Sugar pills

Today I read that doctors may start prescribing labelled sugar pills (  I love the name of the program that has produced the revelation that conditions like irritable bowel and migraine headaches can be helped by a pill that a patient knows is a placebo. 

“Harvard researcher Dr. Ted Kaptchuk made this counterintuitive conclusion in a study published last week in Science Translational Medicine,” the Globe article informs us, “as director of the Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter at Harvard.”

Harvard. Now there’s a sugar pill for you!

Once I was prescribed Lorazapam by a psychiatrist. I was suffering from a complex shattering of the heart following a death, a PhD, a marriage, a love affair or two, and growing children. I dreamed often about this pill in a way that suggested it was magical, a charm offered from the world of men, like a life buoy or a mummified baby. 

When I finally realized it was magnifying my anger rather than diminishing it, it took me two years to get off the L-pam.  A sugar pill might have worked. I would have taken the script to the drug store, waited for it, enduring the same mix of humiliation and gratitude. Maybe it wouldn’t have helped me sleep, as at the beginning it did. I don’t know. There was something about being trusted with something dangerous. But maybe I would have felt loved by the care it took to prescribe it and fill it, just the same. 

Okay, here’s an idea. How about a prescription to go and find something in the city–a sort of treasure hunt? I thought of this after I’d read the article. My mood was low but as I crossed Queen’s Park–still slithery ice after the thaw–I saw a sculpture I hadn’t noticed before.

Al Purdy 2

At first I thought it depicted Marshall McLuhan, as it looked in the direction of St Michael’s College towards where the Centre for Culture and Technology used to be hidden behind the Centre for Medieval Studies off of Queen’s Park Circle. But then I realized it was Al Purdy. In any case, encountering this figure of culture, gazing intently across the frozen park, lifted my mood by a thousand lumens. And I thought, why not write out a script for patients with mood disorders, telling them to go find something outside their neighbourhood that connects with them, and photograph it, or write a poem about it? Most of the time we’re all locked into the funk of missing a connection with the heart of the matter–the heart of our matter. 

Al Purdy

Program in Placebo Studies and the Therapeutic Encounter: love the sound of that. Not poetry, exactly. But it might lead to some.



One thought on “Sugar pills

  1. “There was something about being trusted with something dangerous.” What an insight. I’d never labeled this experience yet for myself, but you’re so right. And the mix of embarrassment and gratitude, there at the pharmacy….

    “But maybe I would have felt loved by the care it took to prescribe it and fill it, just the same.” {sigh}

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