Wednesday, April 27, 2011

My Aunt Wants Vicodin: Dedicated to and Inspired by Both My Real Aunt and Aunt Becky

There is truth to what I'm writing, so Aunt Becky (Sherrick Harks) is less likely to sue me for using her considered-but-rejected blog title as my heading for this particular blog entry. My aunt had surgery to remove portions of her intestine because of two perforated ulcers (I admit to profound ignorance once more: I don't even know whether it was her large or small intestine, or if she had a separate ulcer in each) and to resect the intestines minus the damaged and removed portions. Often, I've been told, when a person has intestinal surgery, the use of narcotics is limited because the use of opiates greatly interferes with intestinal motility.

Isn't that just what you wanted to read about? I hope anyone who is reading this is not eating. I'll try to be more sensitive to these sorts of matters in the future. My aunt, however, has cystic fibrosis. Patients with cystic fibrosis often suffer from either too little intestinal motility or too much of it. My aunt's situation is the latter. Food travels through her at the rate the late Secretariat ran the track at the Belmont Stakes. A little bit of sluggishness in the gastric motility department is actually a good thing for my aunt. It might actually allow food to remain in her system long enough for her to absorb a few nutrients. Her doctors, then, have liberally prescribed painkillers for her.

Painkillers alter my aunt's personality. She has a normally pleasant enough disposition. While she does possess a sense of humor, not everything that might occur in an unremarkable interval of an hour or so would necessarily send her into fits of hysteria. When she takes Vicodin, however, all bets are off as to what she'll find beyond hilarious. My uncle experienced just the slightest degree of difficulty in removing the child-proof cap from my aunt's Vicodin bottle one afternoon.

My uncle doesn't know the rule about child-proof caps, which is that if one is having difficulty opening a child-proof bottle of anything, hand it to a little kid, and he or she will have it open in a nano-second. The kindergarten teacher my twin brother and I had was a senior citizen and took a whole slew of medications, from blood thinners to beta blockers to MAO inhibitors to Prozac to God only know what else. She brought the bottles to school each morning in a slate-blue plastic basket. The "medicine monitor" would set a timer and would, at the appointed times, open the bottles, count out the correct numbers of pills of each sort, and hand-deliver them to our teacher, along with a glass of water. I don't recall that any of the kindergartners in our class ever thought to mention this slightly odd procedure to our parents. Why in hell would we have done that? Doing such might have cost us a turn at being the "medicine monitor," which was one of the more highly-coveted classroom jobs. It ranked just beneath "office monitor," who delivered hand-written messages, supplies, or whatever, to and from the office, but ahead of "telephone monitor," who answered the classroom intercom phone and relayed messages between the caller and the teacher because the aging teacher lacked sufficient mobility to actually walk the distance to the phone herself. Another important job was "fire drill monitor." This wasn't such a highly preferred duty as some of the others, because fire drills happened only once a month unless a juvenile delinquent was unsupervised in the vicinity of a fire alarm and pulled it at a time when a fire drill had not been scheduled, or, God forbid, an actual fire broke out. It was, nonetheless, an important task. The kindergarten teacher's ability to discern high-pitched frequencies, such as that of the sound emitted by our school's fire alarm system, fell somewhere between "hard of hearing" and "stone-cold deaf." Had the alarm sounded, the class would have heard it and would have exited the building, but the teacher would either have been left sitting at her desk wondering what had happened to the class or, in the event of an actual fire, would have gone down with the seventy-something-year-old building that couldn't possibly have been anywhere near up to code. Thus, the "fire drill monitor" had the duty to alert the kindergarten teacher whenever the fire alarm sounded. Enough about my brother's and my rather bizarre kindergarten experience. I must get back to the discussion of my aunt and her unusual reaction to Vicodin.

My uncle's difficulty in opening the child-proof bottle of Vicodin took place more than four hours after my aunt had been given her most recent dose, so we're talking half-life at best where the effects of the drug were concerned. Still, my aunt laughed harder at my uncle trying in vain to pry open the child-proof container than my brother laughs when he's watching The Hangover, which is his favorite movie of all time. I'd be afraid to let my aunt watch The Hangover if she'd taken any Vicodin within twenty-four hours; she would quite possibly laugh so hard she'd either pee on herself, go into a seizure, or have a stroke.

My aunt laughs riotously at The MacNeil-Lehrer NewsHour when she's on Vicodin. She also thinks ladybugs are funny when she's under the influence of the drug. I told my uncle that he must never take my aunt to a funeral, no matter how close she may have been to the deceased, if she's been given Vicodin or any related opiate within a week of the scheduled date and time of the funeral. My aunt would probably laugh, and not just at the lame jokes of the eulogist or of those participating in the "open-mike" portion of the funeral, but at the incensing of the coffin or at the vocalist's rendition of "The Old Rugged Cross" (which, I admit, has been laughable at least once at a funeral at which I was in attendance, but still, we all showed proper respect by pretending either to cry or to cough instead; there are times when one does not laugh). She would disgrace our entire family. My uncle agreed with me and said that if a funeral ever were to be scheduled without sufficient notice to keep my aunt off the Vicodin for a suitable interval, she'd have to sit that one out.

My aunt, I'm told, is not prone to addiction. She's already taking considerably less Vicodin than she was when she first left the hospital about a week ago. Conversations with her are slightly more lucid but are not as much fun. I spend a not insignificant part of vacation time with her and her husband, and they have taken on portion of the chore of teaching me to drive. Sooner or later they'll send me on the occasional errand with one of their cars. I'm hoping nothing ever goes wrong on any of these excursions, but I should probably prepare for the worst by getting my hands on a Vicodin and squirreling it away for one of those true "rainy day" moments, such as if someone ever were to sideswipe me or, even worse, if I were to back into a fire hydrant.

If that were to happen, I would say, "Auntie, you look like you're in pain. Your abdomen must be hurting from your surgery you had [however many] months ago. Here! Have a Vicodin! It'll make you feel better." I would produce the tablet, which she would gladly take. I would wait twenty minutes or so for it to take effect . . . Then I'd tell her about the car.


  1. I had a cousin who lost much (well, most) of his intestines due to a motorbike accident. He decided to convert his motorbike to run with nitrous oxide boosts. This worked very well right up until the moment he decided to give it a lot of the N O gas. At which point the engine was blown apart and he was propelled over the handlebars of the bike.

    At this point he found himself, lying on his back on the road. Sadly the motorbike was so well balanced that, even with the engine blown up, it was still proceeding, at high speed, towards his prone form. Upon which said bike ran him over, chewing up his guts.

    To cut a long story short he had to have a lot of his intestines removed, which resulted in Crone's disease.

    He was placed on Codeine and eventually was prescribed 15g a day, a HUGE amount which, ultimately, shortened his life. Still, he outlived not only the death predicted by the surgeon who initially operated on him by 30 years, he also outlived the surgeon, too!

  2. My goal in life is to outlive any doctor who ever performs a medical procedure on me.