Two and a Half Years, Dozens of Anniversaries

Is it the mid-winter blahs, or real S.A.D.?

Is it that we haven't had a break, got married fast, no honeymoon, childrearing consumes all?

Is it that I overvolunteered for church stuff?

Is it that pizza I had delivered on Friday was so bad that it made me take the failing economy much, much more seriously? I mean, when you eat something, you really internalize it.

Or is it that I remember this day three years ago – my daughter's second birthday – when I had to get up super early to drive an hour to the hospital and pick up the prescriptions my dying husband had neglected to pick up?

February 1, 2006. When I came home from work, he'd been asleep for a few hours after his visit to the oncologist. Cindy had driven him there and back, and gotten a wheelchair to wheel him through the medical center. He was on Nexavar, the first miracle drug, which was sapping his energy and seemed to be stealing his breath. He could barely move without collapse. Cindy was one of his oldest friends, and she not only helped but enjoyed getting some time with him.

He was close to the end of his life, but I didn't know it, or admit it, and the drug was actually working.

After he'd woken up and eaten a few paltry bites of dinner he started to put his prescriptions away. I think there were eight that day. Three were missing – all the opiates: the patch, for a continuous low dose; and two strengths of oxycodone to supplement whether he needed a big hit or a little one. He had the tags, but not the bags, and we were down to maybe one pill.

And it was the night before our daughter's second birthday.

It was a complicated situation. He'd paid for them, and they were opiates; yes, they had them stored in the safe so it was a little complicated to pick them up, but really. If someone at the pharmacy had their eyes open they could steal them with no trouble at all by "forgetting" to put them in the bag. It would be so easy to take advantage of my sleepy 100-lb husband in his wheelchair, with his ditzy escort. Maybe it's the New Yorker in me, but I don't trust anyone, and there are some pharmacy workers who abuse their access. I had no reason to distrust these folks, but it's a large public hospital with many indigent patients in a forlorn secondary city, and I had, in the past, experienced consistent problems with another pharmacy giving me 28 pills instead of 30 for a maintenance drug. (And that had happened when I was paying out of pocket and generic was not yet available. So I really felt it.)

I was furious. I thought how much pain he'd have that night with only one pill available. I thought how lack of sleep and what minimal humor was left would hurt the next day's birthday festivities. I was the only competent adult around and the only one who could drive (opiates made him unwilling to risk driving). I had a busy day at work plus the birthday stuff. I was failing. I couldn't do it all. This, I had to.

He kept saying, "But the tags were there! Why would I think to see if the bags were full?" It was a huge handful of white bags and tags, plus receipts on top.

"See if your goddamn TAGS keep you warm at night!" I fumed.

I was going to be pissed, but I also had to act. I left a long, very anxious message for the pharmacy which was, of course, closed. And I rose early like the Groundhog to be at the hospital when the pharmacy opened. They hadn't listened to my message yet. The drugs were still in the safe and they apologized profusely.

I dropped the drugs back at the house, where Gavin was lying on the pulled-out futon (it was the middle of his two months there), told him I loved him and gave him a kiss, played with my girl, arranged dinner with my Mom, and went to the office.

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