May 03 2013
Throughout the past decade or two, I have taken enough prescription drugs and dietary supplements to stock a vitamin store. I don’t just use those 7-day pill holders that you can get at Walmart. No, my pill holder has 28 compartments — and I have two of them.
A few years ago, one of the Young Men of our ward was at our home to do a service project, and he happened to see one of my pill holders. In a gesture of compassion that is not at all customary for teenage boys, he murmured, “Oh, that poor little old lady.”
I looked around the house to see if a little old lady had sneaked in with the youth group. When I didn’t see one I said, “I’m the only little old lady who lives here.” Jordan was mortified.
Years have passed. Jordan has served a mission and gotten married. I still don’t know what little old lady he thought was keeping her pills in our little-old-ladyless house.
As Jordan’s experience may attest, I was a pill-taking professional. I could take a handful of them at once. Sometimes I took pills without water. Nothing bothered me — not even those potassium caplets that are the size and shape of torpedoes. I used to take two of those at once without blinking an eye.
All that changed overnight after I got fungal pneumonia in December. Eventually the doctors had to do a tracheostomy, and I had to breathe through a tube. After the tube was removed, sometime at the beginning of February, the doctors continued feeding me about a zillion pills, capsules, and caplets every day. The only difference was that now I had trouble getting them down.
It wasn’t just the big pills, mind you. In fact, more often than not, it was the little pills that would get caught in my gullet. You know — the pills that are so small you can’t see them unless your glasses are on. The big pills were moderately difficult to swallow, but the little ones were killers. More often than not, they’d get stuck in my throat and eventually dissolve there.
I always felt as though I was choking on something, and more than once I had to stop eating a meal because something was stuck that wouldn’t allow food to go down. It doesn’t make a person very excited about eating dinner.
Eventually I got so curious that I asked my doctor about it. “What did you expect?” she asked. (“What did you expect?” was a question that Dr. Ricci demanded of me on almost a weekly basis. I soon learned that with an illness like mine, I should not be surprised if space aliens clawed their way out from my chest.)
When I looked at her blankly, she gave me the full explanation. “You had an incision in your neck. It was a big incision, because you have a big neck. There are all sorts of little bitty tissues that are in the human neck. They lie right on top of each other and don’t cause any trouble unless you get an incision there. Then you have scar tissue that keeps the tissues from going back where they belong. For the rest of your life, you’re going to have things getting stuck in your throat. Little things like the smaller pills are going to get caught in those little tissues more easily than anything else.”
I have since proved Dr. Ricci wrong. Something doesn’t have to be small to get stuck in my throat. I have choked on big pills as well as small ones. Food gets caught in my throat in a regular basis. (Even water gets stuck in my throat. Air, too gets stuck there, and then comes out in a manly burp. What a bummer that is!)
But those tiny pills are the real killers. I haven’t found a way to swallow them. I could put them in a dog biscuit, but I’m not a dog. I could put them in a piece of cheese, but then I’d have to swallow the piece of cheese. Besides, the amount of pills I take would require a whole lot of cheese, several times per day.
I have come to dread pill-taking time. But there’s one good thing about it: swallowing those tiny pills always reminds me of a scripture. The scripture is this:
24 Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel.”
I am certainly a camel-swallower as far as medication is concerned, but being sick for so long has changed my attitude in other ways. With the exception of my right foot, which I must admit gets yelled at on a regular basis, I am finding the post-hospitalization Kathy is a kinder, gentler Kathy than before.
With the exception of that obnoxious right foot, most little things don’t bother me these days. I seem to realize, perhaps for the first time, that when the toilet seat malfunctions or I get burned by a pan when I am trying to cook, that inanimate objects don’t have a vendetta against me. As often as not, it’s my own negligence that causes accidents or burns or disappointments. Even though I happened to have been using a tool or a pan or a piece of technology at the time, the inanimate object was not hoping I’d mess up so it could see me fall down. Usually, anyway.
(By the way, my right foot indeed qualifies as an inanimate object. When you have to wrest your leg off the ground with both hands in order to move your foot, you will probably agree with me on that.)
Although I was somewhat annoyed a couple of weeks ago when a parking lot valet just sat there and watched my wheelchair move backwards, sending me falling to the ground, even people don’t get a rise out of me these days. Most human beings are not trying to hurt the people around them. Most of us are doing the best we can to get through each day, although sometimes we’re distracted by our trials or the problems of a loved one. When that happens, we may not even notice that people around us are suffering.
Even worse, we may not notice that our actions are causing problems for the people around us — we can cause accidents, or our distraction can keep us from preventing accidents from happening. When accidents happen around us that we could have prevented but were too distracted to do so, it doesn’t make us bad people; it makes us preoccupied people or unobservant people. That is no reason to get angry.
There is no need for me to be angry with people who cut me off on the freeway or break in front of me in the check-out line. Even if they acted out of malice, it only ruins my day to take offense at it. And I well know that life is too short to be carrying grudges, even for a minute or two.
There are a lot of things that I have at least temporarily lost as a result of my recent illness. My taste buds are AWOL, my feet are paralyzed, and my nerves shoot themselves off in ways that make me scream loudly at inappropriate times. But I’ve also lost a lot of the anger that human beings in this modern age seem to carry around with them like badges of honor. This is something I am glad to lose, and if it the illness that has done it, I want to thank the fungus that knocked me out early last December.