Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Village medicine

An inevitable consequence of my growing old while persevering in my solitary existence in the relatively harsh environment of Gamone is that, from time to time, I make an abrupt bodily movement that results in my waking up the next morning with unexpected aches. This happens so often that it hasn't worried me greatly up until now, because afflictions of this kind hang around for a couple of days, and then they disappear just as rapidly as they arose. But the sudden pain in my left knee that hit me last week was particularly vicious, since it made it difficult for me to walk correctly and even to drive the car (which, incidentally, is the worst menace of all for me, since I'm obliged to drive a dozen or so kilometers to buy my supplies). This time, I had the impression that my affliction resulted surely from the fact that I had been scrambling around a little too much, over the last few days, up on the steep embankments above the house, in the vicinity of the patched-up hole in the fence where the horses had escaped.

On Friday, I drove down to Pont-en-Royans to post a letter. A friend living opposite the post office noticed that I was limping, and he rushed across to ask me what was wrong. For want of a better explanation, and instead of describing how I might have stumbled on a rock up behind my house at Gamone, I told him (without being at all convinced that this was the truth) that it was an unexpected attack of arthritis. I thought that this would satisfy his curiosity, since I'm old enough to suffer from this standard ailment… and it's even possible that I do, already. Instead of that, he was eager to tell me all about his miracle cure for all kinds of aches in the joints, particularly the knees. It was a gel named Geldolor. He told me I could find it at the local pharmacy (we happened to be standing just outside the door), and that it was both inexpensive and amazingly effective. So, I assured him that I would buy this product just as soon as I had posted my letter.

Inside the pharmacy, I told the young female pharmacist that a kind friend had given me the name of a wonderful ointment that would almost certainly relieve me of an annoying pain in my left knee. When I told her the name of the product, she said that the pharmacy didn't stock it, but they could have a tube delivered for the following morning.

PHARMACIST: You don't need to tell me the name of your kind friend, because there's only one individual in Pont-en-Royans who would recommend this phytochemical product for the treatment of knee pains.

I was trapped! In a flash, I grasped what had happened. William—who raves on regularly, on his blog, about the stupidity of homeopathy, astrology and other forms of quackery—had been caught out by a friend. Here I was ordering a magic plant-based thing in the hope of healing my sore knee joints. And even the pharmacist considered me now as the kind of guy who would believe anything. I'm sure she must be thinking that I'm a naive Anglo-Saxon sucker. And she probably imagines, to top it all off, that I go along to mass in the village church of a Sunday morning, and that I no doubt think the universe was created in a week, a few thousand years ago.

WILLIAM: Maybe, in place of the Geldolor, you could propose some kind of regular pharmaceutical product. After all, I've simply got a sore knee.

PHARMACIST: No, I wouldn't do that. If your friend has advised you to try the plant-based product, then you should do so.

I was well and truly trapped. The pharmacist saw me no doubt as the kind of guy for whom my friendship with the fellow across the street, and my respect for his judgment and wisdom, were surely far more important to me than modern medicine, science, technology or even truth.

The next morning, I picked up the product. When I returned home, I discovered that driving my car to the pharmacy had aggravated the pain in my knee. So, the circumstances were ideal for testing the product. It smelled good. I learned from the packet that the two active ingredients in the ointment were red pepper and an African plant known as Devil's Claw, containing alleged anti-inflammatory agents named harpagoside and beta-sitosterol. Half-an-hour later, the pain was just as intense as ever, so I swallowed a paracetamol tablet washed down by a cup of tea. Within five minutes, the pain had eased. But was this due to Geldolor or the paracetamol?

Over the weekend, I repeated the treatment a few more times, while saying to myself that I would go along to my doctor on Monday morning. Meanwhile, I made the mistake of not washing and drying my hands sufficiently after handling the red-pepper product, which gave rise suddenly to a horrible pain in my eyes… rapidly chased away by flushing with warm water.

When I crawled out of bed early on Monday morning, with the intention of visiting the doctor, the first thing I noticed was that the pain in my knee had disappeared. Now, don't expect me to conclude that this was due to the Geldolor. As I said at the beginning of this post, my aches and pains are always fleeting. They come and go, and I've learned to live with them. I cannot, of course, exclude the possibility that the charming young pharmacist had been so moved by my tale of suffering that she had visited the local church, at the end of her working day, and prayed for my rapid recovery. In that case, I would have to thank the fellow on the other side of the road for sending me to this pharmacy (which is not where I usually go for my prescription medicine), along with the girl herself, and—last but not least—Jesus and the Holy Ghost. Be that as it may, I felt that there was no longer any point in dropping in on my GP.


  1. One assumes that you paid considerably less for the Geldolor than you would have for a visit to your GP. Well done! Like a computer problem, I don't worry about how it was fixed, am just glad that it works again.

    And, William, surely you took some other medication, carefully measured from corked or other bottles? That must have helped.

  2. Annie: A tube of Geldolor costs a few euros. The only reason why Christian (the fellow who recommended it) would have mentioned this aspect of the affair is that equivalent treatment from my regular GP, here in France, would have been totally free. So, Christian was no doubt conscious of the fact that he was asking me, indirectly, to contribute to the funding in France of quack pharmacology. But that doesn't annoy me considerably. Live and let live. Every year around Christmas, I make a generous donation to the local "firies", who've done absolutely nothing, since my arrival at Choranche, to contribute to my well-being. (I've just used one of my favorites Oztalk specimens. To my ears, that word sounds as if these virile individuals were a cross between fairies and fireflies. In my imagination, I see Aussie firefighters prancing around gaily with their hoses, attired in brass helmets and ballet outfits.)

    As for "medicine" from uncorked bottles, that's another interesting subject. Up until a few years ago, I had indeed developed the habit of never sitting down in front of my computer without a bottle of wine alongside me. My ex-wife and children used to complain regularly about the fact that they could tell from my speech exactly how much alcohol I had consumed. Well, for quite some time, I've been obliged to put an end to this habit, for a quite down-to-earth reason: I've discovered that alcohol, of all kinds, "sickens" me… where the inverted commas around "sickens" indicate that it's a fuzzy but vicious cerebral affliction, capable of exerting its noxious effects for about a full day and night. I won't go into details, which are unclear and not particularly interesting, but let's say that the "sickness" is a mixture of depression, lethargy, nausea and—last but not least—a sudden incapacity to perform the subtle mental operations involved in both creative writing and computer programming, which have become my basic everyday preoccupations. Sadly, therefore, alcohol, for me, has become a poison. Does this conclusion annoy me? No, not at all. I feel much better and happier.

  3. Thank you, William, for your clarifications. I'm glad for you that visits to the GP are free as few here in Oz continue to bulk-bill.

    I probably should have picked up on your non-wine-drinking habits from earlier posts you've made.

    My mother liked red wine but, as she used to put it, "It doesn't like me." So regardless of the occasion she would always ask for a beer. In her last few years, she didn't like that either.

    Her brother found by painstaking trial and error that scotch gave him migraines. He had done two week trials eliminating every other foodstuff before he came to his conclusion - if he wanted to drink scotch, which he did from time to time, he knew he would suffer from a migraine!