‘I never take pills,’ she says, with a look of constipated pain at the very thought.
We were in the bomb shelter of the GP, walls so plastered in paper notices that it’s beginning to look like a serial killer den.
She chose the seat next to me – ignoring the holy rule that thou shalt always attempt to leave a gap between you and any other occupant (a rule obeyed throughout the land in public toilets and transport services).
She also ignored my headphones and the ‘Vacant’ sign I keep plastered across my forehead when I venture out into the world.
It wasn’t entirely clear why she thought it was a good idea to advocate against pills to someone seeking medical assistance, who would surely statistically be more likely to be taking pills than your average person. Loneliness? Evangelical calling? Verbal diarrhoea?
My non-committal ‘hm’ has no effect.
‘I like to only put natural things in my system, you know what they say -‘ cue gurgling laugh, ‘- you’ve got to treat your body like a temple!’
I feel marginally affronted. I do treat my body like a temple. It’s just one of those temples with giant plates of milk on the floor surrounded by hordes and hordes of rats. Or one of those abandoned ones that’s all dusty statues, cracked floors, and inadvisable man traps.
Oh, and pills. Lots and lots of pills.
I tune back in.
‘… And I get this fantastic health tonic from that Chinese acupuncture place by the station, you know the one?’
I do know the one. It has a real focus in its window displays on curing male genital droop.
‘It tastes foul of course,’ she continues, ‘but it’s just fantastic for skin!’
She runs eager eyes over my face in the hope of finding a skin condition at which to advertise. It’s one of the few times I’m cheerful about the ‘invisible’ part of invisible illness. She bucks back up, undaunted.
‘And it’s all natural of course. No pills. And you know, the Chinese are very smart and wise.’
Ah the sweet, sweet taste of reductionist racism. I find it amusing that traditional Chinese medicine practitioners in China are busy turning liquid medicine into nice white pills in order to increase their reputability. Here, the more eye of newt people can see staring back at them, the better.
‘And I just think that people really shouldn’t take so many! It can’t be good for the body, you know?’
At this point, my tolerance gauge blows a gasket.
I finally turn to look at her and weigh my words.
You don’t take pills because you are well. I’m really pleased for you. That’s really lucky.
People who are not well sometimes have to take pills. Pills can help them manage their illness.
Pills do not generally cause their illness in the first place. Sometimes they have side effects, but these have to be measured against the impact of the illness.
I open my mouth to speak –
– Her name gets called.
‘It’s just ridiculous how long it takes to get a Pill check here, isn’t it?!’ She scoops up a pale pink bag and heads down the corridor.
When she walks past five minutes later, she wags a prescription slip in my direction as a goodbye.