Embarrassment prevents treatment of some maladies


November 01, 1994|By Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon | Joe Graedon and Dr. Teresa Graedon,King Features Syndicate

Have you ever been embarrassed in a pharmacy? The local neighborhood drugstore may seem accessible and friendly, but it can be a minefield for sensitive souls.

Once, young men wishing to buy condoms had to pluck up their courage and ask the pharmacist because such products were kept behind the counter. Nowadays a wide variety of condoms is displayed on racks where anyone can reach them without embarrassment.

People are still easily mortified when they must purchase personal products or encounter insensitive clerks. One young man of our acquaintance -- we'll call him Jim -- went into his local drugstore to find a product to treat an annoying rash. Jim studied the products on the shelf, but didn't know which one would be best. He was reluctant to ask the pharmacist, a woman, because the rash was located in his groin and he didn't want to discuss it in public.

Jim agonized over his choice and finally picked out Cruex, because it had a familiar name. He headed for the cash register but took a detour before he got there when he discovered to his dismay that the clerk too was female. Poor Jim was embarrassed even to check out of the store with a jock-itch cream.

Then there is the story of the lice shampoo. An elegantly dressed, beautifully coiffed woman entered the drugstore, diligently searched the aisles, and finally whispered to the clerk in hope of getting some assistance. The clerk turned to the pharmacist, and in a booming voice that carried throughout the store, asked, "Where's the lice shampoo?" The woman turned bright red and left the store immediately.

Most people feel vulnerable when forced to discuss private issues in a public place. Few pharmacies offer private consultation rooms where a patient can get good advice from a knowledgeable health care professional without broadcasting delicate issues to bystanders.

When Mary Ann made the mistake of filling her diaphragm with toothpaste instead of spermicidal jelly she didn't want anyone to know. But she certainly needed advice on how to wash away the toothpaste that tingled unpleasantly. Trying to find a secluded place to talk quietly with the pharmacist was difficult.

Bill, too, needed a private consultation. He wondered if his prescription for Prozac might be causing the sexual difficulties he had encountered. But discussing lack of orgasm with a female pharmacist within earshot of other customers was too intimidating. Bill had to delay his concern until he had an appointment with his physician.

Pharmacists are once again the most respected professionals, according to a new Gallup poll. Butuntil drugstores have private space for consultations many people will be too embarrassed to ask the pharmacist personal questions.

Q: I have had constant bad breath for years and have tried every toothpaste, mouthwash and breath mint on the market. Nothing works. I know this is not a figment of my imagination as good friends confirm the problem.

I have been to specialists, including a dentist, orthodontist, periodontist, endocrinologist and otolaryngologist. No one can find the source of the odor or help me. Is there any herbal treatment or medicine that you know of that could cure this chronic condition?

A: You have certainly gone the extra mile to track down the cause of your bad breath. If the specialists weren't able to find a source of infection in your mouth or throat, perhaps the problem lies deeper.

Dr. Barry Marshall is the world's leading expert on Helicobacter pylori, a germ that is now believed to be responsible for many cases of gastritis and recurrent ulcers. He told us that this bacterium sometimes contributes to halitosis. He finds that antibiotic treatment to eradicate the infection sometimes cures the bad breath once and for all.

You may want to ask a gastroenterologist to test you for the presence of Helicobacter pylori or some other digestive tract disorder that might be responsible for bad breath.

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