Medicine for a Desert Isle . . . or the End of the World

Going on vacation soon? Or expecting the end of the world, perhaps?

If I moved to a desert island, what medicine would I, a family physician, take with me? It’s something I’ve pondered over the years. It’s easy to say what I wouldn’t bring – no cholesterol medicine, no diet drugs, no wrinkle cream.

What’s really necessary? What’s really useful?

To make things simple I’ll stick with medicine available inexpensively over-the-counter. That’s another way of saying, what should you keep in your medicine cabinet? Or take on a cruise?

Since I might have a toothache or headache or injury myself, I’d bring along something for pain – probably two things: ibuprofen (generic Motrin or Advil, under $10 for 500 caplets) and acetaminophen (generic Tylenol, about $4 for 100), in case the ibuprofen bothered my stomach.

Expecting a diet of bananas and coconuts might irritate my stomach, I’d make sure I brought meclizine for nausea, ranitidine or famotidine for heartburn, and loperamide for diarrhea (inexpensive generics for Bonine, Zantac, Pepcid and Imodium, respectively, each under $10). I’d bring generic Tums, too, for quick relief of acid indigestion and to help my bones, since there probably wouldn’t be any cows around and chewing seashells is hard on my teeth. The meclizine would also come in handy for any sea-sickness or car-sickness along the way.

I might get a paper cut from a palm leaf, so would pack a tube of bacitracin to prevent infection. On the off chance of poison ivy I’d keep a tube of hydrocortisone 1% (generic Cortaid 10) on hand. And just in case there were any fungus around to cause ringworm or athlete’s foot, I’d bring a tube of clotrimazole (generic Lotrimin) as well.

And since I’d likely have allergies to the native plant life, I’d bring diphenhydramine (generic Benadryl) for bedtime use (also helps insomnia) and loratadine for morning use (either also helps hives or itching).

I suppose I’d have to be in the water to catch fish now and then, so would bring a bottle of hydrogen peroxide to rinse my ears (50:50 mix, water and hydrogen peroxide) if they started getting sore (swimmer’s ear).

And since my diet might not be ideal, I’d take a year’s worth of inexpensive vitamins with me for about $10.

Oops! Almost forgot the sunscreen – I’d need at least an SPF 15 or higher until I got tanned. Better bring a book on herbal medicine as well, in case I’m stranded longer than a week or two – and a solar charger for my cell phone.

Now, I’m ready to go.

Copyright 2010 Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

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About Cynthia J. Koelker, MD

CYNTHIA J KOELKER , MD is a board-certified family physician with over twenty years of clinical experience. A member of American Mensa, Dr. Koelker holds degrees in biology, humanities, medicine, and music from M.I.T., Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, and the University of Akron. She served in the National Health Service Corps to finance her medical education.
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