Past as Prologue


I didn’t have a stroke, although it seemed likely at the time.  I woke at 5:00 a.m., relatively happy and healthy (in-hospital, 5:00 a.m. is not a pathological waking time for me).  About forty-five minutes later, while I was working on the computer, I began to “see” a circle about three inches in diameter that blocked my vision on the right side.  I could look to the left or right of it but not through it.

About fifteen minutes later, my heart started pounding and I started breathing rapidly.  That’s adrenalin rushing into the system.  In another fifteen minutes, the left side of my head started hurting awfully.  Shortly thereafter, breakfast arrived.  With eating breakfast, the vision problem and adrenalin burst stopped but the headache came and went.

After breakfast, when the nurses came in to make their rounds, I was having trouble.  The first thing that alerted them was that my speech was thick.  I had trouble understanding them, and couldn’t tell them, for example, that when my brain sent a message to my thumb to change the television channel, the message was going to my first finger.

The nurses went into hyper-alert.  The residents each came.  The attending was called.  I took a nap and felt some better, then went for a CAT scan, followed by an ECHO gram and sonogram of the carotid arteries.  I’m fine, thanks.  So what happened?

My immune system pitched a fit when I gave it two cups of juice.  There had been a disturbance in the force the day before and the day after, and that’s when it hit me:  breakfast was the problem.  My glucose level has been around 350 for over a year.  In the past ten days, we’ve dosed me with enough insulin to bring it down as low as 86.  No misprint there, folks; not 186, just plain 86.

But the problem is that my immune system is totally crapped out from taking psych meds, i.e., antidepressants, for a quarter of a century.  I am damaged.  The most problematic portion of the over-drugging was seven years of lithium with no monitoring.  The doctor was incompetent but I didn’t know it.  And you know what the real bugger is?

There is absolutely no literature on the effect of lithium poisoning on the immune system.  My doctor and I are making up the treatment as we go along.  How’s that for fun?  I watch these residents—they are so cute and so young—and they have this winsome faith that they can discover diagnoses, then proffer certain treatments and count on getting certain results.  Imagine a medical world in which you have no idea what to do or what will happen if you do anything.  That’s the world Dr. James Tucker and I inhabit.

We met a year ago when I was in hospital being mistreated by hospitalists.  I called several lawyers and administration sent Dr. Tucker to deal with it.  He looked, listened, talked and then suggested a transfer to Cleveland Clinic.   The next day he came back and told me he’d spent three hours on the phone but been unsuccessful:  Cleveland wouldn’t take me on a hospital-to-hospital transfer.

I wept.  It was my last best hope.  And Dr. Tucker didn’t turn and leave the room or make any noises saying it was all right.  He stood silently and handed me Kleenex.  After I was discharged, the nurse practitioner and her doctor who had agreed to follow me quit.  Because I can’t take drugs, medical professionals don’t want to have anything to do with me.  Because Dr. Tucker is driven by kindness, he said he’d keep writing orders for me until I could find a new doctor.

I never found a new doctor and Dr. Tucker kept writing orders.  He didn’t insist that I come into the office for regular appointments.  (A large part of what’s wrong with American health care is the three-month regular appointment.  In my day, you went to the doctor because you were sick, not because it was January.  Because you are sitting in the doctor’s office, the doctor feels the need to do something so she fiddles with a prescription that was doing perfectly fine, thank you, and messes you up.  If you would just stay away from the doctor, you would be a lot healthier.)

Dr. Tucker never saw me; we communicated by email.  I’d sent him a note that said I needed a prescription for wheelchair repair and a couple hours later he’d sent me a reply:  “Done.”  We tried a pill for diabetes but I had a reaction to it.  He accepted that.  Didn’t give me hard time or tell me I had to take something else.

When things got really bad, he referred me to Hospice.  Hospice refused to take me. (You thought doctors gave orders?  Don’t they wish!  Sometimes all they can do is refer.)  Dr. Tucker worked with me to find a nursing home.  When none was available as quickly as needed, he admitted me to hospital six weeks ago.

We tried insulin and a homeopathic remedy, which got me out of the hospital.  At home, the homeopathic remedy ceased to work and nothing more was offered—and I had a reaction to the insulin.

Back in 2001, when I stopped taking all medicine and started to heal, my drug reactions were many and bizarre.  HCTZ (hydrochlorothiazide) caused acute diarrhea; Anbesol caused a hypertensive crisis; everything caused depression, but a decade without drugs has enabled healing.

I had been diagnosed with celiac disease, an autoimmune reaction to the protein gluten.  Common mythology says that you don’t ever recover from celiac disease.  It took me ten years, but I’m fully recovered.  Likewise, I had the most common sexually transmitted disease (name now forgotten) despite not having been in the same room with a naked penis for decades (and you thought your life sucked!).  The STD went away, which is to say that my increasingly healthy immune system suppressed it, just like yours does.

And all this has been prolog to the story about the pen, and how I recovered from intolerance to medications.

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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