I keep thinking about pills.
No, not in the way you’re thinking (although I have been known to pop the occasional Xanax). It’s my daughter’s pills I’ve been thinking about.
She was diagnosed with Addison’s disease at the age of five—hospitalized for the entirety of what should have been her first week of kindergarten. Her adrenal glands could no longer produce cortisol, so the doctors used an IV to pump a synthetic form into her veins. She was sent home with cortisol pills–something she’d have to take several times a day for the rest of her life.
Cortisol doesn’t come in a sweet-tasting pink liquid or a fruity chew. These were adult pills: round, white, bitter. So were the ones she had to take to regulate her salt and sugar levels.
She was five, a small girl with a tiny throat. She’d never swallowed so much as a coated Advil before. No way she was going to choke these monsters down. So we crushed the pills into powder and mixed the powder into whatever soft foods we thought she’d go for—yogurt, peanut butter, ice cream, etc.
“For fifteen years, her pills have been at the top of the list of things I think about many, many times a day.”
Unfortunately, the crushed-up pills made the food taste foul, and she never finished what we gave her. We worried she wasn’t getting the full dosage.
We then tried cutting the pills into quarters and coached her through swallowing those. It was hard at first—amazing how much water one tiny bit of pill can require and how often those little chips resurfaced—but she had a lot of opportunities to practice and was soon able to do it easily. We moved her up to half a pill at a time. Again, she struggled. Again, she learned to do it. And a few weeks later . . . whole pills.
Now, fifteen years later, my daughter comes downstairs every morning, pours herself a glass of water, sits down at the kitchen table, extracts a handful of pills from her pillbox (she takes synthetic thyroid, too), and tosses them all down with a single swallow. That’s her job. Mine is to refill the pillbox week after week, pack pills daily in her lunch (breaking every school rule in the process; don’t tell on me), and reminding her to take her nighttime ones.
For fifteen years, her pills have been at the top of the list of things I think about many, many times a day. J. Alfred Prufrock measured out his life in coffee spoons; my daughter has measured hers in pills.
“Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll be texting her all day every day. Reminding her to take her pills. Nagging her about them.”
And now she’s heading off to college.
Her brightly colored pillbox has sat in the middle of our kitchen table for more than a decade and a half. It is the physical embodiment of my constant concern: has she taken her morning pills? Did she remember to bring her mid-day ones with her when she left the house? Will she be back from her friend’s in time to take the evening ones?
I worry. When she skips a dose, she gets tired, absentminded, achy, depressed—it affects every aspect of her life. If she stopped taking them altogether, she would weaken and die. So I fret about the pills and remind her constantly to take them.
But in a few weeks, the pillbox will get packed and moved to another state, where it will be unpacked and put . . . where? I don’t know. A desk? A dresser? Maybe in one of those bathroom caddies? It’s going to be her call, not mine. And it will be up to her to refill it and remember to take the pills every day.
“So I’ll surrender my control of her life, her health, her pills . . . and trust her to take on all that responsibility.”
Worrying about whether or not my daughter has taken her medication . . . I wouldn’t say that was a good part of my life. But the thought of not worrying anymore feels oddly like a loss. On August 24, we’ll help my daughter move into her dorm room, and I’ll probably remind her to keep her pills close at hand. And then we’ll say goodbye. And that night and the next morning and the next night and the morning after that and the day after that and the day after that and on and on, I won’t be there to tell her to take her pills. I won’t be there to refill her pillbox. I won’t be there to pack her pills for the day.
I won’t be there. She’ll be there but I won’t.
Which is as it should be. I want her to be independent.
So I’ll surrender my control of her life, her health, her pills . . . and trust her to take on all that responsibility.
Oh, who am I kidding? I’ll be texting her all day every day. Reminding her to take her pills. Nagging her about them. Asking whether she’s remembered and then asking again and again if she doesn’t respond.
Not for her sake. For mine. Because I’m not ready to stop thinking about her all the time. That would be too bitter a pill to swallow in one gulp.