A pill too far, and other replacements for the joys of life

Last night, I wrote to a friend who brings marvelous energy and thought to a monthly gathering of “men” from our church. I am one of them.

I took his invitation to a forthcoming Zoom meeting as prompt to rant. For future excavators of my thoughts, they are offered in the context of the global Covid-19 pandemic, our local fall forest fire situation that has put us beneath a cloud of smoke for the last week, the growing political divide, and advancing age.

In the last few days, I’ve reached meltdown stage. I’m now 70, so that makes me elder, right? At 60, I was waiting tables, and would for another five years. Then I eased toward retirement, slowly. I’m fit. I work out, and have my whole life. This allows me to do what I have done as long as I have done it.

Still, nothing is without its price. In my case — and in the case of almost everyone of my age and beyond — decline and infirmity lead us to the doctor’s office. We emerge, most often, with a script for one potion or another, an ointment or a pill or a referral to someone who would welcome a chance to run up the bill in exchange for a piece of our anatomy.

Restrictions on public intercourse, related to the viral pandemic, have stripped away a huge swath of our social fabric, the intentional and the casual. We no longer meet face to face. We no longer step into public places and encounter each other, by accident, unless we are both there to get toilet paper and milk.

We no longer go, on impulse, to a restaurant or bar. We no longer go into a bookstore and browse. We no longer shoot the shit with the person in the grocery line ahead of us. We are six feet apart, wearing masks, fearful of doing anything to break the illusion of safe social distance.

That is why our men’s group no longer meets in person. We are mostly older men, in the vulnerable population. After months of this separation, I wondered in writing to our fearless leader why we were sticking with this virtual separation.

I said that knowing we are a largely at-risk population. We are also not too likely to be transmitters. We could socially distance pretty well. And we could wear masks when not speaking. I said I would be game for an in-person event. I know, for me, it would do a world of good.

I then told my friend that this last week, under a blanket of smoke, has been a hard load, on top of all the other stuff this year.

To make it worse, it coincided with yet another pill prescription, something I had sworn years ago I would resist bitterly. I didn’t and don’t want to become one of those old people who takes a pile of pills, one the hour, daily. And yet, there’s a creep in that direction.

That is what our physicians do — they give us another pill to address the latest malady, because no amount of preventive maintenance can thwart the advances of age. Bit by bit, one by one, the pill bottles arrive on our vanities, beside the sink, reminders that their contents need to be taken. If we ignore them, if we don’t take them, they can’t take over our lives and palliate what is nothing more than the falling away of youth.

I’ve got four pills now, and the latest was something that would cure (allegedly) funky toenail syndrome. I would have to give up beer for 90 days, and hope that the drug didn’t do enough damage to my liver that I would regret it. I also should give up caffeine, and watch for various symptoms, stay out of the bright sunlight, and be aware that it could lower my immunity and … and … and … and …. I read the extensive printed guidance included with each bottle of pills, as a defense against litigation in the event of catastrophic unexpected reactions.

The latest prescription led me to just go kerblooey. This was nuts. I don’t care if my toenails have fungus, even though I have rather somewhat occasionally expressed care to my physicians, if it means that I must surrender the few remaining pleasures in my life. Over the years, my physicians have given me this or that, to dab or consume, all to no avail. My toes, on my right foot, still resemble chancrous lepers.

I’ve had this issue for nearly 40 years, without cure and only mild annoyance. The skin on that foot will dry out after several days, and start to crack. I rub lanolin bag balm on my foot and wrap a plastic bag over it and a sock over that, and go to bed. The next day, I take off my treatment and my skin is moist enough to go naked for another few days. Simple.

Now comes the pill. Why put my life at risk for groovy toenails? I’ve already got blood pressure and cholesterol and E.D. drugs in my kit. I want no more, especially if it means stripping some of the few remaining joys from my life — coffee in the morning, beer at night.

I mention my concerns about the side effects of the pill prescribed by my podiatrist to my primary care doc, and she asks if I’ve heard about something else. No. I read about it. Sounds safe, I tell her. It’s topical, not oral.

She doesn’t tell me the cost. She just phones in a prescription. Before I pay for it, I ask how much it is, and calculate in my head how much I will pay to complete a 48-week treatment.

One vial, of about 8 ml, is around $1,500.

Not to fret. It might last … a couple of months. So, if I got my math right, it would cost me $9,000 to get … nice, shiny new toenails?

Are you all fucking nuts?

I told the druggist I wasn’t buying into that bullshit. Or taking the costly drug that might kill my liver. I’m doing nothing, for what life remains. I’ve lived with the toenails for 40 years, so I can probably eke out another 10 or even 20.

And, if I get really down about the state of my pedicure, I can console myself with a glass of wine. Or three. I’ve earned it, and have the pills to show for it.


September 2020