You wouldn’t recognize Nancy now that she’s knocked out and drooling.

My grandmother was a difficult woman. She didn’t handle stress well.


My grandfather, a doctor, knew just how to handle that.


He gave her drug after drug. She was unconscious through most of my mother’s childhood.


After twenty thirty years or so, other doctors in the community found out what was going on, and threatened to have his license pulled unless he put her in The Institute of Living.


Unfortunately, when she got out of the hospital, the world was large and overwhelming (especially since she hadn’t really been in it for the last twenty thirty years). She found ways to get what she needed in order to cope.


After my grandfather died, she found a doctor – a friend of his, I believe – to keep up her prescriptions. When she went into the hospital at the age of 80 with an asthma attack, she was too embarrassed to tell them everything she was taking. So she went into acute Valium withdrawal. And that, combined with her age and general weakness, killed her.


My grandfather was a monster, yes, but a socially sanctioned monster.

Saw it first at Feminist Law Professors
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9 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    miss kendra said,

    sometimes i get embarassed to tell my doctor stuff, but then i remember they have seen weirder, and need to know.

    except about that one thing. no one needs to know that.

  2. 2

    Mom said,

    It was closer to thirty years, actually. These ads really give me the chills.

  3. 3

    uccellina said,

    I was going to say thirty, but then I thought no, it couldn’t have been that long. Fixed now.

  4. 4

    Well. If I ever have the pleasure of meeting your mom, we’ll apparently have quite a bit in common.

    Except that my dad made my mom come off the valium before anyone else in the community found out. It was fun for the whole family while my mom went through valium withdrawl. Yup. Nothing to see here, that was our family motto…

  5. 5

    Andrea said,

    That’s so sad, uccellina.

    And I can’t help thinking that today’s pharmaceutical ads aren’t appreciably different than these.

    Do you think there’s an answer? I mean that sincerely–when one family member is a doctor with, let’s say, less than the normal complement of scruples, how do you protect their family members? Or can you?

  6. 6

    uccellina said,

    I don’t know, Andrea. I honestly don’t.

    One difference between these and modern advertisments is the target audience. The first of the above ads bills Serpasil as for “the many patients who, without some help, are incapable of dealing calmly with a daily pile-up of stressful issues.” Like the rest, it’s directed at doctors, and the patients are viewed as neurotics who simply can’t deal with normal stress.

    Modern drug advertising is aimed at patients, or consumers. The ads are sympathetic, and present the condition as the inevitable result of the unreasonable amount of stress these patients are facing.

    Science is always spurred by what society sees as important at the time. I see these old advertisements as the neat confluence of mid-20th-century scientific advances and the post-WWII backlash against women.

  7. 7

    Laurie Ann said,

    I followed the links and looked at the other ads and I’m just amazed. Nembutal to dope up little kids because they’re afraid of the doctor? Methadone for pain? Thorazine for crazy ol’ Grandpa? Unbelievable. And things haven’t changed at all.

    I’m sorry about your grandmother. It explains what you were saying last night though…

  8. 8

    Andrea said,

    That’s a good point. I hadn’t considered that.

    Are there rules barring people from prescribing drugs for their own family members that they are breaking, or are there simply no rules? (I should look this up for myself, really.)

  9. 9

    uccellina said,


    It’s not illegal (in the U.S., anyway), but it is strongly discouraged.

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