis of desk drawers! I took that bit from a book that I just read.

      Interesting that you weren't allowed to buy citric acid in the UK. I've never had an Elderflower cordial before but now I think that I'll have to try one.

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    2. You should it's delish.....i'm hoping my Elderflower Liqueur even more so! You're welcome - your blog is great and I can tell you for a fact I wouldn't have visited Rue Mouffetard (and market), Marche des enfants rouge or the Paris Mosque without it - thank you :)

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  3. MK, it's so polite of you to say it's been "fascinating to learn how doctors handle different health issues", because in my opinion it's been frustrating! A doctor recommended a surgery for me, however they day of they changed the timing of the operation. I asked the Dr. if I'd be able to leave the hospital that night and he replied to me in French, "Madame, you can do whatever you like. You don't even have to have the surgery if you don't wish." Really!? Infuriating.

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    1. Oh! I agree that I would have been infuriated by the attitude of your doctor. I don't like it when they take an imperious attitude with me.

      Having said that, I have heard that Americans aren't viewed favorably by most European doctors. They seem to have stereotypical ideas that we're all a bunch of supplement popping people who are ready to sue them if they make the slightest mistake.

      Now I'm wondering if you had the surgery or not. If you did, I hope that he was more skilled in the operating room than in dealing with patients.

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  4. Hi MK

    When HRT stopped being the baby-boomers' darling and doctors started to be reluctant to prescribe it, I weaned myself off HRT onto Remifemin, which does not contain estrogen. I didn't notice any difference and felt just the same (i.e. continued to have no symptoms). Not sure if it is a plecebo effect, but here's a link you might find useful
    http://www.consumerhealthanswers.com/MenopauseRelief/?gclid=CKujrsHx-7ACFcYBRQodIULfHQ

    Good luck. GM

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    1. Thanks for the link and for sharing the information about Remifemin! I just followed one of the recommendations on the website and made myself a cup of green tea. Having lived in Asia for a long time, I found this sentence interesting because I'm always asking my Asian friends for advice: While Asian women have long controlled menopausal symptoms with natural remedies, most modern doctors are quick to prescribe Hormone Replacement Therapy, which can be successful, does have some serious health risks associated with it, such as an increase in breast cancer and cardiovascular disease.

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    2. Yes, those risks were the reason I weaned myself off it (*sob*). Maybe by the time I came off it I was well past it all in any case, because I have never had the symptoms. I am mid-60s now, so I'm hoping I never will. I suppose there must be a lot of women my age who were all on HRT when it was the thing to do, before the health-scares started, who are like me and didn't go through the upheaval. Who knows what long-term affects that might have?!! Too late for me to worry now, ha ha! GM x

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  5. So glad everything is Ok and you were able to enjoy your birthday and the bloggers breakfast this morning. Thanks so much for including me.

    So glad I am past all the menopausal nonsense... and yes I DID take HRT. although perhaps it was before some more recent research.

    It is a difficult decision, but it would seem it has advantages in that you are less likely to develop certain things and also increase the risks of some others, so it's a balancing act. Which risk would you rather take? and how much risk is quality of life worth?

    Maybe you should just eat more kale! LOL!

    Sorry I had to rush off. Michael was OK, just couldn't find his navigo!

    Love Denise.

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    1. It was good to know that everything was alright with Michael. His phone call and your rapid response had me concerned. I'm really pleased that you were able to join us for the bloggers' breakfast...and that I was able to go, too!

      You're right - It must be very difficult for some women to decide whether to take HRT or not, especially if they're having a lot of problems. It's a personal decision that each woman needs to make for herself after she consults with her doctor.

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  6. Your openness amazes me. I thought I was the only one who feels free and unashamed to discuss things of this nature. Shall I remind you of my urgency issues while we wandered through the 11th and Chartres?
    Anyway, I handled the hormone thing with no meds, no herbs....just suffered through it. I will tell you once it's over...it is more liberating than you can ever imagine. I surely cannot imagine most men quietly enduring childbirth and menopause. Heck, they are on "death's door" when down with a flu or common cold!
    Hang tough dear friend....this too shall pass.

