Dad, Me, and All Those Pills
My elderly father, God rest his soul, had moved to an independent retirement center and was trying to cope with the inevitable difficulties that aging brings. Of course, “independent” is somewhat relative, so let’s just say that he was able to accomplish most of the daily living activities required for a person to be self sufficient. Most, but certainly not all.
Feeding himself was never really a problem for Dad: he ate like Michael Phelps. He could don his daily attire, albeit clothes that were at least ten years dated and the fronts of his shirt were often misaligned like two tectonic plates that had shifted sideways. He could, thankfully, use the bathroom without assistance, and his largely hit-or-miss swipes with a wash cloth while standing in front of the sink (a “spit bath”) took the edge off the old man smell that clung close to him like an aura. And, given his spinal stenosis, he was as mobile as we could wish for, although his days of west coast swing were merely a forlorn memory.
But there was one activity, though not listed as necessary for independence, that Dad had trouble with: taking his medication. He always got his pills and days mixed up.
I can easily understand Dad’s problem. I was lost amid the maze of pharmacological products and could only keep them straight by listing them in my Palm Pilot. So, to bring a little order to chaos, I got Dad a pill organizer…one of the little plastic devices with a separate compartment for each day.
This worked for, maybe, two days.
The problem was that, because Dad had so many prescriptions (to name a few, for: pain, restless legs, heart arrhythmia, and, no surprise here, depression) they wouldn’t all fit in “Monday” and “Tuesday” and so on. Also, some pills were supposed to be taken two or three times a day, creating even more confusion.
So, we graduated to an organizer that was divided into the days of the week and which had separate compartments for “morning” “noon” “evening” and “bed”. Of course, this meant buying a huge amount of meds to fill one whole week AND most of the next so I could just swap the full for the empty on Friday night. (Kind of like exchanging propane tanks for your outdoor barbeque.) MISSION ACCOMPLISHED! Or so I thought.
One Monday morning I called Dad to see how he was doing with our new and improved system for keeping up with his medications. What ensued was like the old Abbott and Costello "Who's on first" skit. Our version went like this:
Me: Hi, Dad how's it going?
Dad. Oh, well, I'm here.
Me: Well, how are you doing with your medicine?
Dad: Mike, I don't know how I've done it, but I've messed it up.
Me: Well, look at Saturday. Are all the compartments open? (After he opens up a
compartment and takes the pills he's supposed to leave it open. That way he knows
he needs to go to the next closed compartment.)
Dad: No, they're closed.
Me: Well, open them and tell me what you see.
Dad: (Clicks of compartments opening). There's nothing in them.
Me: Ok, now look at Sunday and tell me what you see.
Dad: (Clicking and snapping sounds). Well, there’s nothing in them. (Then, more clicking sounds.)
Me: Dad, what was that sound?
Dad: Well, I was closing the compartments since there was nothing in them.
Me: No, Dad, you’ve got to leave them OPEN. Remember? That way you can tell where you’ve been and where you’re going.
Dad: I’m not going anywhere am I?
Me: No, Dad, that was just a figure of speech. Leave the compartments open once you take the pills.
Dad: But I don’t think I’ve taken any today.
Me: Dad, I’m talking about Saturday and Sunday. You just opened them and said they were empty.
Dad: Oh! You want me to open them?
Me: Yes, Dad.
Dad: Ok, wait a minute. (More clicking and snapping sounds) What do I do with the pills in them?
Me: Dad! You just told me there were NO pills in Saturday and Sunday.
Dad: You mean you wanted me to open only Saturday and Sunday?
Keep in mind that this is Monday morning and I’ve got employees, faxes going off, client emails coming in; my office looks and sounds like the control room of a reactor during a meltdown; PLUS, Dad is hard of hearing and I have to often repeat what I say to him several times.
Me: OK, Dad, let’s start over, now don’t do anything unless I specifically tell you to do it.
Me: Now, open ALL the compartments for Saturday and Sunday.
Dad: OK. (Clicking sounds).
Me: Now, do any of the compartment have pills?
Dad: No, I took those today.
Me: You took them when?
Dad: I took some pills today.
Me: Dad, now open Monday morning compartment. OK?
Me: Are there any pills in it?
Me: OK, those must be the ones you took this morning.
Dad: But how could I, it’s Sunday.
Me: No, Dad, look at the clocks I bought you. They tell you the day of the week. It’s Monday. (I had previously bought him a clock that showed AM and PM time and the days of the week.)
Dad: Ok, then I need to find some pills to take?
Me: No, Dad, you’ve already taken them. (By this time I want some pills!) Now, look at the next compartment for Monday, it should say “noon”.
Me: Well, does it have any pills in it?’
Dad: I don’t know.
Me: What do you mean you don’t know? Do you see any?
Dad: No, you told me to look at the compartment that says “noon.” You didn’t say open it.
Me: OK, Dad, OPEN the damn compartment.
Dad: Ok, now what?
Me: Are there any pills in it?
Me: When did you take them?
Dad: Jesus, I don’t know.
Me: OK, Dad, your therapist will be there at lunch. Tell her to call me. (Clicking sounds everywhere.) Dad! What are all those sounds?
Dad: I’m closing the compartments.
Me: Which ones?
Dad: All of them.
Me: Dad, leave ALL the compartments open. Don’t TOUCH the organizer until Kathy (the therapist) gives it back to you.
Dad: OK, I’m sorry, Mike. I just don’t know how I could fuck this thing up so bad. It looks so easy but I don’t know how, I just messed it up.
Within an hour or two, Kathy and I got it straight. I went back out Monday night to check on Dad. The pill organizer was in good form. All the previous times for the week were open and empty. All the pills yet to be taken were safely ensconced behind closed plastic lids. The rest of that week went just fine. Or, it went as fine as could be expected.
Dad is no longer grasping with the mortal coils of trying to stay healthy and alive, and I wish I had saved those damn pill organizes with some of his other things I kept.