There was a time, that all I took was a morning vitamin. Occasionally I would make a trip to the doctor, and if I had a cold or something, he would venture back into his lab area, and mix up a cocktail medicine for me, which fortunately was not often. This was long before the first CVS or Walgreens was even a concept.
Then I was diagnosed with cancer, Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. That was 1988. Even during the time period I was treated, I only took the medicines that were necessary from my chemotherapy. And then that was done. I no longer took anything. My attitude was, I had put enough medicinal crap into my body. I would not even take an aspirin for a headache.
One of the first side effects that I had to deal with, was a result of radiation damage to my thyroid. There are plenty of people that have thyroid issues, even without having gone through cancer treatments. In my family, there were several members with likely thyroid problems.
The thyroid in its simplest explanation is what controls your metabolism and energy levels. A thyroid disfunction does not automatically make you overweight. It can also cause you to be too thin.
In any case, most times, thyroid disorders are treated with a common prescription called Synthroid (or the generic levothyroxin). Doses vary depending on the hormone levels, but the goal is to get the person’s levels stabilized. In other words, get your body back to working and feeling like it should. Simple, right?
Not for a patient like me. I fought my doctor, who had been my doctor for a long time, for three years, refusing to take it. Of course, over that time, my levels had gotten worse. And then, as she asked me one more time, to reconsider, I finally asked, “what will happen if I don’t?”
Left untreated, you could develop Grave’s Disease, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, or even cancer. She got me. I had not idea what the other two things were, but I knew what cancer was, and I did not want that again.
What a battle it was.
An incident happened later which solidified my attitude with caution and taking medications. I have written about it in the past. My first father-in-law had developed a mental condition that resulted in him being put on psychotropic drugs. Not wanting to waste too much time on descriptions, if you have seen the movie “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest,” you can get the idea.
He had been exhibiting an unusual, and offensive behavior, something totally out of character for him. And it was getting problematic. We got him to the hospital, where he was being diagnosed with “dementia.” Working in medical research, I had a problem with that, for two reasons. One, the word “dementia” is really an umbrella type term, in other words, it is in that family of mental illness, but we just aren’t going to go further to find out which one. The second problem I had, I had just heard a nurse taking his blood pressure, it was 60/40, way too low. And she was instructing him to take his dose of blood pressure medicine he has been on for many years. His blood pressure was already low. Anyone knows, if you are not getting enough oxygen to the brain, you may not act appropriately. There is way more to the story, but long story short, they ignored the blood pressure issue, put him on psychotropic drugs, which basically reduced him to a zombie-like state where he remained for a long time.
Then, some how, he had enough internal fortitude, enough awareness, he refused to take any more medicines, in fact, refused food. He had enough. I really think he wanted to die. But then, something happened. He went through major withdrawals, and eventually came out, as if nothing had ever happened. The inappropriate behavior was gone. His blood pressure had elevated. He was back to himself. What sucked was, I brought this up, and was ignored. This poor man lost so much time in his life because he was not monitored and not administered his meds properly.
Over time, my doctor would also convince me that I needed to be on a medicine for my extremely high cholesterol, a condition that I inherited genetically, as well as something for blood pressure.
In 2008, as I have written many times, I had my first of two heart surgeries, courtesy of late effects from cancer treatments.
For whatever reason, two of my medications were changed. I took one pill, it was a combination drug to treat both my cholesterol and high blood pressure. But now, I was going to take two, the medicines split up.
Over time, I began to notice some changes. I had warned my ex-wife that I was not feeling like myself. I was forgetting simple things, 4-digit codes that I had used for years. My sight was getting messed up, not seeing things that were right in front of me. The breaking point, was at the dinner table one evening.
A simple accident at the table, my daughter spilled her glass of water. And I freaked out as if the spillage would result in wood rot of the foundation of the house. I immediately reacted and got up from the table, and walked out of the house to gather my thoughts. This was not me. Something was not right.
While I still had my wits about me, my father-in-law’s memory still fresh in mine, I sought out what could be happening with me. What was different? When did things change? The medications were the only thing I could see. Yet, nearly every doctor argued with me that it could not be. Then I met Dr. Beatrice Golomb, from the University Of California in San Diego.
Dr. Golomb it turns out, had done a study on cognitive impacts of statin drugs. The one drug that was switched on me, was for my cholesterol, a statin drug. We have all heard commercials rattle off side effects of medicines, but did you know, not every one has to be reported? Like, if the incidents were so miniscule, under a certain percentage, they did not have to be publicly reported. That does not mean that those side effects do not exist, but clearly, unless you know they can, you will not likely get the help.
Again, I wrote earlier in full detail about this. But I was convinced it was the higher dose that caused my issue, and quit taking it, my side effects cleared up. It was the new prescription. Why did my medicine get switched in the first place? My other meds were working just fine. I was told, “this is our protocol.” Really?
In the movie, “Love And Drugs,” Jake Gyllenhal plays an aggressive sales rep for a pharmaceutical company, who falls in love with an ill character played by Ann Hathaway. In this movie, I saw, and learned, just who all these people dressed so nice with their briefcases were, coming into doctor offices during my appointments, and, what they were doing.
And then it hit me. These were the latest drugs on the market, and clearly the doctor was being encouraged to prescribe these new medications. I was having none of that anymore. I would eventually go back to my original prescriptions, having no problems ever since, other than my progressive issues.
So, here we are, in 2020, what a year it has been. My main doctors are back in my home state, but I am encouraged that I need to have a cardiologist local to where I currently live, in the event anything should happen. Makes sense right? Wrong, not when you have trust issues. And one way to cause those issues?
“Your cholesterol is kind of higher than we like. I see you are on suchandsuch already. I would like you to start taking this new medicine which shows wonderful success in compliment to statin drugs in lowering cholesterol.”
Have you ever heard the expression, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”? I got up, and walked right out. I was not interested in taking another drug, especially to boost profits of big pharm at the possible sacrifice of my health through side effects.
There are so many things to consider when faced with having to take a prescription, especially adding medicines. In the case of the thyroid, the medication itself can impact the absorption rate of other medicines, in other words, not allowing the other medicines to work properly. Then, other medicines might actually cancel each other out. And worst, sometimes the reactions can cause lethal situations.
If you are lucky, and deal with a pharmacy that has all your medications, a good pharmacist is likely to at least give you the warning, because they see your list of meds, and know the possible interactions. But in the world of revolving door medicine, where you likely see a different doctor every visit, the attention is just not paid to the medical history of the patient, and hence, it becomes real easy just to throw the latest pill like a 90 mph fastball at a patient.
I am lucky I still have my primary care doctor after thirty years. I know that she knows my history, and my beliefs when it comes to medicines. I trust her. She also knows, how to make a better case to convince me sooner that something is necessary. Otherwise, in the words of Talking Heads’ David Byrne, “same as it ever was.”