On being ... beyond the best before date

By Ingrid Sapona

Friends and I were getting ready to go sailing the other day when Jay (not his real name), the owner of the boat in the neighboring slip, arrived. Earlier in the summer we had heard that he had a “cardiac incident” while at the Club, so it was great to see him. After reassuring us that he’s doing well, he described the incident – a heart attack that he got help for early – and told us about the stents he now has. 

One detail Jay made note of was the fact that the first thing the 911 operator said was that he should take an aspirin, but he didn’t have any on board. I admitted that though I wouldn’t dream of not having Benadryl on my boat (given my worries about someone having an allergic reaction to something – say, a wasp – while on board), I doubted there were any aspirin in my first aid kit. Indeed, the friends I was sailing with confirmed they didn’t have any on their boat either. I made a mental note to rectify that oversight as soon as possible.

A few days later I went shopping for aspirin. I have some at home, but I was looking for a small, purse-size package. I remember my mother always had a little yellow tin box with aspirin in her purse. (In case you’re wondering why a little girl would remember that, I was always fascinated by the way you pushed down on the top corners to open the little container.) 

Anyway, I went to a half-dozen stores in search of a small package of aspirin but I couldn’t find any. There are lipstick-size tubes of Tylenol at many checkout counters, but no aspirin. I guess that’s a testament to the fact that Tylenol is such a popular pain reliever. Still – given all the news about the heart-health benefits of aspirin (granted, mainly the low dose kind) – and the fact that it’s the first thing paramedics recommend when answering a possible heart attack call – you’d think aspirin manufacturers would be vying for space at the checkout counter.

Finally, after nearly giving up my search, I found an 8-aspirin packet in a nondescript convenience store. It was $2.99 and the friend I was with that day thought I was crazy to purchase it. She noted that I could buy a whole bottle for just a few dollars more and simply put a few in a Ziploc bag and be done with it. But my rationale was this: the unmistakable yellow package would be easy-to-spot in a drawer or on a shelf in the boat, it would be easy to open, and there would be no question about what the little tablets are. A baggie with plain white pills is easy to miss and, worse, it could be dangerous if someone were – you guessed it – allergic!

A few days later, I was quite pleased when I remembered to take the little yellow packet of aspirin to the boat. As I was deciding where to put it so it could be found quickly, I noticed there was an expiration date printed on the back of the package. Unfortunately, the date was SE 11. Damn – I have missed that in my excitement at finally finding what I was looking for.

Though I always try to notice expiration and best before dates before I buy things, clearly I occasionally slip up. But, when I do remember to look, I usually even check to see whether there are different dates among the packages on the shelf and I always go for a package with the furthest-out date, even if this means reaching WAY back for it.

But, I’m all over the map about how much attention I pay to the date on containers once I get products home. With food, for example, if the package has been opened and the “best before” date has past, I do scrutinize it more (using my keen sense of smell, my eagle eyes for spotting fuzz, and my expertise at detecting even minor changes in consistency). But, if the food seems ok to me, I’ll ignore the date on the package.

Things like sunscreen, makeup, toothpaste, and over-the-counter medications present a much thornier problem for me. You see, the only science I didn’t take in high school was chemistry and I worry that after the expiration date the chemical compounds in the products might degrade to the point of being harmful. Friends who tend not to worry about the date on such products tell me they figure that after the expiration date the products are not likely to be harmful, just less effective.

When I told my friend who thought I was crazy to buy the 8-aspirin packet that the expiration date was nearly a year ago, she laughed. When she saw that I didn’t see the humour in it, she said she thought the aspirin would be safe and effective, despite the date. I told her I think she’s right…

That said, if you’re ever on my boat and you see the unmistakable yellow aspirin packet (with the SE 11 expiration date) on the shelf and you notice right next to it there’s a little snack-size Ziploc with two white tablets and a hand-written label that reads: “aspirin”, well, what can I say? And, if someone on board thinks they might be having a heart attack, I suggest you reach for the Ziploc… 

© 2012 Ingrid Sapona


On being ... in the game

By Ingrid Sapona

For the most part, my interest in the Olympic Games didn’t go much deeper than reading the headlines and hearing the “spoiler alert” summaries on the nightly news. That said, I wouldn’t be human if a few Olympic-related items didn’t make me reflect on things that seem fitting for a column. And, sitting down to write this, I realize that there’s a common theme connecting these items.

The first was something a commentator said during the opening ceremonies as the athletes paraded in. He said, “Most of the athletes participating in the games will go home with no medal.” I know, I know – given the total number of athletes and the total number of medals, that’s an obvious statement. But still, I have to think that every athlete participating believed he or she would beat the odds – after all, they were the very best their countries had to offer. I guess the comment made me realize that, though the Olympics showcase guts and glory, it’s also tinged with a fair bit of disappointment.

The second item was about Paula Findlay, a 23-year-old Canadian triathlete who is a rising star in the sport. She had won five of the first six races she entered in the world championship series and was expected to end up on the podium. Well, to say she had a bad day would be an understatement. She finished 52nd – dead last.

At the end of the race the poor woman was in tears. Who wouldn’t be? But, her sorrow wasn’t just from the personal disappointment she felt. A large part of it was her embarrassment and feeling that she had let Canada down. At the end of the race, a sobbing Findlay was quoted as saying, “I wish I could have made them more proud. I just want to apologize. I feel terrible. I’m really sorry to everybody, to Canada. I had big hopes for myself and everyone had big hopes for me. Unfortunately, I couldn’t fulfill them.”

My first reaction to the news of Findlay’s apology was that she doesn’t owe us one. True, some of our tax dollars went to support her training – and had she won, a few more of our tax dollars would have gone into her pocket as a bonus. But, as I see it, what the country gets in exchange for our support of Olympic athletes is not a medal in a particular event – it’s the chance to help these individuals in their personal pursuit of excellence. But, as young Paula Findlay found out, the personal price for that support can feel quite high.

Now, you may think that what these items have in common is the notion of disappointment. Well, that’s certainly one connection. But the common denominator I see in these two things is the idea of putting yourself out there. Of being willing to put yourself in a position where disappointment is a very likely outcome – given the talent of those that you’re competing with – and doing so with the whole world watching.

I guess I tend to ignore the Olympics because there’s so much about it that I can’t relate to. I can’t relate to the physical talent of the athletes, nor can I fathom the gruelling training they put themselves through for years on end. Consequently, though I’m moved when I watch the medal ceremonies, my emotions are mainly a reaction to the happiness I see on their faces, not to their actual physical achievements.

But, when I watched the athletes party during the closing ceremonies and I thought about the fact that most of them are going home without medals, I realized that their willingness to give their all, even in the face of likely disappointment, is something we can all learn from. Indeed, I think most of them would agree that you’re only a loser if you don’t try.

© 2012 Ingrid Sapona