A Pill Predicament


She answered on the first ring; always a sign that something’s amiss. Her voice was calm but frantic – frantically calm. Mom reserves this voice for times when she has exhausted every other means of accomplishing a specific task without employing the aid of any other human being. Her measured use of this particular voice reflects her belief that there are only a finite number of times in life to ask another (me) for help; she reserves her requests and meagerly doles them out, only under extreme duress.  

When I hear Mom’s frantically calm voice, I drop everything, listen to her describe the dilemma, read between the lines, and avail myself to solve the problem.

Rerouting my car back to our shared driveway, I enter Mom’s apartment and find her hunched over the table, left eyeball glued to a plastic magnifying glass hovering an eighth of an inch over a teensy-weensy white pill, simultaneously swearing at her 92-year-old hands for refusing to cooperate. With Mom nearly in tears, I urgently urge her to relax… to take a deep breath… I will fix this… and I assure her that it’s really a non-problem… relax…

I make my own attempt at identifying the offender and am surprised to learn that I too am   unable to read the wee print on the puny pill, even with the assistance of Mom’s cheap lighted magnifying glass (no doubt a free gift from one of her many charitable offerings). I repeatedly refocus until I can just barely discern the letters ‘MB’ on one side, and (in even more minuscule print), ‘Claritan’ on the other. Finally, success.

But, the prescription problem is far from over. A dish in front of Mom holds a variety of free-floating pharmaceuticals of varying forms and flavors. There’s gel-tabs, softgels, liquigels, capsules, tablets, and some giant horse pills. Also included in the collection, is one round white pill that’s just a fraction of a millimeter smaller than the tiny Claritan pill previously identified by my eagle eye. And, wouldn’t you know, this is the one that could kill her if she takes more than prescribed.   

Adding to the pill predicament is that the nursing home’s parting gift last week, was a bag of cardboard sheets containing several days worth of Mom’s meds in blister packets. Although the contents of each is clearly marked, the actual pills burrowed in the little bubbles look nothing like those in her bottles. And, I still have to get these little gems out of their bubbles (a feat no 92-year-old with arthritic hands and carpel tunnel syndrome should ever be expected to do).

Like every other almost-centenarian, Mom relies on one of those pill containers with individual compartments for each day of the week. Today is the first day of the rest of her week, and she’s already properly apportioned each of her pills - or has she? (… a rogue red one resting on the rug…) As a result of my previous hour sorting, identifying, replenishing and replacing Mom’s pharmaceuticals, I am acutely aware of the combination each compartment should contain. With a few (lifesaving?) combo corrections, I believe we’re done… Mom can finally relax and have confidence that she won’t be over- or under-medicated this week.  

Somewhat pleased with myself for diffusing today’s dilemma, I ask Mom if she goes through this every Monday. Then, I remember the text I received earlier in the week from Sheila, Mom’s helper, saying she’d be unable to make it this Monday. I quickly realize that pill preparation is one of Sheila’s primary weekly projects. (Give that woman a raise!)

Post pill-gate, Mom does not share my smug satisfaction. She ambles to her couch and plops down with a look of defeat. Her initial relief over resolution of the pill problem is usurped by her guilt and anxiety over needing me. Despite assurances that I’m totally ok with helping, and that I’ll still make it to my work appointment, Mom wells up. She hates that she needs anyone – for anything.

Her angst is not about whether she takes the pills or gets them into the box correctly, but about her growing inability to do so. She berates herself (however gently) for being unable to complete what she feels should be a simple task. At times like this, the gate to the rabbit hole is open, and if not careful, Mom could think herself right into a nursing home.

The truth is, it’s just another day where Mom can’t see, hear, or use her hands and she’s frustrated as hell. Appropriately apportioning pills shouldn’t be a death-defying task, but for a 92-year-old woman living alone – it can be. Thankfully, this week, Mom didn’t take that extra dose of the teensy-weensy heart pill that was doubled up in compartment #2, and, should Sheila be forced to miss another Monday, I have proven that I can preside over the pill predicament and prevail.      

Emily GaffneyComment