The art installation Cradle to Grave is located in the centre of the Welcome Trust Gallery on a 14 metre long table at the British Museum in London.
Two ‘pill diaries’ of a British man and woman are laid out on this table. The stories of these diaries are told with the pills and other medication this man and woman have taken throughout their lives, from cradle to grave.
The textile artist Susie Freeman made little pockets of nylon for each individual pill and sewed them together to make two long cloths. These cloths are the two pill diaries of the man and woman, displaying their medical history in chronological order. Alongside the diaries there are other forms of medication, like syringes from inoculations and X-rays. The artist collaborated with a video artist and physician and the installation only contains prescribed treatments, so no medication that can be bought over the counter like paracetamol, vitamins or other supplements.
When I read the description of the piece I was shocked to learn that both diaries contain 14,000 pills, the average that a Brit takes in his or her life. My son and I walked around the table, taking in the display of all those pills in front of us.
“You haven’t taken that many pills, right?”, he asked me.
“No, I don’t think so kiddo.”, I replied.
But then I started doing the math. I was diagnosed with RA 15 years ago this week (happy RAnniversary to me) and I’ve taken medication to combat the disease the entire period. I’ve taken more meds in the first eights years than in the last seven. During my RA-era I’ve taken 18,000 pills and injections, and that’s a conservative estimate. And it doesn’t include other medication in that period let alone pre-RA!
After taking a few photos, I took a couple of steps back. The visual manifestation of the pill-diaries hit me like a ton of bricks.
“Shit! My pill-diary is a lot longer than the one in front of me.”
My son appeared next to me. We looked at each other for a moment, turned around and walked into the London sunshine.