Most of the prescriptions I have ever gotten warn me not to drive, operate heavy equipment or use a chainsaw while taking the medicine — which was never a big problem when I was young and lived in Manhattan. I didn’t own a car or a chainsaw, and operating heavy equipment was so far out of my comfort zone, it wasn’t even an issue. Pretty much the same for light equipment.
I thought the only people who owned chainsaws were serial killers and Mafia enforcers. When watching the news after a hurricane or tornado had hit some unfortunate town, it always seemed strange to see homeowners emerge from their houses lugging giant chainsaws and start cutting apart fallen trees. Where did they learn how to use them? How often does this town get hit by tornadoes? If it’s a regular thing, I’m not sure owning a chainsaw will solve the problem. Maybe there’s something about chainsaws that attracts tornadoes.
But now that I live in a real place that is not Manhattan, a place where people drive cars and live in houses with yards and operate heavy equipment for a living, I realize that a chainsaw is a handy thing to have around. I’ve learned that even a garden-variety thunderstorm, the kind that will never make the national news, can leave a lot of downed tree limbs in its wake, most of them in my backyard. My chainsaw has paid for itself many times over.
But as I get older, along with most of my friends and neighbors, I now take lots of medicines all the time, not just for a week while something gets better. Nothing we have now is going to get better. All the medicines we take, we take to keep things from getting worse. And they all seem to have side effects and warning labels.
The caution not to operate heavy equipment and chainsaws is still very popular, but one is new to me. The warning on a common medicine taken by almost 100 percent of the residents of places with names like Sun City and Valley of the Sun says, “Avoid exposure to direct or artificial sunlight while on this medication.”
Isn’t this why old people who take this medicine move south in the first place — to spend time in the sun? And what does “artificial sunlight” mean? Are we supposed to live in the dark?
The next bottle says this drug “may cause dizziness.” But that’s OK, because the doctor gives me another medicine for the dizziness. It says, “Do not eat grapefruit while taking this medicine.” I can live with being dizzy; I’m not sure I can live without grapefruit.
Several of the medicines say they should be taken with food, while some say they should not. One says it shouldn’t be taken for an hour after eating a meal high in fiber. I nearly missed that, as the warning is written in letters so small that you need a microfiche to read them. It’s a medicine mainly for the reading-glass set. Maybe someone should explain to my pharmacist that eyesight, as with so much else, does not get better with age. I notice the amount of my co-pay is printed in large, easy-to-read numbers.
It’s funny how health care is the one thing we pay for without knowing its price before we buy it. I know people who will go to a different supermarket to save 15 cents on a can of peas and people who will drive miles out of their way to buy gas that’s 3 cents a gallon cheaper. But when they get a bill for $1,783.62 for a test they can’t remember taking at a doctor’s office, they pay their share (or the whole thing) without complaint. After all, that’s why they call them your “golden years.” Because that’s what it costs to live during them.
Jim Mullen’s newest book, “How to Lose Money in Your Spare Time — At Home,” is available at amazon.com. You can follow him on Pinterest at pinterest.com/jimmullen.