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    1. Thanks, Nancy! I kept telling myself, "this too shall pass"...only it didn't! ;) Not only do we learn a lot about our bodies but we also learn the virtues of patience as well. It's good to know that I'll feel liberated once it's all over!

      As for being open, I think that it's a disservice to other woman if we never talk about these things because then we all believe that we're going through it alone. We're not, even though it still seems to be a taboo subject for many. You should have seen Stephane's distress when one of his male friend's asked why I went to the emergency room. Talk about awkward! But as soon as Stephane told him, his friend could relate because of what his wife has been going through.

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  7. Oh Mary Kay, I so appreciate when you share "real world" issues, especially this one. I would have really appreciated having someone share their experience with me way back when. The first time I had night sweats, I felt like an alien had overtaken my body. I'm sure your being so open has helped lots of women feel not quite so "alienated" ;)
    Dekage

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    1. Speaking of night sweats, I still haven't figured out if that's what is going on when I get hot and my heart rate increases at night. It hasn't happened that often but whenever it does, I find myself wondering if the duvet is too thick (no a/c in Paris!) or if I'm having a night sweat. If I ever feel that aliens are taking over my body, I'll know for sure. Thanks for sharing your experience!

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  8. I went to the doctors a few weeks back for the exact same reasons as you and came out with iron tablets and hormones. I'm not touching the latter but it kept the doctor happy giving me the prescription for them!
    Hope your energy levels perk up soon. I'm feeling better after a couple of weeks of extra iron. That's all I needed.

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    1. Thanks, Steph! I'm glad to hear that the iron supplements are helping. You really need to keep your energy levels up with all of the physical work that you do.

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  9. The almost French chic speaks; I really do love being on the pill. Iron supplements were a living hell for me and having "accidents" in the night were mortifying and I hated being locked up for a couple of days every month. the have given me back my freedom.
    For those preferring the natural approach, there are phyto-hormones.

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    1. Thanks for being so supportive last week and for giving me the contact info for your gynecologist, Sylvia! Your comment, "Hormones rock" was invaluable because it was the first clue that I had that the French approach is different than what I'm used to in Switzerland and the USA. As Denise said, HRT is a choice that each woman has to make for herself after considering quality of life and possible risks. It's helpful to know about your positive experiences with HRT.

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  10. Dear Mary Kay
    I haven't read the comments so maybe I repeat opinions formulated before. I NEVER went with any hormone therapy and I am baffled too at the extreme love of Frenchies for their pills and tablets. I asked my doctor here to make a big note on my 'dossier' DO NOT DESCRIBE CHEMICAL STUFF TO THIS PATIENT (she is extremely difficult... - that's optional...)!
    I also had to overcome my inital shock when I learned that I have to have my right eye illico presto operated and was given two dates for injection of Cortisone without the first question being asked whether there are reasons for me NOT to be treated with this extremely powerful drug... As I'm totally opposed to hurting my body and system with one drug for a tiny bonus of curing something and furthermore have a disfigured sister following to her having had a cortisone treatment, one can only shake one's head at this careless disposal of drugs to patients.
    I do recommend you take Evening Primrose oil caps; I have one of them every morning and they seem to do me a lot of good. Every time I 'learned' to listen to my body, I was alright - when I listened only to my head and not my body too, I got myself into (health) troubles.
    Be good! Kiki

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    1. Oh, Kiki! Your comment made me laugh. I think that I'm going to ask my doctors to put the same disclaimer at the top of my dossier and I'm sure that the phrase, "She's extremely difficult" will be duly noted as well.

      Thanks for mentioning Evening Primrose oil. I actually have some at the back of one of the drawers in the kitchen that I'll have to dig out and start using again!

      I'm sorry to hear about your sister.

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  11. Aussies live longer because of their "no worries" attitude. French women are so medicated that they have a chemically induced "no worries" attitude, I would guess....................

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    1. Attitude - I think that you may be right. Plus, both of those countries produce really good wine! ;) It was a surprise, although I guess that it shouldn't have been, to see that that USA ranks so low. I guess that it's largely due to obesity.

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