Reader Reactions & Anecdotes

Read recent comments about this article.

10 January 2009

The Pillers of Society

By now most of my readers are aware that I have been doing a bunch of doctoring in the past few months. I’ve avoided discussing the whys and wherefores because I’ve always felt that few things are more tiresome than an old geezer who declaims on his medical adventures.

These days, though, I’m no longer so smugly judgmental. As an old geezer who has been laid low by an inexplicably treasonous body of his own, I find that there’s nothing else to talk about. Today, for instance, a self-described “old pal” whose name I couldn’t remember, dropped in “on a whim” upon his return from a six-month vacation in some exotic place like Hoboken, shook my skeletal hand, gave me a long stare full of shock and incredulity, then lied with elaborate ebullience: “Jeez, man, you never change. What have you been doing to keep looking so great?”

“Taking pills.”

“Yeah?” He chuckled, covering his confusion by embellishing the lie. “So where do I get some pills like that, eh? Ho-ho.”

I’ll fix him, I thought irritably. I took off on an oration that soon glazed his eyes. I took him from the morning I noticed the first symptom, then to the emergency room, and from there to the icy, forbidding chill of the operating room, and eventually to the long and painful nights of staring at the hospital’s various ceilings. I described the days of pokings and pushings and pinprickings and tubes and bed changing and thermometers and clickety-clack bleepings and tasteless food and commands from bustling nurses and evaluations by diffident interns and the occasional visitations of impassive Medical Divinities with stethoscopes adorning their necks and golf pants showing under their white smocks. Finally I delivered the coup de grace: listing the medications that have kept me alive since my return home, I put my visitor into a sound sleep.

“The white one is about the size of a meatloaf, and its job is to counter the attack of frangeboid dittertynes. The pink one, shaped like a football, counters the counter-attack, leaving the more aggressive dittertynes less frangeboid. The octagonal one reduces the flow of graponymous ramifams, and the square blue one augments the flow during a full moon. The teeny brown job is aimed at whatever dubefrators might be wandering my arterial system, and the 14 purple ones must be taken together at high noon to assure the proper digestion of the tasteless food I can’t eat. Every 4 a.m., I must awaken from a sleep I can’t get to take a Risenshein pellet to counteract possible side effects of the Oblivyonus sleeping aid I took at midnight.

“To promote an overall better mood, I’m expected daily to drink seven gallons of prune juice, a fifth of cranberry juice, a six-pack of liquid protein supplement — all washed down by a tumbler of purified water every hour on the hour. When I walk, I slosh.”

When my “old pal” eventually blinked awake and said his jolly goodbyes, I waved him farewell and, in a kind of afterglow of masochistic annoyance, I slugged down my 4 p.m. teeny brown anti-dubifrator pill. Glaring at the bottle and its mysterious label, I wondered just how long pills have been around, who invented them, and how many generations of Medical Divinities have been dispensing them among the world’s unfortunate.

I went directly to Merriam-Webster to check out the etymology of the word, “pill.” There I was told that “pill” is a noun that dates from the 14th Century and derives from Middle English pylle, from Anglo-French pile & Middle Dutch pille, both ultimately from Latin pilula, from diminutive of pila ball.

Then I looked up the word “pal”: Romany phral, phal brother, friend, from Sanskrit bhrātṛ brother; akin to Old English brōthor brother. Date: circa 1682.

Pressing on, suspecting that they might be synonymous, I searched for a relationship between “old pill” and “old pal.” I found none.

Then, as it always does, the truth seeped into my skull.

I couldn’t remember his name at all. But he remembered mine fondly, from some encounter somewhere. And he’d thought it might cheer me up to have a visitor, even an unexpected one, and so he’d gone out of his way to drop in and be jolly and friendly. And I’d returned his kindness with irritable negativity.

I saw then who had been the real pill.


Copyright © 2009 by Jack D. Hunter.  All rights reserved.  No part of this document may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.

Valid HTML 4.01 Transitional