Story 1

Life is Meant for Laughing

Marge has lived in her first-floor council flat for over forty years. The estate is a maze of low-rise concrete buildings, troubled by rising unemployment and crime. The concrete stairs are a concern for Marge, especially as she has had some recent falls, but she feels lucky she has a big spare room where her grandson can stay. Her dog, Spot, loves to run freely from room to room and she knows she can rely on Spot to raise the alarm with her neighbours if she has another fall. Marge has some wonderful neighbours.

Marge knows everyone, and everyone knows Marge. Her door is always open. Family and friends pop in most days and she often cooks big dinners at the weekend. She was a pastry chef in her younger days. She is always prepared, with well stocked kitchen cupboards and a box of After Dinner Mints at the ready.

Marge playing darts while her friends look on having a drink

Marge loves to play. She meets her friends at the pub most weekends and plays in the darts team regularly. Her gravelly voice and characteristic laugh are well known on the darts scene. “Ah! That must be Marge arriving” they all say. There is never a dull moment when Marge is around. Life is meant for laughing is Marge’s motto.

There is always a pack of cards within reach of Marge’s favourite chair at her kitchen table. Cards, newspaper, puzzle book, fizzy pop, cigarettes, a well-used ashtray and a couple of packets of jelly babies. She knows she shouldn’t smoke and that jelly babies are not good for her diabetes, but life is meant for laughing. Marge has never been one of those people to worry too much about tomorrow. She prefers to get on with living today. You never know what is round the corner she often says. She meets her pals by the hot dog stall at the local market every morning. They sit and chat for hours. Sometimes they just sit. It is good to watch the world go by, especially if you’re in the company of friends.

Marge at the hotdog stand chatting and laughing with her friends

Marge is on a lot of medicines. She doesn’t know the names of most of them and doesn’t take them all. Sometimes her grandson helps himself to her indigestion pills from the kitchen cupboard. He must pay for his prescriptions, but Marge doesn’t. The instruction on the packet says, ‘as required’. Gary seems to require them more often than Marge these days. Marge mostly needs them if she eats too late or eats too many jelly babies. Sometimes she cuts out the jelly babies for a while, especially if she has a diabetes check coming up soon, but she finds it very difficult to give them up for any length of time. She thinks she’s addicted to them.

Marge may not always follow the rules when it comes to her health, but she has a strict regime when it comes to pill-taking. She finds her plastic pill box helpful. Designed for a single day, it has four little compartments. She is a ‘one day at a time’ kind of person. Some of her friends have larger pill boxes for a whole week at a time, but this wouldn’t suit Marge. When it comes to pills, thinking one day ahead is more than enough. Pills are not roast dinners! Or jelly babies for that matter! Marge is a bit fed up with taking pills. Every time she goes to see her doctor she seems to leave with an extra one to remember. She tries to avoid going if she can. Pills are no laughing matter.

Marge taking medicines from her dosette box and looking worried

Marge’s brother told her that it is important not to take different pills at the same time. He said it would reduce their chances of working. She knows that this is not what her doctors say, but Marge has always looked up to Eric and thinks he is very sensible. Surely if you swallow two things at the same time they are going to get a bit mixed up inside and fight each other in some curious way? It doesn’t seem sensible to get pills mixed up.

Marge has another concern about her pills – the number of milligrams of medicine in each one. Surely a pill with lots of milligrams of medicine in it must be a very strong pill? One of her pills contains only 5 milligrams of medicine. Maybe that is OK. But her doctor has prescribed another pill that contains 100 milligrams of medicine. 100 milligrams of medicine in one pill seems an awful lot. Her doctor has prescribed four of these pills and he thinks she is taking two of them in the morning and two at tea-time. But she is not. That is far too many milligrams of medicine in Marge’s opinion. She skips the tea-time pills every day so that she does not go above her self-imposed 400 milligrams-a-day quota. This quota makes sense to Marge, even if it does not make sense to other people. She has missed out those tea-time pills for many years. Her doctor doesn’t seem to have noticed so far, and she has kept it quiet.

