A pill for every illness?


The basic contention of this essay is that the doctor’s role is largely that of a professional medical adviser. Every individual should realise that he has primary responsibility for his own health.

One day a young woman bought her charming son to me. Seven-year old Tony wet his bed almost every night, and could I give him some tablet for it? I advised Tony that he should empty his bladder completely before going to bed. “Visit the bathroom at least twice between dinner and bedtime,” I said. His mother intervened to say that occasionally, Tony would not feel like it, and so he would go to bed without visiting the bathroom.

On questioning her, I discovered that Tony slept for only seven hours every night. “During the holidays he also sleeps for three hours every afternoon but, of course, this is not possible on schooldays,” his mother added. Apparently, she was not aware that the average seven-year old needs 10 hours of sleep daily. Chronically sleep-deprived children sleep so deeply that they may not awaken to visit the bathroom no matter how loudly their bladders scream. She was quite amused by my ‘impractical’ advice regarding the need to permit her son more sleep time.

False complacency

I also suggested that Tony should restrict his fluid intake for two hours before bedtime. Not practical, Doctor, interrupted his mother, he has dinner an hour before bedtime and of course he has a glass of water along with it.

Who does she think I am, I wanted to cry out loud – a magician or a mere pediatrician? It does not quite work that way. The dramatic advances that modern medicine have made, the ease with which one can today cure the nightmare infections of the past (pneumonia, typhoid, even TB and leprosy), the easy availability of powerful vaccines against the greatest childhood terrors of the past (measles, diphtheria, polio, whooping cough), all this has bred a false complacency, a belief that there is “a pill for every illness”.

Yet two million people die of TB every year the world over, most of them in India, despite the availability of effective and safe medicines, which are supplied free of cost in government hospitals, mainly because the patients are too lazy to take a full six month course of treatment, and stop therapy the moment they feel better.

Over a million children die of measles every year because their parents did not have the time or inclination to get them vaccinated. AIDS takes a toll of another million.

Many diseases do not have a magical cure but can be prevented by a more hygienic lifestyle! Proper diet control would halve the number of diabetics needing drugs, and make it milder in the rest. Smoking is the number one unnecessary killer in the world today, vastly dwarfing the number of all victims of war and terrorism.

Alcohol and drug abuse take a heavy toll on people’s health. Excessive consumption of oily and sweet food, combined with a lack of exercise, is the obvious cause of the modern pandemic of obesity with all its complications.

Yet I remain an optimist. In Tony’s case, I am happy to announce that his mother, despite stiff resistance initially, finally decided to take my advice seriously, with excellent results within just four months.

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