One very promising tool is the dipstick sets that allow you to test your own urine. They provide a number of easy, inexpensive, completely safe screening tests for excess sugar, blood, or protein in the urine.
Another device now being tested is a tampon which will allow women to collect menstrual blood and cell samples to be sent in to a laboratory and examined for evidence of cervical cancer. If the present testing goes well, it will be marketed under the trade name Ascend.
I highly recommend blood pressure cuffs for home use. Some of the new automated models make a stethoscope unnecessary. Having a cuff at home is particularly helpful if you have high blood pressure and are working on controlling it on a self-help basis— through such approaches as weight loss or exercise or stress reduction or quitting smoking or meditating, or a combination of these methods. The cuff provides a kind of biofeedback, rewarding you by letting you see the immediate results of your efforts. And people taking blood pressure medication can help adjust their own dosage of the drug if they can monitor their own blood pressure at home.
Another new kit allows you to test your own stool specimen for traces of blood. This test is highly recommended once a year for persons over forty. You just touch the fecal specimen to a piece of moistened test paper, and if blood is present, the paper changes color.
What drugs should be kept on hand at home?
If I could take only one drug with me to a desert island, I'd take codeine. It can be used to relieve quite a few common, distressing medical problems.
Codeine is good for pain—a toothache, a headache, or bad menstrual cramps that aspirin won't handle. And codeine plus aspirin has an additive effect, so that both together are especially powerful. Codeine can also be used to control diarrhea.
Codeine is a prescription drug in most states, so you'll have to get your doctor to prescribe it for you. You don't need much, and if you ask for a whole lot, your doctor might start thinking you're a drug addict. Ten 30-mg. tablets should be plenty. Take a whole tablet for serious pain, half a tablet (15 mg.) for a cough or diarrhea. At our house we go through maybe one or two tablets in a year.
While it is true that codeine can be abused, it is almost never habit-forming in the doses we're talking about. Drug companies have made millions by playing on the fears of people and doctors by claiming that their expensive preparations are safer than the older and much cheaper codeine.
If your doctor resists prescribing this cheap and effective medicine, make sure that he does prescribe some Lomotil for potential traveler's diarrhea and something like Capital with codeine or Tylenol with codeine for pain.
The one caution would be not to use codeine—or any other painkiller—for a pain of unknown origin. If you had an inflamed appendix, for example, a painkiller might make it hard to diagnose what was really going on.
What else belongs in a home medicine chest?
I always keep some Tinactin (tolnaftate) handy. It's one of the best antifungal agents for athlete's foot or jock itch and it's available over the counter.
People troubled by motion sickness might want to include Dramamine (dimenhydrinate). It's an antihistamine and may cause sleepiness. Another antihistamine, Phenergan (promethazine), available by prescription, is a stronger antidote for motion sickness, and has such a strong sedative effect that it can do double-duty as a sleeping pill. Don't try to drive or operate machinery while taking this one.