When one of my sisters brought home whatever was going around the school, my mother had a theory that it was best to get it over with, and have us all get it at once. This included chicken pox, mumps, measles, and so many bouts of the flu that I’d be hard pressed to recall exactly how many. As the youngest, I had most of these childhood diseases before reaching school age, so though I suffered the misery of swollen glands and head-to-toe rashes, I rarely got to miss a day of school.
The treatments in those days were very different, too. The doctor offered the choice between your left or right butt cheek before he injected you with the miracle drug, penicillin. And, if you required a prescription, the pills came in tablet form. Period. No liquid version in grape or sour apple flavor. No chewables. Instead, moms and dads everywhere were faced with the task of getting their sick children to swollow bitter tablets, or crush them (the tablets, not the children), and hide the powdery lumps in whatever mixture their children were least likely to refuse. In my case, applesauce. At age 12, it was still applesauce. Yes, twelve.
I had already begun the right of passage and summer ritual of every preteen in my circle of friends – babysitting for neighbors’ kids. I spent as much of my spare time that wasn’t committed to sleepovers and pure heat induced comas squirreling away the money I earned for a one way ticket to Miami. My parents promised to pay for the return fare. As much as I pestered them that summer, counting and recounting my money, my father often threatened to forget to buy it. Even at the ripe old age of twelve, I was filled with wanderlust. But, that’s another story.
One of the families I sat for that summer had an only child, and 8 year old girl who was being treated for brain cancer. Her head appeared as a minefield to me, filled with freshly scarred over holes. She didn’t want to play very much, but was happy to just hang out together in her living room. I was a bit frightened by her, and the responsibility I had while her mother was gone. This was the only time I would admit to myself I was glad I was only babysitting in the next building. What if she got sick? There were so many bottle of pills. How would I know which ones to give her? Should I give her two chewable baby aspirin if she got a headache?
Chewable baby aspirin. There they were right in front of me. A bottle of St. Joseph’s chewable baby aspirin. The little girl was frail, and needed to take a nap. Her mother wasn’t scheduled to be home for at least another two hours. There was plenty of time. If ever I was going to overcome my fear, and learn how to swallow a pill, it was then.
After making sure my charge was fast asleep, I took a full glass of water into the bathroom along with the bottle of baby aspirin. I locked the door just in case. Out came the little orange tablets onto the counter lined up in a row. First, I tried doing it like I had watched the people on TV – put the pill in my mouth, then take a sip of water. All that happened was the pill began to melt on my tongue. I used a tissue to wipe that one off, and began again. This time, I put the pill further back on my tongue, but gagged, so that didn’t work. Finally after numerous combinations, I took a sip of water, held it, slipped the baby aspirin in, and swallowed. Success! I had managed to complete the process. I had swallowed my first whole tablet. If my blood had been drawn at that point, it likely would have been as thin as someone on Coumadin. I didn’t care. No more crushed tablets in apple sauce for me. I had found the winning combination.
Those baby aspirin turned out to be invaluable for many people, including me. Since the ripe old age of twelve, I have ingested far too many pills to recall, however last November I had blood clots in both lungs. the treatment was Coumadin for six months after I was released from the hospital. Initially, the doctor wanted me to take an aspirin a day, but it turned out full dose was too strong for me, so she now has me on a baby aspirin a day. This miracle drug is now used by millions of middle aged and elderly people to prevent cardiovascular disease. In fact, the demand from the aging population has increased so greatly, that the drug manufacturers have astutely repackaged the 81 mg dose baby aspirin as “low dose aspirin”. At 51, I prefer the nostalgia of baby aspirin. Each night when I take my now handful of pills, I resist the temptation to lock myself in the bathroom.