What if you knew you had one year to live? - (4/6/2021)

By Dr. Ron Gasbarro

Andy was hanging around the pharmacy for no particular reason. "This past year has been brutal," he said to the pharmacist through his face mask. "The pandemic changed our lives forever. And a lot of it is depressing. No church services, no funerals, no restaurants, no traveling, isolation, quarantining, no handshaking, no hugging, no kissing." Mixed messages from the previous occupant of the White House, insisting that the virus will disappear one day "like a miracle," were in direct contradiction with health authorities who stated that the virus would not be tamed until a vaccine was developed. 

On March 12, President Joe Biden, during his first prime time address to Americans, confronted the sadness and loss on the first anniversary of the COVID-19 shutdowns. He noted that the total death toll in the US is greater "than World War One, World War Two, and the Vietnam War combined." Only these casualties were not healthy soldiers being sent into combat. They were the innocent bystanders who got in the way of a virus that was oblivious to political party affiliations or state boundaries.

"Boy, if I only had last year to live over again," Andy lamented. "But you can't relive the past," replied the pharmacist. "Make the best out of this new year. Vaccines are now in supply, people are used to wearing masks, and many places are opening while respecting social distancing. Tell me, Andy, why not live this year like it's your last year on Earth. How would you spend it?" 

"No disrespect, doc," said Andy. "But one of the first things I would do would be to get rid of all my blasted medications." The pharmacist explained to Andy that given his high blood pressure and propensity to eat everything in sight, such a decision may cut his final year down to a few months. Indeed, a survey conducted by the DrFirst health technology group revealed that 84% of Americans cut back on filling or refilling prescriptions, such as drugs for sleep, anxiety, depression, as well as antibiotics, contraceptives, and opioid-containing pain medications. Many people are avoiding both emergency rooms and doctors' offices for fear of catching the virus. Some are resorting to self-medicating themselves with folk remedies or OTC products, which may or may not work.  

"And I wouldn't bother getting the second dose of my COVID vaccine," Andy declared. "Another bad move," the pharmacist shot back. "The pandemic is not over yet. There might be a fourth spike in cases." Indeed, a survey found that many Americans did not receive the second dose of their COVID vaccine – 60% said it was due to forgetfulness. By not completing the vaccine regimen, all people are less protected, and the pandemic will take longer to curtail. That means more face masks and fewer kisses. "Why not do something more positive?" asked the pharmacist. "My daughter is getting married this summer," said Andy. "I would love to have a big reception. And I would like to go to church again. Oh, to be able to shake hands once more and see people smile without a mask covering their mouths!"

The pharmacist felt that every day should be lived as though it was your last day. He fondly remembers that last juicy cheeseburger and Mexican beer at his favorite bistro. That was over a year ago. If we knew in 2019 what we now know in 2021, we might have enjoyed our lives to their fullest. Many psychologists promote positive thinking to get more out of life. However, a 2015 study published in The Behavioral and Brain Sciences journal showed that resilience – that is, the capacity or toughness to recover quickly from life's difficulties – is more about being flexible than being positive. Life will continue to throw us curve balls. Yet, we will endure. The pandemic will end, but, oh, the lessons we have learned so far. 

Ron Gasbarro, PharmD, is a recovering pharmacist and writer-in-residence at Rx-Press.


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