Just Lucky, I Guess


This afternoon I’ve got an appointment with a new massage therapist, so I’ve been going over in my mind what I need to say to her:

I have about thirteen chronic illnesses [regular readers can skip this part], including severe and unstable obstructive sleep apnea, left ventricle hypertrophy, right branch bundle block, labile hypertension, pulmonary fibrosis, diabetes mellitus, diabetes insipidus, chronic renal failure, spinal osteoarthritis, celiac disease, fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, bipolar disorder, seasonal affective disorder and executive dysfunction learning disability.

And there is an unidentified and apparently unidentifiable problem with my immune system resulting in hyper-reactivity so severe that I cannot take any drugs to treat any of the aforementioned illness.  No beta blockers, diuretics, antibiotics, pain killers, antidepressants—not even an aspirin.  Not even nutrients, herbals, or vitamins.  Anything out of a laboratory or in unnatural concentration makes me sick.

It is said that Pablo Picasso refused to wear sunglasses because he didn’t want anything to block his perception of the real world.  I’m like that.  What is, is unmediated by drugs.

I used to take drugs.  I knew how to say things like “Q four hours” and “HS meds”—translated, those are drugs you take every four hours or at bedtime.  I had drugs that had to be taken on an empty stomach and drugs that couldn’t be taken on an empty stomach.  Drugs once a day, twice, three or four times a day.  Bottles lined up on counter.  Had to keep track of refill dates.  Remember to ask the physician for refills at the regular appointment.  Beat a track to the pharmacy.  Get to know the pharmacist.  Wait in line.  Buy junk in the drugstore while you waited for your meds.  Insurance.  Co-pays.

I did all that stuff for a quarter of a century.  Never leave home without thinking ahead.  Take your meds with you.  Keep little bottles of stuff in your pocketbook.  Carry a can of soda with you.  Get drugged and stay drugged, man, that was the way to live.

Then I stopped taking everything and experienced this incredible freedom!  I no longer was locked down to this rigid schedule of “What drug comes next?”  I didn’t have to worry about forgetting meds because there were no meds.  The strict timetable had been removed; I was free.

And, of course, the really big thing was no more drug side-effects.  A quarter of a century of drugging had left me with an immune system that couldn’t tolerate anything. Without drugs, I began to get better.  The diarrhea that I’d been having three times every morning for a year stopped when I stopped taking HCTZ (hydrochlorothiazide) for the kidney disease.  The depression began to lift when I stopped taking antidepressants.  The pain in my shoulder stopped, as did the large globs of ear wax.  The insomnia went away.  Instead of lying awake for two hours every night, I’d go to bed and be asleep in five minutes.  The sinking spells and nausea in the morning stopped.  The fibromyalgia pain went away.  The constant acute hypertension became occasional moderate hypertension.  I started having severe hypoglycemic episodes.  The drugs had been raising my glucose level, so I’d severely reduced my sugar intake.  Without the drugs, my diet didn’t have enough carbohydrates in it to keep me going.  I “had” to start eating bread and potatoes again.  The kidney disease had caused me to dehydrate and end up in the Emergency Room several times a year—but, no, the kidney disease wasn’t causing the dehydration.  The drugs were.  Without the drugs, I stopped dehydrating.  I also stopped having potassium levels so low that I couldn’t get out of bed.

But the most interesting thing that happened when I stopped taking drugs was that people started telling me how great I looked.  People were raving about my bright eyes and clear skin.  Without drugs, I no longer had that tense, strained, gray look so many people have.  Ten years after I stopped taking drugs, people are still telling me how great I look.  Nobody believes I have more than a dozen chronic illnesses because I don’t look it.  Even in my wheelchair, I look fine.

I can’t walk and have to go back to bed every four hours but if you look in my eyes then you see the light of a healthy spirit, and if you listen to my voice then you hear the sound of a healthy mind.  The body is crapped out but what matters most?  Your soul has a temporary body, but your soul is going to transcend this life and keep going.  Which is more important:  your body or your soul?  Are you ready for what happens when your body finally quits, or are you spending all your time trying to keep your body going?  You know you will fail.  And while you are failing, you will look drawn and exhausted and in pain from the side-effects of your drugs.

My immune system is so wrecked that I can’t take drugs.  I’m just lucky, I guess.

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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