Down on the floor — it's another pill stampede

Pill bottles seem designed to keep the freshness in and the doctor out.
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Dec 01, 2008

It is disappointing and discouraging.


Illustration: Ryan Ostrander
It can happen at almost any time, but invariably it seems to occur when you are too busy to deal with it.

You rush into the pharmacy area, grab a bottle of Rashaway Tablets and find yourself gazing into the mouth of an empty jar — except for the dune of medicated dust surrounding the remaining solitary pill fragment.

You are left with no choice but to face the daunting task of opening the next bottle (an operation that is easier said than done).

You see, those mischievous pranksters at the pill factory have installed a clear plastic ring around the top of the bottle. It is designed to keep the freshness in and the doctor out. However, a few minutes of picking at it with a hemostat will get you to the next challenge.

Beneath the plastic ring, the bottle usually is fitted with one of those child-proof, clickity-click lids. The directions are simple: "Exert three tons of downward pressure while turning counter-clockwise."

(At that point I usually hear a popping noise. It is my left shoulder threatening to dislocate if the lid doesn't give way soon.)

Once the pesky lid is removed, you are halfway to your goal.

The foil seal now looms before you. It is welded to the edges of the jar and does not budge easily. If you are a first-timer, you may try to poke it with your finger. (Good luck!) A knife is good, but your pen will do. (Personally, I take a great deal of pleasure in driving a ballpoint stake into the heart of the thing.) If you try to remove all the foil from the bottle edges, you'll be there all day. So, just rip out a big hole and move on to the real challenge.

There, previously hidden by the foil, is 3 cubic feet of cotton, compressed to the density of a black hole. You can try to pinch it out with your fingers, but a wise person goes immediately to the hemostat method.

Now, for the tricky part:

As you remove the cotton, several pills hitch a ride, then fall to the counter and make a run for it. You must try to corral the wayward wafers. Unfortunately, as you attempt to do so, you knock the bottle over and set off a full-blown pill stampede. Some will roll toward the sink. Others will race to the edge of the counter in a bold attempt to head for the floor.

According to physics textbooks, perpetual motion is not possible. However, anyone who has ever chased a pill stampede knows that a maverick tablet can roll forever.

Eventually, pursuit of your quarry will take you down to floor level, where many of the renegades have found refuge under an immovable object — usually a refrigerator, radiator or bottom shelf. Such things are always designed with a space underneath just small enough that your hand won't fit there, but just big enough that anything else will. A look underneath with your diagnostic pen light will reveal a pill museum with representative tablets from previous stampedes.

It is at this pint that I usually realize that, if little fuzzy balls of pet hair were worth anything, I could retire immediately. There also may be a few dog toenails, a couple of rabies tags and some dead bugs.

Once you have retrieved as many of the little discoid daredevils as possible, you can begin to count them out to be dispensed.

You are almost finished when your secretary, Miss Sabotage, gives you an urgent message. "Mrs. Forty called. You know, the one who was in four days ago with three dogs. Two of them vomited six times. Can you call here in the next 12 minutes? She'll only be home until 7:15."

In spite of having seen every episode of Sesame Street, you lose count and have to start again.

Once the job is done, you realize that you just put in a lot of extra work.

The next person to come along will find a nice, full bottle with all the obstacles removed. There is a great temptation to place this bottle in back and let the next person fight his or her own battle.

Frankly, you might as well do that, because they probably did the same thing to you.

Dr. Obenski owns Allentown Clinic for Cats in Allentown, Pa.