Paul's Heart

Life As A Dad, And A Survivor

Understanding Steroids

When we think of steroid use, two popular examples come to mind, pro-wrestling and professional sports.  Steroids of course increase size, strength, and power.  Long since banned in most activities, steroids do have an actual medicinal use, and there is a likelihood at some point in your life, you may have, or will be given some form of a steroid.

Doctors often prescribe steroids to help relieve pain or inflammation, or in the case of breathing issues such as asthma and allergies, much needed relief.  In fact, during my days of chemotherapy for Hodgkin’s Lymphoma over thirty years ago, Prednisone, a popular steroid, was part of my chemotherapy cocktail to help rebuild muscle cells killed off from the chemo attacking all healthy cells.

Prednisone is often considered a quick fix to certain situations, like the time I had an extreme case of poison oak exposure.  I have also seen it used in cases of respiratory attacks resulting from COPD or other lung issues.

But there is a dangerous side to using steroids, requiring monitoring by a doctor, which is why they have to be prescribed.  Depending on how the pill prednisone is taken, most times it is prescribed in a “step-down” manner, 6 pills one day, 5 pills the next day, 4 pills the following day, and so on until you get to the last single pill on that final day.  This is because as the medicine helps you, it also leaves you vulnerable by repressing your immune system, simply put, it shuts down your immune system while you are on it, leaving you vulnerable to illnesses and infections.

Medically, there are a whole range of other issues a result of taking steroids.  Forget the muscular, but the skeletal, high dose usage can lead to Osteopenia.  If that sounds familiar, because it is related to Osteoperosis.  One of my long term issues is Osteopenia as a result of the 8 months I took the high doses of prednisone.  I am at an increased risk of breaking something if I fall.

Basically, steroids can have an impact on any number of systems of the body.  The most critical, is the cardiac system.  Which is why it is so important, as we are still dealing with finding a way to treat Covid19, though Dexamethasone (a steroid) is showing promise as a treatment for advanced disease.  But to someone who has cardiac disease, or worse, is not aware they have cardiac disease, steroids can cause permanent, if not fatal damage.

One fact about steroids I was unware of, false positive testing results.  I used to be employed in an area that required annual Tuberculosis testing.  One year, I ran late with the surveillance, and prior to that testing, I received an injection of Depimidrel, an oil based steroid for seasonal allergies I got, only once a year.  Clearly I did not have TB, but the test resulted in a false positive, requiring a chest x-ray to confirm that I did not.  Depending on the situation, this can cause quite a problem.

Steroid use also causes an increase in hunger, and also fluid retention, resulting in what a lot of my fellow Hodgkin’s survivors refer to as “moon face”, a result of an extreme weight gain from the months on that drug.  I actually gained 50 pounds while on chemotherapy for that reason.  So, at the end, I looked nothing like the stereotypical waif-like chemo patient, other than my bald head.

But currently, steroids are getting a bit more recognition, because of Covid19, and one particular patient receiving them, the President.  To be clear, this is not a political post!  Steroids can and usually do, have any number of psychological impacts on the patient that takes them.  Issue range from depression, amnesia, anxiety, irritability, anger, inability to concentrate, rage, and so on.

Think about it.  If you are old enough to remember when steroid use was prevalent in the NFL, how many really aggressive players that were, resulting in other players getting hurt.  Too many athletes on steroids committed suicides.

But I was not a professional athlete.  I was a cancer patient.  And I was warned by my oncologist, that mood swings were a huge concern.  I scoffed at him, because I was, and still am, a real chill person.  Boy was I wrong.

About halfway through my treatments, while at work, I was having issues with a co-worker, who was a bit disgruntled over his pay.  He was known to challenge others in spite of the fact that we were forbidden from discussing payroll among each other, and as it turned out, for good reason.

He had been after me for quite a while about how much he thought I made, and he was not happy about it.  I had been there less time than him, but I seemed to have more responsibilities and relied on more.  We were not union, so that was not a concern.  But he caught me the wrong way on the wrong day.  I snapped.

Uncharacteristically for me, I exploded.  “Jesus Christ!”  And I whipped out my payroll stub to shut him up, and prove to him once and for all, that he made more money and to leave me the Hell alone.

Oops.  In spite of me being there less time, it turned out, I was being paid more, for whatever the reason.  But now a whole other can of worms had been opened, violating company policy on discussing individual payroll.

My point is this, it is not just mainstream media making an issue about the president being given Dexamethasone for treating his Covid19.  The concerns about receiving the high dosages of steroids is legitimate.  And given his position, and the decisions that need to be made, combined with his temperament, the concerns for any ill emotional reaction is a big deal.

To get through his treatment, is expected to last more than a week, and then the drug itself must leave the body, taking another one to two days.  It is easy for this former steroid patient for me to see the effects that the medicine is having on the president.

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