I was in the Post Office Pharmacy doing what everyone my age does there - waiting for my latest prescription.
Ah yes, prescriptions. Either they'll end my misery or prolong it. And I won't know which till after the fact.
Not much to do while I wait. Certainly, a small drug store is a weird place to schmooze. You can't ignore anyone, but discretion being the order of the day, you can't go beyond the rigidly superficial, e.g., "How ya doin?" "Fine, thanks. And you?" "Great, thanks." Which of course can't be the unvarnished truth or you wouldn't be there in the first place.
But I make the best of my situation. First I check out the candies, then the skin lotions and headache nostrums. I steer clear of the antacids, however - just thinking about them gives me heartburn.
I find myself drawn to the cold remedy shelves.
The names are all onomatopoetic and grossly so. Snotaway. Boogereeze. HackenFree. Sneeze-X. And on and on.
I start to wonder where they come up with those names and who's behind it
I envision a tiny cramped space with cinderblock walls, cement floor, crappy office desk and chair, naked light bulb hanging from the ceiling. And sitting at the desk is a real piece of work: A geeked-out forty-something, former English major, unpublished auteur, alternately chewing on a Ticonderoga Number 2 and writing on a legal tab with it.
"Ah, lessee," he says aloud, just to reassure himself of his existence, "today it's foot crud. Hmmm"
He chews the pencil for 10 minutes. Then his eyes light up and he writes on the pad: "Plantar's Punch Re-Trench Missile Toe "
OK, so he'll never see his name on the masthead of a magazine, or the title page of a book, or up in lights for a Broadway play but he will see some of his creations on the labels of jars lining apothecary shelves. Just when I start to envision the poor S.O.B. standing in a drug store, grinning like a jackass eating stickers at a tube of acne cream named Zitbuster, I hear my name called.
"Huh? Wha?" I say, shocked out of my oddball reverie.
"This is the information on the drug you'll be taking," she says. "Jim'll talk to you about it when he gets off the phone."
She hands eight sheets of papers, crammed full of writing. All this for my new med? I had less paperwork when I signed my mortgage.
And what is my med for? It's for my latest companion, Arthur.
When the cure is worse than the cause
In December I finally found out what caused the pain that hit me every time I took a step. It was Arthuras in Arthur-itis . And in my case, of my hip.
Truth is, of all the things that can go wrong at my age, arthritis is minor. Yeah, it hurts, and yeah, that causes me to either waddle like a duck or hobble like Granpappy Amos. But it won't kill me, and it hasn't immobilized me either. Let's get real: And let's get real: The only way to avoid daily pain at 67 is to croak when you're 66.
I thought I was being marvelously philosophic about all this, considering arthritis a mere inconvenience, something I was stuck with, but no big deal. And thus I figured any meds I took for arthritis wouldn't be a big deal, either. But as I pored over the papers Denice had given me, it appeared I couldn't have been more wrong.
Among the possible side effects of this med were the usual: stomach pain, constipation, diarrhea, dizziness, vomiting, and other such minor leaguers.
Then there were some major leaguers, too: heart attack, stroke, bleeding and ulcers in the stomach and intestine, kidney problems, heart failure, and others I won't bore you with.
My leisure-time reading was interrupted by Jim, who came over to discuss the med with me. He pretty much highlighted what was on the sheets, then asked me if I had any questions.
Naturally, I had a whole slew of them, but being in a state of shock, I didn't have the wherewithal to ask any. Instead, I thanked him, picked up my meds and wandered off to the Downhill Grill to study the paperwork -?and drown my sorrows - with a cold beer.
After I sat down and ordered, my pal Joe Dadey walked in the door. I waved him over and he joined me.
Joe and I worked together at Paul Smith's College and it's always been a pleasure to have him around. He's smart, kind, hard-working and honest as the day is long. In short, he's a guy who's so decent, you just know the Fates will go out of their way to put the boots to him.
After we exchanged greetings, he asked what I was reading and I told him.
"Fun stuff, is it?" he asked.
"Oh yeah," I said. "Especially if you consider how much fun heart attacks, liver failure and strokes are."
"You've got heart, liver and stroke problems?" he asked.
"No," I said. "But that's what the medicine can cause."
"What?" he said, obviously shocked.
"Yeah," I said, "These sheets are all the counter-indications, warnings and side effects of the drugs."
Neither of us said anything. Then I went on.
"It's unreal," I said. "For instance, it says the chances of having these side effects is greater in the elderly."
"So?" said Joe.
"So, for the most part, who else is gonna be takin' arthritis meds?"
Joe said nothing; I continued my rant.
"It also says a bunch of these things, like ulcers and bleeding, can happen without any warning." I said.
Joe just shrugged.
"And this one's the best of all," I said. "It says one of the side effects is, and I quote, 'may cause death.'"
I shook my head at the absurdity of it all and then paused for effect.
"So," I said, "how do you like that for a side effect?"
Joe, who is the very picture of kindness, has a keen wit, but one that is rarely sardonic. Nonetheless, he can shed his ex-altar boy persona and rise to the occasion, which he managed to do quite nicely in our convo.
"Bob," he said, getting in the last word, but good, "death is no side effect."