Medicine Is Supposed To Taste Bad

Fruit-flavored antacids are existentially confusing

Like any human, I eat food. Sometimes too much. Not nearly enough plants. On some occasions I consume coffee, chocolate, Advil®, and beer all on the same day, which regrettable pattern calls for antacids in the short term, and histamine-2 blockers in the long term. My preferred choice of chalk tablet is Tums® Smoothies—I don’t know why; I think I tried them one day and they were, I don’t know, smoother than the ones you get that come rolled up in a coin roll? And the dispenser has weird grippy sides with finger grooves for when your tum hurts so much you can’t hold on (???). But as nice as the dispenser is, the product suffers from a pretty basic problem: what is the deal with all the flavors?

Assorted Fruit-flavored Tums® come in cherry, orange, lemon, and lime. Why???? Those are almost the same exact flavors that Skittles and Starburst and Runts come in, which is confusing because Tums® are not candy, even though a lot of people wish they were.

My main issue here is that everyone knows that when you impose this kind of flavor diversity on a product, you necessarily impose a hierarchy. To each her own or whatever, but we can all agree that cherry is the best and lime is the worst. This kind of thought process is unwelcome on top of a sour stomach. So you untwist the paper roll and you get an orange: okay, fine. You would have preferred cherry but you can’t win ’em all. But you tore enough paper and you can see that the next one is a lime, and you have to take it because a dosage is two tablets. I shouldn’t be thinking about this! I shouldn’t be wishing for other flavors of medicine. The which-flavor-will-I-get next game is too much on top of a tummy ache, to say nothing of the can-I-get-two-cherries-in-a-row-and-does-it-mean-he-loves-me game.

You know the expression, “A taste of your own medicine?” It’s not generally a kind one. Pills should be bitter, and hard to swallow, as the other expression goes. Medicine is supposed to taste bad, because it’s associated with unpleasantness and being sick. I know, I know, a spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down, as Mary Poppins said, but Mary Poppins also did a lot of crazy shit like pull lamps out of her carpet bag, and in my memory she always has soot on her face.

It used to be that Tums and Rolaids came mostly in peppermint flavor, if they were flavored at all, because people have this idea that peppermint soothes your stomach, which might be true, but I think it’s mostly about the placebo effect of “cooling” your “burn.” And I’m not saying that Tums taste good exactly, but they’re trying to imitate something that does, and that is deeply confusing. A few years ago, a coworker gave me some Gaviscon tablets (original flavor, NOT cherry) and they were dis-GUS-ting. They tasted almost as bad as the acid-reflux burpy taste in my mouth. But they worked like an unpleasant charm.