This post was originally published on Medium on Nov. 7 2016
There’s a particular feeling that washes over a person when you take the last pill of a prescription medication.
It’s different for every bottle, and probably different for every person.
For the run of penicillin my oral surgeon prescribed to me “just in case,” it was relief. I don’t like antibiotics — after all, a significant portion of a human is bacteria. But my mom and sister reminded me that an infection in your gums is close to your brain and I need that as much as I need my gut bacteria, and it’s harder to restore; probably.
There’s a deep headache throbbing at the back of my skull, radiating into my shoulders, which I can feel tensing up.
I don’t like pain medication, but I go digging through the old prescription bottles and hair products jumbled in a tote bag.
The white bottle is a muscle relaxer that was prescribed to me when I was holding so much tension that it radiated pain down my left arm all night, convinced I was about to experience cardiac arrest.
I return the white bottle to the Mary Poppins bag. Hairspray. Face mask. Shampoo. Orange bottle.
The orange bottle is a winner. Off-brand prescription strength acetaminophen. Prescribe in place of: Vicodin. This will do.
I open the bottle and swallow its contents. One oblong white pill. Its temperature is ambiguous and I can’t feel it in my palm.
I take several swallows of water to chase it down, and try to remember when this prescription is from.
It’s from bi-mart — an employee owned drugstore in Oregon. The drugstore where my parents fill prescriptions. So it was either pre-2012 or one of two incidents.
I scan for the date the drugs were issued. 7/7/2015. Right. The fall. Concussion and broken wrist. Neither were very painful; they probably shouldn’t have prescribed me the Vicodin. (I wonder what the Vicodin equivalent is for emotional and psychic trauma?)
Discard After: 7/7/2016 — this pill knows when its life is over and I can’t even figure out what’s making me gassy. I drop the empty bottle on the floor. It makes a small, sad sound on the tile I just cleaned.
What is it, November? The little capsule slowly dissolving in my stomach has almost certainly lost all its potency. I feel the same, Vicodin. The headache knocks. “Remember me?”
Then again, the expiration date on milk is always set a week or two before the real danger zone, so maybe they set discard by: dates similarly early, so big pharmaceutical can get me to go out and buy the Tylenol I don’t want to buy because I try to convince myself every 28 days that you really are a tough enough hippie woman not to need it.
Until the headache radiates down your neck into your shoulders and you can’t sleep but by now it’s mostly because of your growing worry — I have to be at work in 7, 6, 5 hours.
The empty bottle makes a small, sad sound against the tile. I leave it there, alone on the otherwise clean floor. I try to make that a metaphor about life somehow but I know that I’m reaching.
Somehow I know that I’m too caught up in the sadness that’s all around like empty prescription bottles, that slowly dissolves in the pit of my stomach like an impotent Vicodin — an off-brand sadness that you can’t name.
Sadness that’s still there when the freak accidents force you to stop running from it and reconsider life — the freak accidents that I try to forget but carry around in the old prescription bottles.
And somehow the sadness and the bottles bleed together and are the same.
There’s a particular feeling to taking the last pill from a bottle of prescription medication. It’s probably different for you, but to me the feeling is an awful lot like an expired Vicodin that you don’t need, and never needed, from an accident that you didn’t understand, tinged with just a little humor because of course, of course I carried this bottle 750 miles with me when all it held was one last sad capsule, to remind me of my own fragility.