Theresa arrived in a cloud of noise and commotion.
She had called after four o’clock the day before, but I hadn’t noticed the new message in my electronic inbox before I left the clinic.
Her almost brand new alprazolam bottle and her pain pills were missing, and Theresa was reeling. As she walked down the hall to the exam room, I heard her explain to Autumn how she had been to Walmart and a couple of other stores, slinging her big handbag over her shoulder, opening it to pull out her wallet, stuff receipts, and her reading glasses away and fumble for her asthma inhaler.
In my exam room she repeated her story and demonstrated how she had held the bag open, pulled things out of it and then put them back in, and then realizing that her two pill bottles were missing. She proceeded to also show me how she rummaged around for the pill bottles and even emptied the large, brown bag with its purple lining.
In a loud voice and with oversized gestures, she replayed every conversation she had had about her missing pill bottles with store clerks, her girlfriend, and her pharmacist in the last thirty-six hours.
I sighed. Theresa had a small amount of pain pills on hand, which she could safely go without, but she was one of those patients who had seemed stable and truly helped by her long-term alprazolam. This was endorsed for selected patients at the psychopharmacology courses I had attended in Boston many years ago, but it has now fallen out of fashion.
“Well, Theresa, you know these controlled substance agreements you’ve had to sign always say that lost or stolen medications will not be replaced,” I said.
“But this has never happened to me before.” Her voice was as shaky as her large, bony hands. “I’ve been on alprazolam for years, what happens if I stop it suddenly? I took my last pill last night, one I had saved in my nightstand.”
“You’re right. Stopping alprazolam suddenly can actually be risky,” I agreed. “Here’s what I can do: I can give you half your usual dose, in weekly refills that you will have to pay for yourself, and I’ll see you back every Wednesday until your next regular prescription is due. Then we can assess how you’re doing.”
I entered the new dose in the computer and clicked with my trackball on the “print” button. I doubted that Theresa was trying to scam me with diversion or addiction, but rules were rules. Obviously, I didn’t want risk withdrawal seizures.
Later that night I thought about Theresa again. I couldn’t completely ignore a slight shade of doubt. Was she becoming addicted or irresponsible with her medication? A mental black hole lay open, but I resisted falling into it.
The next day, I heard Theresa’s resonant voice again, talking with Autumn somewhere down the hall. A short while later, Autumn appeared at my door. In her hand, she held three pill bottles.
“Remember Theresa’s missing pill bottles?”
Without waiting for my answer, she continued:
“Well she was just here with that big handbag of hers. She lost her cell phone last night, so she emptied out her whole bag again and found a five-inch hole in the lining. There, between the lining and the outer shell, was her cell phone, her two pill bottles and one of her spare pair of reading glasses!”
The black hole was real, I thought, not in my mind, but in that big handbag of hers.
“A Country Doctor” is a family physician who blogs at A Country Doctor Writes:.
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