Grandma used to carry a suitcase of medications with her when she came to visit. (Well, maybe not a suitcase, but it was definitely bigger than a make-up bag, though smaller than a breadbox I guess.)
“Well, now, it’s time to take my pills!” she’d announce before every meal, then go through her thrice daily ritual. First, she’d haul out the case and open it up on the kitchen table where everyone could see. Then she’d lay a Kleenex down and, bottle by bottle, count out her doses until she had a miniature pyramid of rainbow-coloured pills in varying shapes and sizes. All of which she would down in one shot with a small glass of orange juice before packing it all up again.
It became a running joke in our family, this “spectacle” as my Mom called it–usually accompanied by an eye roll–that Grandma put on, to the point that whenever one of us took a vitamin, an Advil, or an antibiotic, we’d announce to the rest of the family in a crotchety old person voice, “Well, now, it’s time to take my pills!”
For the record: Sorry, Grandma.
In my defence, it was hard to take her or her ailments seriously. By the time I reached adulthood, she’d been “dying” for decades of one disease or another and had had so many close calls that it got to the point that whenever Dad called to say, “Grandma’s in the hospital again,” my brother and I would casually reply, “That’s too bad. Let us know when she’s out.” Callous, I know. But because she was a tough bird (as well as a bit of a drama queen) and always pulled through, it was easier to brush off a lot of her incidents as exaggerated, overdone or even imagined than to take each one seriously and to heart.
Plus, from time to time she’d throw in a comment along the lines of “What a nice Christmas this has been. Too bad I won’t be around to enjoy it again next year,” which didn’t endear her to anyone, because she always was.
Until she wasn’t.
I’m 45 now, closing in quickly on the age Grandma would have been when I was a child, laughing, along with my brother, behind her back at her pill-taking ritual. And now here I am, with my own little arsenal of meds.
It started simply enough: low iron, borderline anemia after years of heavy periods, two babies, and not a huge appetite for either red meat or spinach. So, OK, I could take an iron supplement every day.
Then came the years of fatigue (unusual since my iron was at least hovering within the normal range by then) accompanied by weight gain, hair loss and joint pain. Finally my doctor put the pieces of the puzzle together and tested my thyroid. Yep. Hypothyroidism. Nothing a little pill in the morning can’t take care of.
After awhile, my medical charts started showing gradual increases year after year in my blood pressure. Not unexpected considering the genes on my Dad’s side and my general stress levels. Better add a blood pressure pill to the mix.
Oh yes, and that little trip to emergency last year? For the crushing chest pain and crisis-level spike in said blood pressure? Not a heart attack, thank god, but gastroesophageal reflux disease, which it seems I’d been suffering from for years (apparently it is NOT normal to get food stuck in your throat and have to throw it up on a regular basis). Again, there’s a pill for that.
And now the latest. Migraines. I remember my first one at 10 years old, and not a month has gone by in the decades since (except, blessedly, when I was pregnant) that I haven’t had at least one. But now they’re different. More frequent. Longer lasting. With aura, which is new. Plus I’m finding I’m having more generally headachey days in a month now than not. Hence the trip to the neurologist last week.
Her advice? Wait out menopause and see what happens (although from the looks of things already, my headaches are only going to get worse) or start on a daily preventative pill to take me through to the other side of The Change.
The catch? It’s actually an antidepressant. After years of being prescribed to treat depression, they discovered that this family of meds has the happy side effect of reducing migraines.
And although I’ve been willing to pop any pill my doctors have suggested for my various issues over the years, antidepressants scare me. Because I’m not (insofar as I’ve ever been prepared to admit) depressed. But more so because of the potential side effects (the list is long and, well, depressing).
But as my best friend pointed out (not completely ironically) as we talked about it at Starbucks the other night, maybe for me this tiny tablet would not only cure my migraines, but have the happy side effect of making me…happier.
At which point I exclaimed, “Oh, crap, it’s time to take my pill!” pulled my pill bottle out of my purse and downed the little blue ball of potential with a gulp of my decaf grande latte.
Again, for the record: Sorry, Grandma.