Are all children spying? Just me? As a child, I spent hours sniffing through my parents ‘bedside tables, grandma’s paperback, and my older brothers’ dresser drawers. Not sure what exactly I was looking for other than confirming my suspicions that the teenagers and adults in my life have kept secrets from me.
And no opportunity to sleep seemed richer than the two mirrored medicine cabinets that hung on my parents’ bathroom wall. My mother’s was kind of boring, her glass shelves lined with bottles of aspirin and antacids, plus a dusty jar of gem-colored bath oil beads. My father’s was a treasure trove – at least for me. As an orthopedic surgeon, he had access to all sorts of paraphernalia with which to restock his medicine cabinet: syringes, alcohol, sterile gauze, opium tincture, ACE bandages, gentian violet, and even butazolidine, an injectable anti-inflammatory agent that has long been on the market for people, although still used by veterinarians.
Appealingly, these items looked mysterious and vaguely dangerous. They probably made me want to one day become a doctor myself and join the exclusive club whose members knew how to use things like that. In retrospect, however, I find that my father’s pharmacy offered a window into his attitude towards health. Although he often suffers from one disease or another, he never gave up his doctor’s identity and never fully assumed the role of the patient. The contents of his pharmacy stated that no matter how sick he got, he could take care of himself.
Family Culture of Disease: Are You a Maximalist or a Minimalist?
Along with our family history – which our doctors record when they ask which of our relatives have cancer, diabetes, or heart disease – each of us has a parallel history that I like to consider our family’s Culture illness. A decade ago in Your doctor Mind: How you decide what is right for youHarvard doctors Jerome Groopman and Pamela Hartzband roughly divided people into medical “maximalists” and “minimalists”. Maximalists are more likely to go to the doctor, willingly take medication, and undergo invasive tests. Minimalists tend to wait and see; They prefer remedies in diet and exercise. Groopman and Hartzband, who are married, describe how such attitudes form early in life, deeply embedded in a family’s approach to health and illness.
In the case of my own family, I now see that my father’s pharmacy reflected maximalism – with a twist: Dad would be subjected to aggressive treatment, but he wanted some control, perhaps even by administering the treatment himself. In contrast, my mother was a minimalist through and through. What a hot bath couldn’t cure would be a couple of TUMS and a long conversation on the phone.
A look at our own approach to health
What is in my own medicine cabinet after growing up with this mixed disease culture? When our kids were young, my doctor and I were pretty minimalistic. We had a dubious thermometer, an outdated calamine lotion, and a crispy bottle of liquid Tylenol. We weren’t irresponsible parents, but maintaining a well-stocked home pharmacy was never a priority for us. I admired a friend who was ready something – She always had antihistamine in combination with Tylenol, Advil, and simple – but I never felt moved to emulate them.
Now that our children have grown up, I see a continuation of our minimalism. But there’s also a new element: a touch of hoarding that replacing wall cabinets with spacious bathroom drawers seems to encourage. We have accumulated dozens of small bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and lotion from hotel stays in addition to regular sized ones. We’re never without at least one huge Costco bottle of ibuprofen. and we have a hot water bottle, a heating pad, and a microwaveable hot pack – not one we’ve ever used. What exactly are we preparing for? The sudden onslaught of old age that we fear will not make us aware?
Now take a look at your medicine cabinet. What does it say about you
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