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Taking bitter medicine

Published:Wednesday | March 13, 2013 | 12:00 AM

By Tomlin Paul, 50 and living better

The term 'bitter medicine' is being used a lot to paint a picture of what Jamaica needs to endure as it faces the path to managing its economic crisis. If you are over 50, I am sure you would have experienced many doses of 'bitter medicine'. You probably can't even remember now as the taste might have well faded.

One of the oaths of physicians is 'to first do no harm'. There are times, however, when in order to get some benefit, a little pain or bitterness is encountered. With all the doses of bitter medicine now making the rounds in Jamaica, it might be worth looking at how best to give and take bitter medicine.

Taste-bad medicine

Most medicines, in their pure form, have a bitter taste. Their chemical structures are foreign to our bodies and they are just not very tasty. The structure of economic reform also appears to have similar challenges in being accepted. My father had no mercy on me when, as a child, I was given that awful-tasting concoction of leaves and tree roots soaked in white rum to treat my cold. Pharmaceutical companies today do much better with syrups and capsules and compact pills to disguise bitterness. Indeed, thought should go into disguising the taste but not deceiving the patient!

How to give it

Do we have the right diagnosis and is this the best option for this particular patient? There must be communication between doctor and patient so that the patient fully understands what he is about to get, sees the value and agrees that this is the best path to follow. Where there is that understanding, we find that the medicine is more likely to be taken and to have a good effect.

How to take it

Every once in a while a parent calls me in distress that her child will not take the medicine. "Doc, I even tasted it myself and it is really bad!" Depending on the medicine and the guidelines given by the pharmacist, you may want to try some different things, such as covering it up with something sweet or swallowing it with something like a piece of bread with peanut butter.

There may be other things you have tried, but if all else fails and you have agreed that you should take it, you just have to buckle down and take it! Bear in mind that the longer you delay, the more likely it is that your condition will worsen and become harder to treat.

Faith in your medicine

If you really believe in it, you understand why you need to take it, and if you get the right support, then you hold your nose, put the medicine on the back of your tongue, close your eyes and swallow hard! After making up your face and screaming and pacing the floor, you now hope for the best!

Like effective chemotherapy, you may, have some harsh effects along the way, but in the end, you must have that hope that the cancer will be eradicated.

Dr Tomlin Paul is a family physician at Health Plus Associates in Kingston; email: