Prescribe Me A Problem / by Jessie Tseng

by Kat Quinn

 Kat reading her essay at our Burn The Book premiere on April 19. Photo by Bridget Haggerty.

Kat reading her essay at our Burn The Book premiere on April 19. Photo by Bridget Haggerty.

When I was seven, I discovered I was lactose intolerant. So the doctor gave me a pill to ease my discomfort as I ate every ice cream cone in sight. When I was a teenager, I had irregular periods. So the doctor gave me a pill (the pill) and assured me “that would fix it.” When I was twenty, I got acid reflux. So the doctor gave me, you guessed it, a pill. One that I washed down with chocolate bars, lattes, and other triple offenders.

There I was, popping prescriptions and doing whatever I pleased, until one day when my hairdresser informed me I was “losing A TON of hair.”

Well. If you ever want to see a twenty-five-year-old cry, really lean into the word “TON” when you tell her all her hair is falling out. That way she’ll understand it’s officially time to panic. And that it’s apparently not normal to find what looks like a wig from a Snow White costume in her shower drain every morning.

Naturally, I ran to the dermatologist like someone was chasing me. He told me I had an inflamed and infected scalp, and gave me a series of topical creams and steroids that should zap it back to normal. As I had spent my whole life blissfully abiding by the ease-symptom-with-pill model, I rubbed them right on top of my brain and awaited a miracle. For months. But no miracle came.

Time passed, I saw more dermatologists, and somewhere along the way, I lost my mind. Maybe it was the steroids-on-the-brain thing, or simply a twenty-something’s terror, but I became obsessed; studying my scalp, monitoring (and imagining) changes with rulers and photo logs, until one night when I just about shaved off my hair so I could properly view whether or not I was going bald. That’s when I realized I was no longer sane. And had no choice but to question my methods. Was this condition caused by something I was doing? Or eating? Could this be a sign that something was off inside my body? Does anything really “just happen?”

I asked my general physician these questions, and she answered no, no, no, and yes, respectively. But this only spurred me further. I scheduled an appointment interrogation with the most impressive dermatologist Google had to offer. She also insisted it was an entirely external problem, and no internal action would help. But I pressed until she finally said I should try an antibiotic pill. “But if it’s not internal, how could taking a pill internally help?” I asked her. That’s when she snapped, “You know, I’m really not trained to think this way.”

I’m not trained to think this way. Not trained to understand how the human body works? I suddenly understood. My whole life I had been going to doctors, assuming they were trained to make my body well. But *they were actually trained to match a pill to ease my symptoms and give me comfort, rather than heal my body.

Because the truth is, healing is not a comfortable process. It’s a long and grueling one that requires a strong will, and it’s something many people are not interested in enduring. Most of us, however, are not even presented with the option. I have a **friend who was diagnosed with high cholesterol and the doctor told him to start taking a pill for it. He asked if instead he could modify his diet, and the doctor responded, “You could, but that’s really hard to do, so the pill is probably your best bet.”

The problem with this is that humans innovate faster than we evolve. And our internal organs have spent thousands of years developing to work together as an assembly line. So even though a pill might be intended to target just one organ, it will actually effect the whole system. This can create havoc and dependency.

I would know. I finally found my way to holistic medicine practitioners, and they understood that the state of my scalp was a result of internal issues. They ran a series of tests and discovered the culprits were SIBO, leaky gut, and allergies to pretty much everything besides air (except in late summer, when I’m allergic to air too). And each issue could be traced back to pill-caused damage.

So I changed my life. And I’m happy to report that I’m typing this as a drug-free lady with a scalp that is stronger than mush. Getting off the pills and healing these ailments is taking years. I’ve had to say goodbye (for now) to so many foods and activities that I find comfortable and convenient. And there are days when it’s really hard, and I could swear the ice cream trucks of New York City have rerouted their fleet to follow me around. But I believe I’m moving toward a long and vibrant life, and that is worth the temporary lifestyle sacrifices.

So come find me in 80 years, and I’ll tell you about all the adventures I had in my balanced, thriving body.

(I’ll be the one with the full head of hair. Dancing on the table.)

*I’m not speaking for all doctors here. Only the seven who tried to heal my various symptoms with prescriptions alone.

**He did adjust his diet, and now has normal cholesterol and a new-found appreciation for produce.


Kat Quinn is an indie-pop songstress based in New York City. Originally hailing from Marblehead, Massachusetts, Quinn found music at a young age with drums, piano, and guitar. But it wasn’t until college when she discovered the piece the tied them all together: writing. She has released three EPs, that got notable outlets such as American Songwriter, PopMatters, and Hello Giggles buzzing, and her songs have been featured in film, TV, and ads.