It's the sinking feeling bordering on full scale panic you get when you can't find your HIV meds. Sometimes it happens on a trip. Sometimes it happens on the way to the airport -- like wondering if you forgot to turn off the oven.
But from the beginning, we who take these meds have been told that if you miss a day or take them irregularly, the virus will evolve and the pills will become ineffective.
So, we live in a world of clocks and time zone changes and making sure we remember to call the pharmacy at precisely the right day each month to make sure next month's pills arrive in a timely manner so that the supply chain is not interrupted.
One of the many pills that I take during the course of the day is one called Atripla. Atripla is a combination of three HIV medications, the "cocktail" as they've been dubbed. Ever since I've been taking HIV meds -- 12? 13 years? -- I've been absolutely compliant, almost never missing a dose. Being three pills in one, it's very expensive.
And each month, I refill my pill tray -- seven days a week, four slots a day -- I'm very meticulous about emptying the past month's pills into the tray and replacing the old bottle with the new bottle.
I don't put a list in front of me. I just have old bottles/new bottles, and if I have an empty bottle from the old and no corresponding new bottle in the "new," then I know the pharm made a mistake and I correct it. No problem.
Then, the next week when I'm using all new pill bottles, I just refill them into the right slots and I know I have all my pills.
This method has worked perfectly for all the years I've been taking pills. As for each individual slot in the tray, I kinda can tell when or if something is missing, even if it's jam-packed.
So, I was three days into this new tray when I suddenly had this feeling that the bottom slot didn't feel "right." Something was missing.
In fact, I wasn't even looking at it when it hit me. I was on the couch with the TV on or something, and suddenly the image of that tray slot came to me and I realized it was missing my Atripla.
I popped up and ran to the tray. I was right. No Atripla.
So, I grabbed my big bag o' pills and pulled each bottle out one by one.
How can this be? It's the beginning of the month. I searched back in my memory and definitely recalled taking two pills from last month's Atripla and placing them on top of the new ones in the new bottle (so I could throw the old bottle away).
That HAD to be there.
How many days have I gone now without my HIV med? I looked at the tray. Three days in. No! I've never missed more than one dose in a row. And now a whole month?
What did I do? Throw them out with the old bottles?
I looked on every shelf, sorted through every bottle of everything. (Aspirins from when??).
REALITY CHECK:I called the pharmacy. They said they definitely shipped it to me, according to their records. I told them my process, how I always am able to keep up with every prescription. And that I've never, ever lost any pills, especially my Atripla. But that I was also sure that it was in the package.
At this point in the process, I took a deep breath. Since the early days of HIV therapy, some people have been known to take what they call a "drug holiday" -- where they go a number of days or weeks in a row of non-med taking (for whatever reason, side effects, etc.) -- and the meds work perfectly well when they resume.
So, I calmed myself down and decided to just let fate happen as it will happen. If I can't get any, then we'll call it a drug holiday and cross our fingers. Still, I'd rather not disturb the waters. I want to stay compliant.
But, still, I was now in trouble because I didn't have any for this month.
He said, "Well, this is a very expensive drug, you know. We can't afford to give it away."
I said I totally understood and that I couldn't afford it either. So, I asked, "Do you have any extras just lying around?"
He came back to me, "I can give you 10."
Okay. Ten's good.
Now I just about two more weeks worth.
I spoke with Michael who told me about a local community of HIV positive people who help each other out when stuff like this happens.
And within a day, he found someone who had extras they could share.
Pill Panic over. Community comes to the rescue.