Is Not the Morning Near?

When my mother was six years old her uncle, Richard Hope, went swimming and road home at sunset in an open buggy and a wet bathing suit.  He caught a cold that turned into pneumonia and three days later he died at the age of twenty-four.

            Four years afterward, in 1928, Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin.  So let’s talk a little bit about pharmaceuticals.

            My old friend’s husband has type 1 diabetes mellitus, which is also known as juvenile diabetes.  It is an autoimmune disease wherein the pancreas stops producing insulin and it can be fatal within a few days if not properly identified and treated.  The necessary treatment is to take synthetic insulin for the rest of your life.

            My friend’s daughter has Addison’s disease, another autoimmune disease in which the adrenal glands stop producing enough cortisol.  The necessary treatment is to take replacement steroids for the rest of your life.

            These are two conditions in which continued life depends on drugs.  Neither of these conditions is the result of poor lifestyle choices.

            Poor lifestyle choices are the cause of most American illnesses, e.g., high blood pressure.  For most people, blood pressure can be brought under control by diet, exercise and less stress.  Americans don’t want a healthy lifestyle; they want drugs.  Pharmaceutical companies market them and physicians prescribe them.

            Not knowing that bipolar disorder can be controlled by different life choices, I took drugs for twenty-six years. 

            I took Ativan as prescribed for insomnia, not knowing that the insomnia was caused by the antidepressants.  In the United Kingdom, Ativan had a “black box” warning, that is, a warning that the drug could be fatal if prescribed in conjunction with respiratory disease.

            In the United States, the drug manufacturer successfully lobbied the Food and Drug Administration to keep the black box warning off Ativan.  My physicians prescribed it without knowing.  In Great Britain, they knew.

            I had obstructive sleep apnea, which is a respiratory disease.  Now I have severe and unstable obstructive sleep apnea.  I also became a drug addict, taking Ativan as prescribed, because I didn’t know that Ativan was a benzodiazepine, which is a narcotic.

            I took lithium as prescribed for seven years.  The physician didn’t monitor it, which led to a rare kidney disease, which resulted in chronic renal failure.  The un-monitored lithium caused a multitude of other problems, which are incalculable, however my doctor and I think it probably caused fundamental damage to my immune system, resulting in the inability to take any drugs for anything.

            I am hyper-reactive to all drugs.  Everything that comes out of a laboratory makes me sick within a few hours or days.  At its worst, Anbesol put on my gum by a dentist prior to a Novocain injection resulted in a hypertensive crisis.  I cannot even tolerate an aspirin.

            None of the physicians I have seen have been willing to take the time to try to figure out the problem and see if it can be treated.  They all say, “It’s not my problem,” and refer me out.  Or they ask me what they should do.

Six months ago I developed an acute kidney infection.  Since I already have major kidney damage and chronic renal failure, an acute infection quickly would be fatal so I took the antibiotic Macrobid.  The Macrobid was only tolerable for a few days, which reduced the acute infection to an enduring chronic infection.  The Macrobid also caused me to develop pulmonary fibrosis, that is, scar tissue in my lungs.  My breathing is now so labored that I cannot walk the length of the hallway from my apartment to the elevators.

            Do you know what you’re doing with your drugs?  Are you informed?  I am the canary in the mine—the first alarm for what your drugs are doing to you.  The canary dies first and then the miners leave the mine.

            You all assume medication.  You do not live life as a temporary, fragile thing.  You live it without thinking, having fully internalized the idea that no matter what is wrong with you, there will always be drugs to eliminate your illness and prolong your life.  You have time, you always think.  You have this great drug barrier between you and the infinite, unknowable eternity of death.

            As I write this, Elizabeth Edwards, wife of former Senator John Edwards, has stopped treatment for her breast cancer, which was diagnosed in 2004.  She got a drug barrier that lasted six years.

            Also as I write this, I have a scratchy throat, sneezing, loss of appetite and lethargy—and no drug barrier.  Like my great uncle Dick, if I get an infection then it will probably be fatal.

            No drugs.  How would you deal with that?  How would you live your life if you knew that you have no drug protection from anything?  What changes would you make?

            This morning’s reading of the Holy Quran ended with the words—

Now travel with your family while yet a part of the night remains, and let not any of you look back:  but your wife (will remain behind):  to her will happen what happens to the people.  Morning is their appointed time:  is not the morning near?

See you tomorrow?

About annecwoodlen

I am a tenth generation American, descended from a family that has been working a farm that was deeded to us by William Penn. The country has changed around us but we have held true. I stand in my grandmother’s kitchen, look down the valley to her brother’s farm and see my great-great-great-great-great-grandmother Hannah standing on the porch. She is holding the baby, surrounded by four other children, and saying goodbye to her husband and oldest son who are going off to fight in the Revolutionary War. The war is twenty miles away and her husband will die fighting. We are not the Daughters of the American Revolution; we were its mothers. My father, Milton C. Woodlen, got his doctorate from Temple University in the 1940’s when—in his words—“a doctorate still meant something.” He became an education professor at West Chester State Teachers College, where my mother, Elizabeth Hope Copeland, had graduated. My mother raised four girls and one boy, of which I am the middle child. My parents are deceased and my siblings are estranged. My fiancé, Robert H. Dobrow, was a fighter pilot in the Marine Corps. In 1974, his plane crashed, his parachute did not open, and we buried him in a cemetery on Long Island. I could say a great deal about him, or nothing; there is no middle ground. I have loved other men; Bob was my soul mate. The single greatest determinate of who I am and what my life has been is that I inherited my father’s gene for bipolar disorder, type II. Associated with all bipolar disorders is executive dysfunction, a learning disability that interferes with the ability to sort and organize. Despite an I.Q. of 139, I failed twelve subjects and got expelled from high school and prep school. I attended Syracuse University and Onondaga Community College and got an associate’s degree after twenty-five years. I am nothing if not tenacious. Gifted with intelligence, constrained by disability, and compromised by depression, my employment was limited to entry level jobs. Being female in the 1960’s meant that I did office work—billing at the university library, calling out telegrams at Western Union, and filing papers at a law firm. During one decade, I worked at about a hundred different places as a temporary secretary. I worked for hospitals, banks, manufacturers and others, including the county government. I quit the District Attorney’s Office to manage a gas station; it was more honest work. After Bob’s death, I started taking antidepressants. Following doctor’s orders, I took them every day for twenty-six years. During that time, I attempted%2
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