Ask Your Doctor

My apologies to Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, but I might not be so quick to laugh the next time the Discover Card ad comes on showing doctors waiting to shock a guy until his credit-card authorization goes through.

It’s droll. Until you’ve been there.

My husband recently had a heart attack, so commercials like that are hitting a little close to home. Other ads, too, are suddenly commanding more of my attention: those for pharmaceutical products.

It’s not that I’d use these ads as research to make suggestions to the cardiologist. Even before my husband’s cardiac care, I felt it was more than presumptuous to tell doctors what drugs one should be taking. These ads got me curious because of something that happened while my husband was in the hospital.

Here’s the scenario: He’s lying there, totally out of it, talking major gibberish as he comes down off the morphine from the angioplasty and stent insertion. It’s up to me to tell the nurse the names and dosages of the drugs he’s already on.

So far, the nurse has been calm, concerned, patient—everything you want in a person who is charged with caring for a relative who only hours before was seemingly near death.

We talk about which drugs the doctors are likely to prescribe to get him past this surgery and hopefully prevent another one down the road.

“They’ll probably put him on Zocor,” she says.

It sounds vaguely familiar, but I can’t quite place it. “What’s that?”

“It’s a cholesterol-lowering drug.”

“Oh, but he doesn’t have high cholesterol. That’s the one thing he’s got going in his favor.”

“They almost always prescribe it to patients who’ve had heart attacks,” she says. “It greatly reduces the occurrence of second heart attacks.”

“Wow. That’s pretty cool.”

“I learned that from their commercial,” she adds with a laugh.

I don’t know whether to laugh or cry. Here’s someone who seems more than competent telling me she gets her continuing education in the commercial breaks during ER. Better than from ER, I guess.

Needless to say, I had more on my mind at the time and let the incident go. But a few weeks later, my husband and I are watching TV (eating salads instead of pizza, of course) as a pharmaceutical ad comes on. I hit the mute button and tell him about the exchange with the nurse.

He’s dismayed. “Even if it’s true, how stupid of her to tell you that,” he says. “How unprofessional.”

We debate the merits and evils of drug ads. On the one hand, they educate consumers about their options. On the other hand, shouldn’t we be getting that information from our doctors? Or at least from somewhere other than the boob tube?

“She probably felt like saying she saw it on TV validated the information,” my husband says, though we shudder at the notion. “She probably was just trying to reassure you.”

In the end, the cardiologist did prescribe Zocor. But our insurance wouldn’t pay for that brand. So the doctor substituted Lipitor, which apparently has a similar effect.

I guess I’ll have to wait for the ads to see if it’s as good.