Pills

In which I experience a difference of opinion

Pencil sketch of a Chinese lion by Isla Kennedy - Medically Unexplained

‘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.

Exit, pursued by a scowl.

And so it goes

In which I venture forth

I emerge from my chrysalis. It’s daylight and the sheets have transformed into a hitherto undiscovered substance during my time inside them.

The chrysalis stage involves me, the floor, and the bathroom. I usually stop bothering to eat solids after a while so I can promote myself to vomiting in the sink instead of the toilet (pro-tip). Plus it’s hard to appreciate the colour of bile in a loo.

The final chitterings of cramp have quieted down, prompting the cracking of the sheet walls. A twitched curtain gives a blinding indication that the weather (rather selfishly) has stopped providing an excuse for extended pupation.

My butterfly transformation equates to having a shower, my hair no longer being scraped into a grease-sheened lopsided lump, and my skin making First Contact with Not Pyjamas.

It turns out my nine-ish days of sleep-vom-don’t-bother-rinsing-repeat has led me to forget how temperature relates to my wardrobe (I’ve been meaning to make a Dummies Guide to the coats I own and the temperature bands they function in). Still, I understand that a healthy glow is desirable?

In the words of Pratchett, I am glowing like a pig.

I find myself faintly surprised that the outside world actually looks familiar. It feels like the rest of the world should surely have undergone some sort of metamorphosis as well, but there’s the same old pavement with the same old malformed Lucozade bottle and faded ruin of a Quavers packet.

Home, sweet home.

Life outside my chrysalis scrapes the ears and eyes, but also contains delights such as non-frozen or tinned foodstuffs, and other people – some of whom I actually like. (I might not be deemed the most social of butterflies).

There are queues to stand in, the Tube to be delayed on, inconvenient misunderstandings to have with pharmacies, piles of ignored messages to respond to, and those oh-so-delightfully crunchy sheets to wash.

Today is a good day. It might not be long before my butterfly self catches alight but, on the plus side, a caterpillar always crawls from the ashes.

Ode to Ibuprofen

In which I dwell on a love lost

Pencil and watercolour sketch of a snake eating frogspawn by Isla Kennedy - Medically Unexplained

I was young when I met you.

I, sixteen, and you sixteen in a pack – so strong, so reliable. You seemed so available back then.

I couldn’t get enough of you. Ignored the murmurs from my family, my friends.

I needed you.

But your sugar coating was skin deep.

You turned my bowels into burning pipes of doom.

O! The diarrhoea!

The tender eruptions of our love!

My stomach filled with the broken shards of our promises, and inflated till it tried to escape my chest. Vomit stained my nights.

My stomach in my mouth, I had to let you go.

Many years have grown between us now. I watch others flirt with you and bite back warnings. They will learn.

He sleeps now, my Morpheus, he doesn’t know I once loved another. He is a gentle tonic after your burning love, for all that he is slow to respond when I call him.

You, oh, you were my first love.

I wonder sometimes, if I were to meet you again, would we be as once we were?

Sweet sixteen and the pain of the world washed away.

But my digestive system belies my heart.

My guts have never forgiven you.