My husband and I would love to travel. It used to be on our “to do” list when we were young and unencumbered. I remember one lovely weekend, early in our marriage, when we simply decided to take a long weekend in San Francisco.
You could still do that, in those days. Plane fare was relatively cheap and you didn’t have to plan six months in advance to get a ticket or a hotel room. We would pack bags, even one to check through at no cost, find a friend to care for our dog, and off we’d go. On that trip, we trudged up and down the windy hills of the city and drove as far as Carmel along the glorious Pacific Ocean. We stopped at a small town with a large Japanese population. I was still new to sushi and over-indulged in hot wasabi mustard, nearly destroying the entire lining of my mouth and esophagus. The predominantly Japanese clientele got a really good laugh at my beet red face and streaming eyes. By the way, it’s still one of my favorite stories to tell.
I’m glad I have that memory, because it will never happen again.
I marvel at friends that seem to jet and cruise at the drop of a broad-brimmed hat. Clearly, they allowed more money for jaunting in their retirement budget than I did. Also, they probably didn’t adopt a dog who looks heartbroken when we leave to go to dinner, let alone leave for days. They also probably don’t have to pay for said dog’s boarding fees which are roughly the same as the cost of any trip that we would plan.
I would speculate that they also don’t have to take a separate bag for the pills that need to accompany us everywhere. My husband and I joke that, on the rare times we have gotten on a plane, the airline company might charge us for overweight luggage for the carry-on that contains the medicines that keep our various parts and organs working.
On that long ago San Francisco trip, I think we probably packed a bottle of some antihistamine for me (since I am allergic to almost any unusual substance I encounter and even used to pack my own cotton pillowcase for comfort), and a motion sickness medicine for him. On our honeymoon to Hawaii, the gentle drift of a glass bottom boat made my new spouse so sick that I carried him off the glass bottomed boat, and he missed staring at the pretty hula girls who entertained the passengers. Well, everyone but him. His face was a shade of green that simply did not occur in nature, not even among Hawaii’s lush foliage.
But we are older now, so much older, and along the way we have picked up a variety of conditions, ailments, and disorders that require pharmaceutical intervention, he more than I. Heart attacks, a kidney transplant, and pills to counteract the effects of his life-saving pills are part of his daily routine. As for me, I need pills to cope with the stresses of caring for a chronically ill husband, pills to control my cholesterol, pills to keep my back from bending to the shape of Yoda, and still, the ever-present anti-histamines.
We both need pills to sleep at night, though I never need pills to wake me in the morning because I never do seem to fall asleep even with sleeping pills. The pills I just listed are just my prescription medications, and do not include a growing list of over-the-counter pills that keep me regular, acid-free, and sufficiently vitamin infused.
I complained to my therapist, the other day (the instigator of the pills to keep me level so that I can cope with my husband’s roller coaster of emergencies), that I felt like my pill load, for that’s what it is called, was far too heavy. After all, for a woman of my age (which is a phrase that I hate the more I have to use it), I am in remarkably good health. Most people of our age would envy my lack of serious ailments. She laughed and said that that was the price of aging and that I should suck it up, buttercup. Pills are the price of getting old in 2016 America. Still, there are four full pill boxes that I fill up every two weeks with just the basics for a relatively pain-free, somewhat-regulated existence. As I drop each pill into its separate case, I wonder what would happen if I simply went cold turkey, stopped taking everything and returned to the pill-free days of my youth.
The truth is I will never do that. My husband will definitely never do that. In fact, one of the reasons I take pills is because I am in a year-long fight with Medicare and our supplemental insurance who periodically send me letters telling me that my husband has lived too long and they don’t want to pay for his life-sustaining medicines, anymore.
I would like to say that that is an exaggeration for the sake of humor, but it isn’t.
There is an arcane law that says Medicare only covers anti-rejection medications for Medicare patients who are transplanted before the age of 65, for thirty-six months. The average survival rate of post-kidney transplant patients is about 77% at the ten-year mark. I presume the thirty-six month rule was set in the years when transplant was a newer, less effective medical procedure and patients simply didn’t live past three years. However, medical science has advanced, or so they tell us, and the refusals I get from Medicare are costing them a great deal more in anti-depressants for me than paying for his medications.
If you would like to help us tell Congress that the life of transplant survivors deserves more than three years of support, please visit the petition site to make your opinion known: http://www.thepetitionsite.com/823/810/104/medicare-cover-transplant-drugs-for-kidney-recipients/.
Medicare is a wonderful thing and I will fight to the death, probably literally, if the people in Congress with their own fully-paid, gold standard, life-long health policies try to take it away from me. That doesn’t change the fact that my few prescriptions and my husband’s many prescriptions cost us a fortune in co-pays. Here’s something amusing. In preparation for assembling our taxes, I ran off the list of prescription costs that we have paid, in the past year. My pills, my non-life saving; spine straightening; cholesterol lowering, mood enhancing drugs cost about $500 more a year than his pills that flat-out keep him alive.
I know that there is a tendency to overmedicate women more because (male) doctors are less familiar with female physiology and more likely to hand us a script to move us out of their offices. Still it seems queer that my prescription for Zolpidem, a generic sleep medication that’s been on the market for decades, just shot up from about $11 to between $19 and $48 (my cost).
Anyway, with a heavyweight pill load large enough to require a bag of its own, and co-pays that could literally pay for a round trip ticket to the lovey island of Kona, there are good and clear reasons why we don’t travel. Of course, the cost of flights, the tediousness of long journeys, the recovery time needed at the other end of a trip, the desolate feeling I get when I have to order a wheelchair to get my husband to the gate, and the restrictions on sightseeing placed on us by wonky backs, painful knees, and steps that can no longer jog up and down the hills of San Francisco or the cracks in the sidewalks of practically anyplace else, all factor in as well.
So, bon voyage to my still mobile friends. Enjoy your journeys to far away places that you can still afford. Bless the fact that you have the cash and the vitality to continue to explore the world. However, when you post your pictures of Bora Bora, or Paris, or sunbathing in Vietnam (I’m sorry. I’m a Boomer. I still have trouble wrapping my head around Vietnam as anything other than a never-ending war, but I know people who have had great vacations there), know that I will have Facebook envy in the extreme.
Meanwhile, it’s time to go “do” my pills for the next couple of weeks. T.S. Elliot was wrong, you know. We do not measure out our lives in coffee spoons, anymore. We measure our days, weeks, months and years in barrel shaped pills, and round pills, and pink and gray capsules, and oval blue pills. It’s no picnic and it’s certainly no trip to Tel Aviv, however, the alternative is even less enticing.
“Soylent Green,” anyone?