Monday, August 13, 2007

Drug Pusher

When somebody dies after a long illness, you have a lot of leftover medications. Jim was taking a cancer drug called Tarceva, which comes in a little pill and can cost upwards of $3,000 a bottle if your insurance doesn't cover it. Our insurance, thank God, covered it.

He ordered it three bottles at a time through a prescription mail order service, and had just received a new 90-day supply when his scans showed that he wasn't one of the lucky ten percent for whom the drug produced results.

So when I was clearing the medicine cabinet of everything except regular cranky normal middle-aged people medicine last week, there I was with nearly $9,000 worth of Tarceva. I could have sold this medicine to somebody with lousy or no insurance at a tenth of that price and recouped my husband's investment but for one minor detail: Reselling prescription drugs in this country is an offense liable to land you in federal prison.

I also could have gone to a lung cancer support group and given it away, but that carries a similar penalty to selling it.

I also could have stood on a street corner with the pills under a raincoat and hissed, "Epidermal Growth Factor Receptors," but that also seemed ripe with potential for humilation.

So that left me with disposing of them, which made me uncomfortable in two ways: The idea of dumping these pills that could be worth somebody's life savings, and the possibility of polluting the reserviors so badly that people would be born a hundred years from now with two heads.

I called the doctor's office who had prescribed the pills.

"Oh, just drop them in the mail," the medical assistant said.

But I'd brought enough small packages to the post office lately to know that the clerk would ask if the package contained a dangerous substance. I don't know if cancer drugs can cause anthrax scares, but I wasn't taking any chances.

I went up to Mount Sinai Hospital at lunchtime this afternoon to drop them off with the doctor. I took the bus up Madison, the way I had so many times before. I entered and got a whiff of what I've come to call "That Sinai Smell" that brings up all those memories of surgeries, Jim's and mine, and chemo and radiation and God knows how many scans between us. It's a smell I've associated with countless anxieties. Sadly, his game is over and the bad guys won, or at least the good guys lost. But it also means the association has lost its power to make me uneasy...for now, anyway.

I walked into the Ruttenberg Cancer Center and gave the package to the receptionist. "These are from Jim Konrad, who unfortunately won't be needing them anymore."

"Oh, I'm so sorry." She was, too. They liked Jim there. Also, I have the good insurance.

Before I went back downtown to my office, I stopped in the cafeteria for a Real Deal Meal of two Hebrew National Franks and a Diet Pepsi. I used to do that a lot, too. And as I finished my meal, I reflected on how Memory Lane twists through some very strange neighborhoods.

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