Once upon a very long time ago, back in the hale, hearty and (in my case) callow USA, I remember thinking that medicine cabinet was a silly thing to call that cupboard we all have in the bathroom. Beyond some aspirin, perhaps, there really weren’t any medicines in it. Mine, and those of my contemporaries, contained other things entirely: Sunscreen, ace bandages in case of tennis injuries, birth control supplies, aftershave, cosmetics, hairbrushes, nail clippers, all that sort of kit. Miscellaneous body-related items, you might say. After all, where else to put bobby pins and condoms?
Then my parents grew old. One day, sent off to fetch my father something from his bathroom cupboard, I understood: There was nothing in it — nothing — but medicine. From top to bottom and side to side, it was as full of pill bottles as a picture frame is full of its picture. And these were not of the store-bought, over the counter variety, in jaunty, colorful packaging. These were prescription medicines, in sobering transparent beige plastic, with printed labels all bearing my father’s name, and haiku-short directions for use: Twice daily after meals, for pain as needed every six hours, by mouth at bedtime. Poor guy, I remember thinking to myself, to need all these things.
My father was twenty years older at that point in his life than I am now, but look here: I am catching up in the vial area.
Yes, I have quite the collection here in Cancerland.
Mostly the medicines in my many bottles are of that popular modem submarine-like shape, capsules, rounded at both ends. The capsules are almost all bi-colored. They consist of two halves, filled at the pharma farm and then pushed together, and I guess some capsule designer must have decided at some point that they’d be more interesting, and more attractive, if the halves were of different colors. So I have, let’s see — yellow/browns, lilac/grays, dove/greens, eggshell/blues, bone/reds. Some of the capsules are half colored and half clear, so that you can see the pinhead-small balls packed inside them. These, I think, are the slow-release boys: You swallow the capsule, the outside of which dissolves, and then, little by little over the course of the day, the minuscule ping-pong balls dispense additional tiny dosages of whatever the capsule as a whole is said to contain.
Of course, I have many, many round white pills — tiny white round, medium white round, large white round — and then some rogue shapes too, long polygons, like capsules but with edges where the others have smooth curves. There are also some robin’s-egg blue octagons, like old-fashioned bathroom tiles for a dollhouse.
I am pretty well covered, all told, in the corrective, problem-solving, and pain-relieving areas. I’ve got things to raise my mood, lower my pressure, stabilize my heartbeat, boost my energy, quiet my stomach, soften my stool and harden my resolve. Frankly, I have forgotten what perhaps a dozen or so of the pills in the cabinet are supposed to be for. I got them on doctor’s orders, in anticipation of a side-effect, or a difficulty, or a complication that never developed. I suppose I could throw those bottle away, but, well…you never know. I can always look them up by their unpronounceable, and therefore impossible to remember, names to find out what they do, and then (should I ever need them) I won’t have to go out and get yet another batch of…Omprocalozendol, or Celicorhomdizone.
No, it does not feel good visibly to be reminded, every time I open the medicine cabinet to get one of the things I do take regularly, of how many problems I have: All those soldiers at attention, shoulder to shoulder, and every one of them assigned to a different part of me, with a separate mission.
But where would I be without them?
I would almost continuously be unhappy, uncomfortable, and in one kind of pain or another.
Or visited by sober-faced relatives with stones in their hands.