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Hydroxy and the president

Finally, I have something in common with President Donald Trump. We both take hydroxychloroquine. 

Actually, I’ve been taking it for some years, so I was really pleased when the president touted it as being effective against the coronavirus. I even looked up the suggested dose online, and found that I was already taking it. What could be better? 

Well, having it work for coronavirus would have been better, for one thing. Even if it had been just neutral, I wouldn’t have minded. But when studies found that people who take hydroxychloroquine actually die of COVID-19 at rates greater than those who do not, I became a bit discouraged. Because, unlike the president, I actually need the stuff. 

Early on, when it was being touted as a possible cure, when the president said, “I think it’s going to be great” and called it “a game changer,” I started counting my pills. Soon there was a run on the stuff, and I didn’t want to run out. I had missed out on face masks. I was not going to miss out on my anti-malarial drug of choice — which I actually use to control an autoimmune disease, although invoking the specter of malaria always sounds so much more dramatic. Luckily, I get my supplies in three-month allotments, and I had a lot of time left. 

Just when I thought that hydroxychloroquine had left the COVID-19 arena, Trump announced on Monday that he is taking it. Because ... well, because he can. “A lot of good things have come out about the hydroxy,” he said. “A lot of good things have come out. You’d be surprised at how many people are taking it, especially the frontline workers – before you catch it.” 

So now, he says, “I happen to be taking it, I happen to be taking it. . . I’m taking it – hydroxychloroquine, right now.” The FDA has warned about using it for COVID-19 outside of a hospital because of the risk of serious heart problems. But who listens to the FDA? 

Unlike our president, I have known for a long time that hydroxychloroquine is not without some nasty side effects. Macular degeneration comes to mind. That’s why I have to have my retinas examined every year. So far, so good, though — which is the way many of us reconcile our need for prescribed medications against possible side effects. 

For me the tradeoff is between taking a drug I need, and taking to heart the warnings that come on the product brochure. So I skim over “irreversible retinal damage,” “life-threatening and fatal cardiomyopathy,” “ventricular arrhythmias,” “progressive weakness and atrophy of proximal muscle groups,” “hypoglycemia,” and the rest. I give no thought to the fact that “long-term studies in animals have not been conducted” to evaluate its “carcinogenic potential.” After all, I’m not a lab rat. 

And, I am not the president, who seems to be above mortal concerns and to have a force field that makes masks unnecessary. I have seen enough people without masks lately to know that the president is not alone in the conviction that viruses can be repelled by sheer force of will. That leads me to suspect that, once more, I should start counting my pills. Because, as the president himself said, “I’ve taken it for a week and a half now, and I’m still here.” What more proof could anyone need? 

Maureen Croteau is a professor of journalism at the University of Connecticut and a member of The Day's Board of Directors.

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