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Photo Blog: Over the Counter

In January, I received a helpful e-mail from my health insurance provider. It informed me that Zyrtec—the allergy medication I’ve taken since I was 15—would now be providing prescription-strength pills over the counter, so if I attempted another prescription refill, they’d have no problem charging me $145 instead of the usual $15.

I don’t usually take my allergy medication in winter, because there aren’t as many outdoor allergens to ruin my life. But allergy season is upon us, and as such I finished my Zyrtec prescription on Sunday and had to take a trip up to Walgreens to find the over-the-counter version. They had a bunch of options: five tablets, 14, 30, or 45. I would have preferred to go big, for maximum value, but the 30- and 45-tablet options were locked in little cabinets. I don’t really like pushing the button and having someone from the pharmacy assist me, because, aside from the other sordid reasons, there’s a girl working in that pharmacy who I unintentionally stalked for about three months about eight years ago.

Now, when I say that, don’t get all in a tizzy thinking I’m some psycho nutbar. Different people have different definitions of “stalking” (apparently). Standing behind a tree in her front yard, chain-smoking and staring at her bedroom window—that’s stalking. Asking a girl on a date multiple times, including prefacing one or two of them with flowery (and, I’ll admit, embarrassing) declarations of love—that’s just a delightful cocktail of persistence and stupidity. No matter how you define it, there’s nothing more humiliating than seeing her. She actually stopped working there for awhile, but now she’s back, and I’m compelled to switch over my prescription pickup location to a slightly farther but much less awkward location. But fuck, it was Sunday, I didn’t want to drive 10 minutes when I could have driven three.

I also didn’t want to risk having to see or speak with her if I could avoid it, so I didn’t push the little assistance button. Even though it was kind of a rip-off, I grabbed two 14-tablet thingies and went home.

Then I tried opening them. I’m usually not easily daunted by something as simple as medication, but look at the way it’s packaged:

In case you can’t tell from the photo, that’s 14 pills, each individually packaged in plastic about five times larger than it needs to be. I went to the tool drawer to grab an array of tools I thought might help.

Unfortunately, when push came to shove, the only thing that could possibly work were my fingers.

Here’s the thing: perhaps the only parts of my body that have any kind of strength or dexterity are my hands. I’m a sloppy guitarist, an incompetent video game player, and a fast typist—my hands have developed Samson-like power.*

I flipped over the package and found some handy instructions:

Easy enough, until I pushed the damn tabs and yanked it back

That’s right: the size of the holes are too small to get the pill packages out. I’m sure they did this so the packages wouldn’t all spill out at the same time, but they made them too small. It took a concerted effort just to get one out. I decided to improvise.

Yanking off the entire back worked wonders. Not only did the individual packages not spill out—the plastic packaging acted as a handy bowl to hold them.

I got my first look at the individual package:

There’s some nice, handy perforation. I’ll bet that’s how you get to the pill.

Hmm, TEAR BEND TEAR. That seems like more effort than what’s needed, but still, I’ve dealt with worse over-the-counter packaging. Or I thought I had, until I attempted to TEAR.

With what I can only describe as a Herculean effort, I tore off the little tab. Unfortunately, my hands are only at a Samson strength level, so it took an unreasonable amount of effort to accomplish very little.

In fact, it accomplished practically nothing. It tore, but it didn’t exactly burst forth with the sweet nectar of allergy relief. Still more effort was required, because I did not yet BEND and TEAR (again). So I bent.

Bending opens up a tiny slit in the foil. I slid one of fingers underneath it, tore, and—

What the FUCK?! How is it still not open?! One more swipe finally got it:

That was completely unreasonable, a waste of time and effort that took more than five minutes when it should have taken about three seconds (like it does with every other over-the-counter medication on the planet).

I discovered an easier way, which I will pass along to the few readers who have stuck with this post. Fuck TEAR BEND TEAR. Here’s what you do: bend it, hard, with the brute force of a powerful hand (or perhaps a pair of pliers, if you’re a weakling) and slam that fucker in half. It’ll pop open a much wider, more useful slit that penetrates both layers of that shitty foil. You’ll know you did it right if you hear the distinctive pop that normal would suggest you’ve done something very, very wrong.

Tear that open like a Hershey bar on Easter, and you get to the pill:

There you have it. Putting forth a minimal amount of effort, you can bust apart that shitty packaging. If you get no other regular exercise, you may want to do it the hard way. Keep in mind you’ll need to do this 13 more times (or 27 if you doubled up like I did), so by the end of it you should be pretty bulked up, at least in the general hand-wrist-forearm area. On a related note, you’ll accumulate a bit of a mess:

Is this why they’re charging so much for the over-the-counter variety?

Edit 3/31/08—I can’t find any kind of explanation for the ridiculous over-packaging. There are some blurbs about Zyrtec-D getting the usual meth treatment—behind-the-counter, photo ID, etc.—but regular Zyrtec doesn’t have pseudoephedrine. What the hell?

*Please don’t cut them off.

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