A common fixture in mid-20th-century bathrooms, our medicine cabinet hung on the wall above the sink. It was a very thin, metal cabinet with a couple of glass shelves and a mirror-covered door in front. While we didn’t store much medicine in it, Dad used that mirror for shaving and we all brushed our teeth in front of it.
While cleaning out my bathroom cabinets recently, it occurred to me that I have a lot more medications now than we had in those days. Inside my parents’ tiny medicine cabinet, we kept just a few basic items: aspirin, a tube of toothpaste, a tin box of band-aids, Dad’s razor, and a small bottle of Mercurochrome for cuts and scratches. The space was too small to hold Dad’s Old Spice shaving mug or a bottle of Listerine, so we stored those somewhere else.
All of the other items we used to cure our ills were found in the kitchen. There was ginger ale and soda crackers for nausea. And Grandma Jennie believed in drinking boiled water with lemon slices for just about everything from headaches to tummy upsets and congestion.
We never worried about medicines expiring in those days. We simply replaced them when the bottle was empty. But nowadays when I open a new medication, I write the date on the label so that I know when I have kept it too long. I’ll do some internet research or consult my pharmacist for help deciding how long to keep different medications.
When I dispose of expired pills and medication, I never flush them down the drain. Water treatment plants cannot filter out all medications, so they could contaminate our drinking water and harm wildlife. A better solution is to break them up as small as possible, mix them with coffee grounds in a sealable container, and throw it out with the trash. But even better is to drop off unused drugs at a Prescription Drug Take Back Day collection site or drug disposal box for safe disposal.
Today, I don’t have a medicine cabinet but I do keep basic supplies like Tylenol, allergy tablets, sunscreen, and band-aids in my first-aid kit. And while I can’t forego prescription medications; whenever possible, I prefer to rely on natural home remedies like Grandma’s hot water and lemon.