My husband, who's 42, has high blood pressure. He's in excellent shape, and he doesn't smoke or drink. But high blood pressure runs in his family, so he's had to start taking medication, which is fine. The problem is, he keeps forgetting to take his pills. The doctor recommended various things, but none of them seem to work. The only thing that works is when I remind him, either in person or over the phone. But I'm not sure this is the best way to do this. What if I myself forget sometime? I'd never forgive myself. This is a guy who, except for colds, has never been sick a day in his life. How do you propose we keep it that way?
The Woman in the Pillbox Hat
Pillbox: Wait a minute, are we married and nobody bothered to tell me? I, too, am the very picture of health and nevertheless have had to start taking medication for a heart ailment. And as someone close to me recently said, "You couldn't remember to take your pills if your life depended on it." Which it doesn't, knock on wood, but even if it did I'm absolutely sure I'd still have trouble remembering to take my pills. Why? I DON'T KNOW! I JUST FORGET! I've tried Post-It notes on the refrigerator. I've tried Post-It notes on the computer screen. I've tried Post-It notes on the bathroom mirror. I've tried Post-It notes hanging from the ceiling. I've even tried Post-It notes glued to the vest pocket of my shirt, next to the organ in question.
Okay, so Post-It notes didn't work. Then I graduated to a three-alarm watch. I've always resisted wearing a watch. I don't like carrying the history of Western civilization around on my wrist. Plus, whenever possible, I prefer not to know what time it is. It cramps my style. But the watch has been very helpful. In fact, the only time I forget to take my pills now are when 1) I forget to wear my watch, 2) I neglect to walk straight to the kitchen and take a pill when the alarm goes off, or 3) I remember to walk straight to the kitchen but, once there, become momentarily distracted and then can't remember whether I took the goddamn pill or not. That's where my handy days-of-the-week pillbox comes in. There they all are, the day's allotment of pills, each in its allotted space. How could I possibly lose count?
Here's how: I also keep a supply of pills in my car, in case I forget to take the pillbox with me when I leave the house. And if I take one of the car pills but later forget whether I took it or not, I've still got a pill sitting there in the pillbox, whispering in my ear, "You better take me, just to be safe." The fact is, Pillbox, pill compliance - or "pill adherence," if you don't want to sound so coercive - is a major problem. The World Health Organization estimates that fully half of the two billion prescriptions filled every year aren't taken properly. Often, it's because the patient doesn't want to take his medication. He doesn't think it really helps, or he doesn't like the side effects, or he thinks it costs too much. But just as often, he plain forgets.
What to do? Well, as you alluded to, there are various devices out there, from six-alarm watches to computerized dispensers that call you on the phone if you forget to pick up the pill they've dispensed. But I happen to think it takes a village. It takes a village idiot to forget to take his pills, and it takes the rest of the village to remind him. So, until your husband's gotten into the habit of taking his pills, I'd involve anybody who's willing to be involved: family, friends, co-workers, that guy at the bus stop. If the sheer annoyance of being asked, umpteen times a day, whether he's taken his pill isn't enough to get him in line, nothing will be. And now if you'll excuse me, I have to take my afternoon pill. Wait, I already took it. Or did I? Dammit.
Forget to take your chill pill? Write to: MR. RIGHT, ISTHMUS, 101 KING ST., MADISON, WI 53703. OR CALL 251-1206, EXT. 152. OR EMAIL MRRIGHT@ISTHMUS.COM.