The Pen: How I Recovered from Intolerance to Medications


(Follow-up to “Past as Prologue”)

So there I was, unable to take any medications because of psych med damage to my immune system.  When doctors would ask what my reactions were—a rash? hives?—I’d re-direct them.  In fact, the problems were excessive fatigue and emotional upset.

Then I end up with absolutely no quality of life because my blood sugar level has been over 350 for a year and a half.  I’m tired, groggy, move from my bed to my recliner.   Don’t go out.  My mind is too foggy to take care of business, think, or carry on a life.

Now I’m in the hospital wearing a blue do-not-resuscitate bracelet.  My Health Care Proxy says to administer no drugs.  There’s no life for me at home.  I’ve spent a weekend in a nursing home and that’s not the answer.

It occurs to me that now is the time to blow it all out.  There is nothing left; it is time to take drugs.  I take the handcuffs off Dr. Tucker, who has followed me so patiently, and tell him to go ahead and prescribe insulin.

In the afternoon, Dr. Gerry Edwards comes to visit me as a friend, not a doctor, although he is a partner in Dr. Tucker’s family medicine practice.  Dr. Edwards started out running a yoga center then went to medical school because he is fascinated by the mind/body relationship.  He is not exactly your regular doctor.  Dr. Edwards and I have called each other a few filthy names, and he insists on making me laugh even if I don’t want to. 

So he comes and stands by my bed and I alternately cry, scream and laugh.  I tell him I am terrified.  I cling to Dr. Edwards’s hand, my knuckles white.  I am in a rage and tell him I’m one step away from throwing things.  He says, “Oh, no, don’t do that—they’ll put you in restraints.”  They will put you in restraints!

The fact that I have neither pen nor paper becomes an issue, so Dr. Edwards goes and gets me a notepad but there is no pen so I reach up and pull one out of his shirt pocket.  “No,” he howls, “not my favorite pen!”  Yeah, dude, your favorite pen:  I need it.  When he leaves, I am certain in the knowledge that if I had started beating on his chest with my fists, Dr. Edwards would have stood there and accepted it without resistance.  He honors other people’s feelings.

I am alone with the pen for a while, then Michelle Tenorio appears by my bedside.  Michelle is a medical student whom I met in Dr. Tucker’s office when she was shadowing him.  She is a petite woman, more-or-less Philippina by way of Canada, Hawaii and Grenada.  She is a woman of deep faith and balance who goes to bible study and Happy Hour.

She prays with, for and over me.  Nobody from my church has prayed with me in a decade.  I no longer can pray for myself.  Michelle, an astounding doctor-to-be, wraps God’s grace around me.

That night, as I clutch the pen—the psychological types call this “a transition object”—I am given five injections, two of morphine and three of insulin.  I expect to die during the night.

But I don’t.  I wake up more-or-less in the same condition as I went to sleep.  What was, for me, a massive amount of medication, apparently has not crashed my immune system.  I spend the entire day thinking about that.

What a quarter of a century of antidepressants and about fifty inpatient hospitalizations had taught me was that my soul was not my own:  it had been taken over by physicians prescribing pharmaceuticals.  You do not know—you cannot imagine—what that steady stream of psych meds does to your brain.

The research field of neurotheology is asking where God gets into the brain.  How do we know God?  And if we close God’s portal with drugs, then what?  I experienced it myself and saw it in others.  Psych meds alter the brain chemistry in such a way that the spirit dies.

Do you even know your spirit?

For what would you be willing to give up your immortal soul?  I gave up mine because I trusted doctors.  They said all those pills would make me feel better.  They didn’t.  God did.  After I stopped taking pills, I started reading the Holy Bible and other sacred writings and got myself lined up straight with the Lord.

All the drugs had crushed my immune system.  That was a fact, but it didn’t stop doctors from trying to prescribe more drugs.  Every doctor I went to tried to drug me.  The only barrier that I had with which to block them was the little-understood immune system.  I could invoke that and keep the doctors and their drugs away.

What had begun as a problem of the immune system had transitioned across the mind/body barrier and become an issue of the psyche—mind, spirit, soul.  I would not let the doctors kill my soul anymore.  My drug reactions were fatigue and anger.  Do you have any idea how much energy it takes to block drugs from entering every cell in your body?  It’s exhausting.  And I reacted with rage—outrage—at the idea that anyone outside my body would control my soul.

My poor old pancreas was failing.  I needed insulin.  God sent patience in the form of Dr. Tucker, strength in Dr. Edwards, and prayer in Michelle to get me through my own terror at losing my soul to modern medicine.

Dr. Ghaly, the God-driven psychiatrist who’d gotten me through the worst of the drugging and un-drugging, came to see me.  He was glad that I’d gotten past the drug barrier to take insulin, but insisted—with unusual fervor—that I must never again fall into the medication pit.  I always have had, and will have, an immune system that is vulnerable to devastation by drugs; drugs can only be used in life or death situations, not merely for convenience.

I take four shots of insulin every day.  My blood sugar is consistently below 190.  Every other night, I go to the chapel to meet with God.

It is well with my soul.

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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2 Responses to The Pen: How I Recovered from Intolerance to Medications

  1. marvin keith says:

    Welcome back,

    • annecwoodlen says:

      Thanks. You wouldn’t believe the next chapter. I went to rehab and am leaving, possibly under police escort. Among other things, they refused to give me the contact information for the Nursing Home hotline.

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