The Personal Armamentarium

In my research, I’ve sometimes heard doctors use the word “armamentarium” to refer to the full array of treatments they have at their disposal. For particular patients, they choose the options that they think will best address their needs. In a way, the armamentarium is like the library from which they choose books to recommend to their patients.

I’ve often thought about how each person also has a personal armamentarium. If you open up your medicine cabinet, you probably find an array of medications: some over-the-counter antihistamines and pain relievers, burn and wound creams, prescription pills taken daily, prescription ointments to use as needed. Every person has different needs, so every person’s medicine cabinet – their personal armamentarium – looks a little bit different.

A scholar I look up to once spoke to a class I participated in. He talked about how interesting it would be to have people tell him the story of each medication in their medicine cabinet. Each medication, he thought, would have a unique story that would illustrate how deeply embedded pharmaceuticals are in our everyday lives. I can imagine how these stories would illuminate the emotional connections we can form to inanimate objects that have the power to save (or improve) our lives, and the social context and deeply personal histories that accompany the experience of illness for each person.

The writer's personal armamentarium.
Allergy supplies for a weekend in the country during pollen season.

 When I think about my own medical armamentarium, I certainly have stories to tell. For example, when I look at the over-the-counter antihistamine I currently use, I am reminded of the work trip when I first tried using it. I found that this formulation worked much better than what I had been taking. A friend offered me the new pill from her medicine cabinet while I was staying at her house. I took it before I went to bed each night to dampen my allergy to her cat. During that trip I also presented some preliminary research about allergic medications. It was a very allergy-filled week!

Thinking about this episode then reminds me of how life-changing it was to be diagnosed with allergies in the first place, as a young adult just after college. The diagnosis opened up so many treatment options, and while it can be difficult to navigate them and to figure out which treatment works best for which situation, it changed my life for the better.

The story of even a single pill quickly becomes develops layers and links to other pills, other illnesses, other stories. These stories are part of each person’s experience with the modern medical industry. I think they can teach us a lot about the value of health and extent to which pharmaceuticals shape our experience of health and illness.

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