We live in a kind of prescription stash house. The amount of drugs here is insane. If I open a cupboard or a drawer or even an envelope in the spirit of inquiry as to what might have remained in the 30 years since I left home, the answer, mostly, is that whatever I remembered has vanished and been replaced by drugs*.
You might ask what it matters, that a 48-year-old man wondering if his bath toys had survived instead finds a drawer filled with out-of-date Senokot. Yet somehow it does. The costs to the NHS, the cursed ubiquity of it all, the fact I am too frail (and maybe wise) myself to try to get high, or even to sleep, on any of this at all**.
The root of all the medicine is my father***. Much of it dates from before he was really ill, as though he were prepping for this eventuality. And yet his every step further into the arena of the unwell is matched by a new delivery of drugs from the chemist. None of the old stuff was ever needed because new stuff is always on its way.
The old drugs cannot be recycled and my father’s ability to generate and contract fresh ailments and conditions is an act of such sustained creativity that in any other walk of life (if we can speak of dying that way) his work would be in a museum. It’s a microcosm of consumer capitalism. Somewhere folk are suffering for the lack of this and we can’t move for it, nor do we require it. I take it upon myself (like I have much else to do) to make a change.
There is a kind of silence the old man can generate which has become far more powerful than an outright ‘no,’ and it is this that meets me if I ask if we can throw ‘this’ out. ‘This’ can be anything, by the way. Even an old tissue. In the case of the drugs the silence is especially forthright. So I just stop asking at all. Out it goes, inhalers, expectorants, antibiotics, analgesics. For a while I google things to see if they are, I don’t know, noteworthy, fatal or fun. Nothing is. So out it goes, in the bin or back to the chemist till all we have is all we are prescribed.
There is a moment of something like relief when it appears to be over. But I am nagged by a powerful sense that I have missed something, that there must be more. Fans of 70’s movies will recall Gene Hackman’s Popeye Doyle experiencing a similar sensation with a car he knows is full of heroin in the French Connection.
And if there’s one really terrible lesson we can learn from movies it’s that our instincts are never wrong. Thus I am guided by the spirit of Hackman to my father’s wardrobe and there is it, pharmo-Narnia, the Tamazepam Aslan, at the back, behind a veil of blazers a micro-motherlode of prescription pharmaceuticals that could keep an Irvine Welsh character occupied for months.
And yet, this feels like a transgression. This is, after all, his secret stash. And I am only acting on the stated discomfort of others and myself about the drugs we knew of. And so like the good-ish son and first-rate schemer I am, I take a blister pack of pristine tranquilizers and call it day.
*Something similar has happened in my mind, but that’s another story.
**Not strictly true, I will take sleeping tablets sometimes. I keep them around anyway, can you see the pattern here?
*** Mum (89) is presently sustained by a single aspirin a day.