Every night, Marge takes her pills out of their packets and puts them into the little pill box. There is one problem. Marge sticks to her ‘2-hour rule’ (I never take more than one pill every two hours). She gets up early at 6am to start and takes her last pill at 10pm at night. She could really do with more than four little compartments in her pill box. She bundles pills together, roughly organises them by time of day, and helps herself to one at a time when her alarm goes off every two hours. She may not know the names of all her pills, but she knows her routine. She keeps a jug of orange juice handy to go with them. This strict pill-taking regime requires a kind of self-discipline that Marge finds challenging. But I am Marge she thinks… and Marge likes to be in charge. But it’s no laughing matter.

Last time Marge was at the GP surgery she noticed some changes. New chairs, new signage, a big TV screen and a message about a new website. Maybe there is a new manager? Maybe they won the Lottery? When she got home she looked at the new website on her mobile phone and found a section called Our Doctors. She had heard from one of her pals at the market that her GP wasn’t very well. Now it looks like he has disappeared completely. Bloody hell, not again. They are always coming and going these doctors. I do hope he is OK. I hope he hasn’t died. I was just getting used to him. She pauses for thought. Even doctors die. Even though they don’t smoke or eat too many jelly babies. Perhaps they just sit on their bottoms for too long? She had read in the newspaper that too much sitting can be bad for your health. The article showed a picture of a group of serious-looking young people in an office all standing up to do their work at their laptops. They would do better to talk to each other and have a bit of a laugh she thought… rather than having their noses pinned to screens all day long. Life is meant for laughing.

She had to catch herself as she realised that she too was sitting in her favourite kitchen chair, squinting at her tiny mobile phone screen. A new doctor has arrived at the practice. A replacement for her GP perhaps? Maybe he is the one who is making all these changes and organising the decorating? She reads on:

We are delighted to welcome Doctor Bright who trained at one of our finest medical schools in the UK and won the Gold Medal in his medical final examinations.

He must indeed be very bright thought Marge. She sees a short entry describing his Areas of Special Scientific Interest. Marge thought that this was usually a term used to describe nature reserves.

Dr Bright took a year out of his medical degree to study an additional degree in pharmacology. He is particularly interested in the dangers of polypharmacy. Are you concerned that you may be on too many medicines? Dr Bright is keen to help patients like you reduce their medication burden.

Marge didn’t fully understand all this but turned from Dr Bright to Dr Google and learned that pharmacology was the study of medicines. She thought this seemed a little odd. Surely all doctors spend most of their time at college studying medicines? After all that is what doctors do all day long. As well as sitting on their bottoms, they give people medicines. She read through the information about Dr Bright once again:

The dangers of polypharmacy.

Why are doctors so keen on all these ridiculous long words? she wondered. Why don’t they call a spade a bloody spade like the rest of us? She skipped over it, her eyes drawn to the next bit:

Are you concerned that you may be taking too many medicines?

Marge paused a while as she tried to take this in. Dr Bright sounds like a very unusual kind of doctor, thought Marge. She giggled to herself, thinking that perhaps she is also a very unusual kind of patient. After all, there can’t be many patients who set their alarms every day at 6am, and every two hours after that, to remind them to take their medicines. It can’t do your body any good taking so many medicines she thinks. Dr Bright is right. It is a bloody burden all right.

Marge phones the surgery to book an appointment. Maybe it’s time to call a spade a spade and tell Dr Bright that she hasn’t been taking that 100-milligram pill all along? After all, she wants a life that is meant for laughing.

Illustrations Satoshi Hashimoto

For Discussion


Are you concerned, like Marge, that you may be on too many medicines? What are your concerns?


How would you feel about discussing your concerns about ‘too many medicines’ with your pharmacist or GP, or someone like Dr Bright?


Marge, like many patients, is not taking her medicines as prescribed. Why do you think she has not discussed this with her GP?


Marge places a high priority on having fun, enjoying today, and not worrying too much about tomorrow. What are your main priorities for your life? How can your GP or pharmacist support you and your priorities?