I began needing drugs to stay alive one day in the early 1990s, though I did not realize it at the time. I was still a decade away from officially becoming an old person by US government standards, although I'd already started getting my mailings from AARP. I had spent the afternoon in the Plaza Hotel bar in New York City, meeting with an actor who'd said he wanted to make a film from a book I'd written. (To no one's surprise, it never happened.) I'd had a few bourbons without eating anything, and afterward I stopped off at a falafel place. Then I began to vomit blood.
I went to the doctor. He gave me the first of what was to become a series of yearly tests, snaking a fiber-optic device down my throat to look at my upper digestive tract. He announced that I had Barrett's syndrome, a dangerous precancerous condition in the cells of the lower esophagus, caused by years of acid reflux. But fortunately for me, the doctor said, there was a pill, still relatively new at the time, that could save me from a terrible fate -- a little purple pill. With that, I became one of the millions of people who take Prilosec and a crop of other prescription drugs for acid reflux, stomach ulcers, and heartburn.
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