I’ve been a pitiful figure the last six months. My feet have been hurting so much that I practically abandoned all walking on paved surfaces. I’ve been teaching class sitting down. I even started wearing real shoes.

Desperation drove me to a podiatrist. Twice. But the best he could do for me was mummify my feet in tape. That helps, but it’s totally impractical. I also tried several different orthotics, but they only provided mild relief.

Then two days ago, I tried the Airplus gel arch support. It cost about $5. I’m just about ready to declare myself 80-90% cured of foot pain. It’s truly amazing – I’ve solved my #1 physical problem for a pittance. Since walking plays a big role in my life, it’s no exaggeration to say that the little gel orthotics I’m wearing give me $100,000 in consumers’ surplus.

The whole experience has inspired me to codify what I dub the pharmacy heuristic. According to the pharmacy heuristic, which I now vow to follow, the first place you should go to resolve your health problems is not the doctor’s office, but the pharmacy. The more I think about it, the more I realize how much pharmacies have done for me relative to doctors. I used to have chronic allergies; now I take Benadryl, and I’m virtually sniffle-free. Athlete’s foot? Pharmacies have creams that work, and quickly. Ear aches? Basic ear drops are a huge help.

In an ideal world, of course, a doctor would guide you to the items in the pharmacy of greatest value to you. But few of them do. My podiatrist didn’t have a word of advice about the optimal orthotic for my problem, or even a menu of orthotics in his office for his patients to try. (Is it better like this? Or like this?) That’s why the next time I need some help, I’m going straight to the pharmacy. And if you feel the need to give paternalistic advice to a friend in ill-health, don’t just say, “You should see a doctor.” Perhaps you would be a better friend to chide, “You should go to the pharmacy.”