I’m on nine pills a day now – and I’m not even what you might call ill | Adrian Chiles

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About seven years ago, when I was still in my 40s, my GP saw fit to prescribe me another pill to take every day. I believe it was for reflux. While I was grateful for anything to address the geysers of what felt like battery acid erupting in my belly, I was dismayed. I already took something for anxiety and two for hypertension, so this would be my fourth pill. “Four a day!” I groaned. “What’s happening to me?”

“Welcome to middle age,” the GP said, drily.

How right she was. Four pills. Just four! What I wouldn’t give to be back in those halcyon days. Four pills was small potatoes, entry level. There were more to come. A deficiency in vitamin D was identified, so in went a daily dose of that. Organisationally, this was a turning point. Even though the days of the week were marked on some of the strips of pills, I managed to make mistakes. I knew I had been blundering because, having been prescribed the same quantity of each medication, I had a different number of each pill left when it got towards repeat prescription time.

I muddled through, determined to avoid succumbing to the inevitable – having to buy a pillbox – this being a sure sign that you’re on the downward slope of life. It’s like when, if you trip over, people start saying you’ve “had a fall” rather than you’ve merely fallen over. At about this time, interestingly, I slipped over in the bath, cracking a couple of ribs, which was most definitely in the “a fall” category. There was nothing for it: I had to buy a pillbox. Apart from anything else, dozens of painkillers were now, for the time being at least, popping in to join the pill party.

Distributing the pills in the organiser was oddly satisfying. But again, mistakes crept in. The pharmaceutical industry gets a lot of stick, but not nearly enough for the confusing colours, shapes and sizes of its pills. Big, small, medium, round, oval, white, beige, whatever. It would be a great help if the same medication could be the same size, shape and colour whoever manufactures it. But no, they appear to be interchangeable. Confusion reigns. One month’s citalopram can resemble the next month’s amlodipine. Someone’s having a laugh.

At least the ADHD pills, when they came knocking on the pillbox door, were a different shape. And they obviously improved my organisational skills. That said, many is a time I’ve arranged my pillbox most beautifully for a trip away, only to go away without it. Equally displeasing is when you tap the day’s pills out to find one or more of the other days’ lids isn’t closed properly, so off they go shooting all over the floor.

And still new pills come. A couple of new arrivals just in time for Christmas, actually – a statin and a blood thinner. For added befuddlement, I now must take some in the morning and some in the evening, necessitating the purchase of a more advanced pillbox.

Nine pills a day now. Surely 2023 will see me achieve double figures. And it’s not as if I’m what you might call ill. My dad, in his 80s, is well into double figures with his pill intake. If getting a pillbox is the first step on the downward slope, the second is the pharmacist sending you the pills ready arranged. Upon giving my dad a stern telling-off for not taking his meds assiduously enough, I saw that the dosette box from the pharmacy was flimsy and tricky to read. So I got him a nice clear pill organiser just like mine, and carefully filled both up.

Predictably enough, yesterday morning I absent-mindedly knocked back his morning pills instead of mine – all nine of them. Realising in the nick of time, I retched loudly, and managed to expel them with some force across his kitchen. Great, thought the dog, treat time! I recovered eight of the pills, so one remains at large, either on the floor somewhere, in me, or in the dog.

Adrian Chiles is a writer, broadcaster and Guardian columnist

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