Column: A subtle reminder that details matter

I gave my commencement speech to the class of 2017 months ago, and now I share a cautionary tale to remind our new graduates of an important life lesson they should already know, and never forget: Details matter.

I rely upon my memory for far too much these days. The problem with that is the fact my memory card is full. I have to erase something in order to store new information. I tell somebody every single week that I can’t remember what I had for dinner the previous evening, and I’m usually not kidding.

Despite the many details I’m failing to keep track of from week to week, there’s a certain comfort in being able to navigate life’s simple moments on autopilot. Or so I thought.

For more than a year I’ve been taking heart medication. Contrary to popular opinion, I have a heart. And I take one big pill and one small pill twice a day. After more than a year I still forget about once per week, but 13 out of 14 weekly doses seem to get the job done.

I use one of those handy pillboxes to dole out a week’s worth of medication. Autopilot is great, but I’m well aware that if I have to reach for the prescription bottles each morning and evening I’ll inevitably take one or both pills, get distracted and have no idea what I have or haven’t taken.

Early last week I was filling the pillbox and realized I was running out of both pills. That should have been my first clue.

I had already received a text message from the pharmacy telling me that it was time for a new three-month supply of the big pills. The pharmacy has no idea it takes me 14 weeks to burn through 13 weeks of pills.

Although I take the pills together, the pills don’t run out at the same time. That would be too convenient.

So I was surprised to see my pills were running out about the same time last week. When I picked up the new batch of big pills I asked the pharmacist about the small pills. He said I wasn’t due for a new batch of small pills until June 1. I said I needed them the next day, which he was able to accommodate. That conversation, however, should have been my second clue.

I felt rather lousy for a few days last week. I was so tired on Tuesday afternoon I could have fallen asleep at my desk by 4 p.m.

I had put in two long nights prior to Tuesday, so I figured I was just really worn down. And yet with extra sleep on Tuesday night I felt worse on Wednesday. I had an appointment Wednesday afternoon I had to cancel because I felt so lethargic and tired. I started to wonder what bizarre disease I had contracted.

I survived the rest of the week, and ran out of the small pills on Thursday. I was behind on Friday and didn’t make time to pick them up that day. I finally returned to the pharmacy on Sunday.

At home Sunday afternoon, I filled the pillbox and put the new bottles in my usual storage space. And that’s when I noticed a pill bottle on the shelf with about 30 small pills in it. It was the supply that was supposed to last until June 1.

I knew my empty pill bottles were in the recycling bag, so I went to retrieve them. That’s when I realized that autopilot nearly caused a crash landing last week.

I don’t remember going to the doctor last October. Not in the slightest. But I do recall waking up with an incredibly sore back early in the month. It was so sore I had trouble getting out of bed in the morning. And I remember thinking that I was grateful that the mysterious sore back was happening in mid-October rather than at the end of the month, when I’d be on vacation.

Thanks to that back pain I ended up with a small bottle of muscle relaxers. They came in rather small pills that weren’t particularly colorful, much like the small heart pills I’ve been taking for more than a year. Yes, instead of the heart pill I was taking muscle relaxers twice daily for three to four days last week.

I have no idea how that pill bottle I had forgotten about found its way alongside the big pill bottle, or why I didn’t notice three bottles on the shelf instead of two.

Sometimes it’s annoying to check, and double check. But after last week, I’m going to make it a point to turn off autopilot a little more often, especially when I’m reaching for a bottle of aspirin.