Wednesday, December 21, 2016


I think the fact that old pills and medication now can be dropped off  for proper disposal at designated police stations is a good idea. For one thing, it’s a safe way to get rid of pharmaceutical products that could be a danger to both society and the environment.

I sure do wish this program had been around years ago, however, when I really needed it.

Back in the early 1970s, when health-insurance companies paid 100 percent of medical bills, I got into the habit of rushing to the doctor’s office whenever I had even a minor ache or pain.

Looking back now, I realize I probably overdid it. I mean, I once saw the doctor because I had a painful hangnail. Another time, and I’m totally serious here, I rushed to the doctor’s because I had a “tight” feeling in my chest…which turned out to be caused by a too-small bra. It’s a wonder my insurance company didn’t dump me.

Still, I wasn’t half as bad as this woman, Charlotte, a former co-worker of mine. She used to schedule a battery of medical tests for herself every year during her vacation, just so she could spend the week in the hospital. I once asked her why on earth she’d want to waste all of her vacation time in the hospital.

“Because I can relax in bed all week, watch TV and have three meals personally delivered to my room, all free of charge!” she said. “How can you beat that?”

Seeing that one of her tests was a G.I. series that included a barium enema, I wasn’t all that tempted to try her free-vacation idea.

Back in those days, not only did insurance companies pay 100 percent for treatments and tests, there also was no limit to the length of time you could spend in the hospital. If you gave birth to a baby and wanted to stay there until he was old enough to start walking, you could. If you preferred to have an outpatient test done as an inpatient, you could do that, too.

As a result of my weekly visits to various doctors, I amassed quite a collection of medications. I don’t think there was body part I didn’t have a pill for. There were pills for headaches, cramps, toothaches, heartburn, hives, constipation, diarrhea, athlete’s foot and lumbago. Most of the time, I’d have the prescriptions filled and then just shove them into the cupboard “just in case” I needed them.

Which was why one night, as I was digging through the top shelf of a kitchen cupboard I rarely used, searching for a set of glasses I’d kept up there since my wedding, I discovered a miniature pharmacy tucked away in the corner. There were dozens of prescription bottles, most of them still full and all of them long expired.

My first instinct had been to flush them down the toilet, but then the thought of their toxins entering the ground through the leach field out back made me veto that idea. I also knew that tossing them into the trash wasn’t a good option, either. So I called the local pharmacy and asked the pharmacist what I should do with about 500 assorted really ancient pills. He told me to bring them in and he’d properly dispose of them for me.

I opened every prescription bottle, which took most of the night and half my fingernails because I had to wrestle with all of the childproof caps, and emptied the pills into a plastic bag.

The next afternoon, I grabbed the bag of pills and headed toward the pharmacy. That’s when it suddenly dawned on me that if, for any reason, the police had to stop me and they discovered a big bag of pills of every color of the rainbow sitting in my car, I’d more than likely end up spending the rest of my life sharing a prison cell with some heavily tattooed woman named “Amazonia.”

“Why didn’t I keep the pills in their prescription bottles?” I muttered, thinking back to every episode of the TV show “Cops” I’d seen where the driver they’d pulled over had protested, “I’m not a drug dealer! Honest, officer, I don’t know WHERE that half-pound sack of pills in the glove compartment came from!” as they slapped the handcuffs on him.

My knuckles were white on the steering wheel as I drove down the highway at the exact posted speed-limit. The entire time, my mind was reeling. Were my tires bald? Was my muffler hanging off? Was my neighbor’s cat clinging to the front grille? I didn’t want to draw attention to my car for any reason. The fact that the pharmacy was located right next door to the local police station didn’t help ease my tension any.

By the time I pulled into the parking lot at the pharmacy, my upper lip was glistening with nervous perspiration.

The pharmacist’s eyes widened when I handed the bag of pills to him. “Wow! That’s quite a collection you have there,” he said. “It kind of looks like a bag of trick-or-treat candy!”

All the more reason why I was relieved to be rid of it.

Flash forward about 30 years. Insurance companies now are so strict, not only are they very selective about what they will or will not cover, procedures like gallbladder surgery, which used to require at least a week’s stay in the hospital, now are done during the patient’s lunch hour…and then the patient goes right back to work.

And I was waiting at the checkout in a supermarket the other day, when a woman holding a tiny baby wrapped in a blue blanket got into line behind me.

“He’s so cute!” I gushed. “How old is he?”

The woman looked at her watch. “Four hours.”

As a result of the insurance companies cutting way back on their benefits, I have learned to bite the bullet and not rush to the doctor’s office every time I sneeze or break a fingernail. And I can’t even remember the last time I needed a prescription, so my cupboard no longer is cluttered with bottles of unused pills. So I guess there is a plus side to the changes.

But I can’t help but wonder where poor Charlotte is spending her vacations nowadays.

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