I come from a long line of people who are medically reluctant. If you awake with both eyes swollen shut, you take a Benedryl and review what you ate yesterday that probably caused a reaction. If you vomit, you assume you either have the flu or food poisoning and stay in bed with lots of fluids. If you cut off your finger while slicing onions…well, for that, you’d put it in a baggie with ice, then call your mom to verify that that’s worth going to the doctor for and then debate whether you should make an appointment with your regular physician or just go to the ER. We DON’T DO DOCTOR VISITS. It’s funny because that’s how I was raised. Here in their now 70’s, my folks go to preventative medical visits almost monthly, but growing up, after the ‘shot years’ of childhood, none of us went to a doctor unless we had broken bones or such a high fever that we couldn’t get off of the floor. It’s not that the parents didn’t believe in the merits of doctor visits. They were related to and/or friends with several medical professionals. They felt very secure that if any of us had an ailment they weren’t sure how to handle, they could call one of the medical professionals in their arsenal and get advice. Only ONCE in my first 25 years did the professionals advise I be seen in person by a doctor for a non-broken-bone-sort-of-ailment. We grew up in a cash-strapped community where more residents qualified for free medical services than didn’t. We did not qualify, and I have to wonder if that played into the medical reluctance a bit. It wasn’t that we couldn’t afford it…my father was very successful and the money was there. Perhaps it was a superstition not to over-use medical services or you may encourage fate to make you really really need them? I’ll never know for sure. At any rate, growing up in a medically reluctant household nearly killed me as an adult.
If you are familiar with my blog, you are aware that I am one of the most positive ‘depressed’ people around. You also are aware that I injured my back at my job at the end of 2010, and have chronic pain that I try to ignore. For the record, I don’t really believe I’m depressed. Our family has had a nearly comical run of bad life events since 2008 that would make anyone question their sanity let alone get down over. Heck, any ONE of the events would keep some people in bed for months on end, but add the constant barrage of injuries, death, medical trauma, work hits and more, and it’s pretty amazing that we all haven’t opted out as my brother did back in 2008. Opting out isn’t my style. I am no masochist, but I do believe there’s reason for me to keep on keeping on. I also choose to acknowledge all of the really amazing positives that have entered our lives in this time frame to help offset some of the devastation.
At the insistence of one of my sisters, I started seeing an internal medicine doctor a few years back. She was quick to re-diagnose me as depressed and prescribed me a chemical happy pill. I had already been discharged by L&I for my back injury under the ‘maximum medical improvement reached’ label through which they acknowledge that you’re not likely to get any better, therefore they’ll throw a little money at you, wish you luck and hope to never hear from you again. My internal medicine doctor reviewed my questionnaire that I’d filled out prior to my visit and noted I had sleep issues. With injuries, sleep issues are common as pain doesn’t care if you are tired…it will not be denied an audience. The doctor prescribed me a pill to help with ‘nerve pain’ that was to help me sleep. With it, I DID start sleeping through the night in my medically induced coma. I was relieved to sleep. Pills were good, even though taking any pharma regularly was against my personal philosophy for how I wanted to live my life.
The routine was simple. I took one happy pill every morning and one sleepy pill every night. This was my routine for over a year. In the mean time, my doctor left the practice and was replaced by a nurse practitioner who had no personality whatsoever and had the warmth of a concrete sidewalk on a winter day. I saw her once. That was quite enough.
Winter came and we moved for the first time in twelve years. Spring came and we moved again. My pain level was increasing, but with all the stress of moving and the physical packing/unpacking/lifting boxes/etc., the increased pain level made sense. I ignored the muscle spasms I was having in my right eye and my right arm. I’d been working so hard on unpacking that I figured spasms went with the territory. I was waking up at night with crazy night sweats and I could often ‘hear’ my heart pounding. I WAS tense, so I was able to blow those symptoms off too. I started getting light headed and had trouble maintaining my body temperature. I told myself that, since I was staying too busy to remember to eat regularly and since I was so tired from waking up throughout the night again, all these ‘symptoms’ were to be expected and were essentially normal. One afternoon, my husband noted I looked particularly miserable with pain. He started massaging my neck and was stunned by how stiff the muscles on the right side of my neck were. He compared my arms and legs and noted the muscles on the right were like rocks compared to those on the left. He suggested a muscle relaxant. Yup…I’ve made him medically reluctant too. I grabbed a bottle of prescription muscle relaxers I had on hand and went to the computer to look up potential drug interactions. Knowing the two pills I took daily, I figured it was responsible to check rather than to just take one. I went to http://www.drugs.com to their drug interaction checker and typed in the name of the muscle relaxer. Then I typed in the Citalopram and Trazadone. http://www.drugs.com/interactions-check.php?drug_list=679-0,2228-0
No problem with the muscle relaxant, but the two drugs I took every day were KILLING ME. I stopped taking ALL pills (even my multi-vitamin) from that moment on. Within 24 hours, the eye twitching, night sweats, pounding heart and stiff muscles went away. I could sleep. My pain level plummeted back to where it had been before I met my internal medicine doctor. Aside from a few weeks of emotional ups and downs, I felt like me again.
My middle sister again insisted I see a doctor. After harassing me all summer about it, I finally made an appointment with another internal medicine doctor…this one with some training in naturopathic medicine too. After talking with her about my experience this spring that led me to quit all meds, she determined I had not had a ‘drug interaction reaction’ per se… I was diagnosed with Serotonin Syndrome. Essentially, I can’t be prescribed any medicine in the future that may mess with my body’s serotonin levels or I’ll up my risk of sudden death exponentially. Good to know. One more reason to avoid phama. She also asked me to promise her one thing: In the future, when my body starts doing something new or unusual, even if my instincts say to wait it out, I will approach the new thing with a sense of drama and make an appointment to see my doctor.