When drugs get a foothold in your household, they don’t always belong to your first suspect. Sometimes there’s more than one.
Our home’s recent influx of new pharmaceuticals began shortly after Baby New Year 2019 arrived to kick out grizzled, bitter Grampaw Old Year 2018. We had such high hopes after the changing of the guard.
Our dog Lucky, age 12, has largely led a normal life as long as we overlooked the part where his everyday demeanor has only two modes, frantic and naptime. Before the holidays were fully behind us, he began exhibiting strange behaviors. His water intake dramatically increased by about 600%. Echoes of forceful bowl-licking kept bouncing around the walls a lot more than usual. It was comedic at first until those sounds began to herald more frequent bathroom trips, some of them happening inside the house.
Blankets cover a lot of our furniture, but not every square inch of living space. For a couple of weeks our best friends were our washer and a gallon jug of vinegar. The following month, our worst enemy was the water bill.
Then we noticed he was losing weight. Most of the year he’s lived life as a bouncy but plump frankfurter. He’s at his healthiest whenever he comes home from the kennel after our road trips. Our favorite kennel has always been wonderful about letting him run around and exercise to his heart’s content, in between helpful grooming sessions. The kennel is basically his spa. We don’t even get to do spas. But his last kennel visit was a while back, and suddenly here he was, slimming down well out of season. And not in a cute way.
A trip to the veterinarian was obviously in order. The vet is not the kennel. Lucky hates our local animal hospital. They’re his longtime arch-nemesis — far worse than the mail carriers, joggers, neighborhood kids, repairmen, stray pets, flocks of roving disgusting geese, or any other living creatures that dare come within 1000 yards of our home and set him off in a flurry of defensive barking. On his list, Dr. Mary and her vet aides are far worse, utter monsters. At every annual checkup they confine him to uncomfortable places, poke and prod him, and perform scary acts he doesn’t understand. He doesn’t care for any of it. at all. But it had to be done.
More poking and prodding ensued, including a blood test, over his vociferous objections. A few days later, the vet called. His blood sugar was over 500. Her tone implied that was a bad number. His 7- to 10-pound weight loss was also not encouraging. Another round of testing was ordered to verify, another vet visit under Lucky’s severe protest.
The official diagnosis: doggie diabetes.
I’d only recently learned that was a thing because a coworker had dealt with it. When she’d talked about it, I wondered how such a first-world problem could happen. Now here we were in the same situation. Perhaps it was a long-simmering problem having come to the forefront at last due to months or years of cumulative, unwitting poor judgments. Perhaps it was a consequence of the snacks we’d bought him for his li’l doggie Christmas stocking, a long-standing family tradition that hadn’t caused any overt harm before, enjoyed and perpetuated because none of us had any idea how much sugar can often be packed into seemingly benign pet edibles. Or perhaps it was triggered two months earlier when, in a deeply regretted kitchen incident, with the poise of a mongoose Lucky had nabbed and devoured one-third of a loaf of sourdough bread.
Whatever the cause(s), here he was. We could do nothing and let him wither away…or we could start giving him insulin shots.
We made room in the budget for option 2. All three of us attended the next vet appointment, in which they gave us administering lessons. My son stepped up and volunteered to go first. While one nurse mildly restrained Lucky, my son went in for the shot. He scored. Lucky was madder at the vet than at him.
Later that day, Anne fetched Lucky’s first batch of insulin and needles from a human pharmacy, on the vet’s recommendation. We steeled ourselves for the learning curve ahead and prayed he wouldn’t go ballistic on us.
Magically, he never has. His twice-daily shots are now routine. To our utter surprise, he doesn’t mind. The needles are small. The dose is small. It helps if only one of us approach him. If two of us convene on him, he suspects something’s wrong and tenses up. We’ve each done our part and survived without any new scars to show off. Maybe it also helps that none of us is that darn evil vet.
He’s not the only member of our household to add to his medical history this year.
Shortly after New Year’s Day I found myself coming down with what was later vaguely diagnosed as an upper respiratory illness. Eventually I knew it had deteriorated to the point where I had no hope of shaking it without antibiotics.
Fun personal trivia: I haven’t had a regular doctor in over a decade. The last one I had (previously described here as “a bald, stocky, eightysomething man who looked like the Thing and had at least one WWII certificate on his wall”) retired many years ago and died several months later. Their office, which had several other doctors on staff, sent me one (1) letter upon the occasion of his retirement and never communicated with me again. So for most of adulthood I’ve been a big fan of clinics. They’re virtually all I’ve known, generally only in emergencies.
This time I made an appointment with my workplace’s handy clinic, which I’d been avoiding after a bad experience years ago, for what I assumed would be a quick one-off visit. It mostly turned out like that, except for one hitch.
During the basic work-up that precedes any appointment, my blood pressure was something like 178/135, margin of error ±5 points. They were not happy. I was ordered to come back the next week and the week after that for follow-up checks.
The next week’s reading was something like 170/130, still up there at Level “Not Great, Bob”. In my defense, literally five minutes before that appointment I’d gotten the news that this year’s upcoming C2E2 had added special guest David Tennant. We’d previously planned to meet him at Wizard World Chicago 2017, but he canceled at the last minute due to severe family illness. I very excitedly notified Anne of the news and practically pogo’d all the way to my appointment, my brain a-buzz with pre-convention glee even while the nurse was taking readings and making a worried face. So in my mind, the doctor’s consternation actually could’ve been The Doctor’s fault.
Another reading at the appointment after that saw me down in the 140s/90s range. That’s what I was used to. My blood pressure has been borderline like that for years. Every time I’ve gone to a clinic for wintertime antibiotics within the past decade, or for my chronic back pain from 2004 to the present, my BP was constantly in that middling range where the physician would make a sideways back-and-forth motion with one hand and tell me in so many words, “Your blood pressure is kindasorta iffy, and we could do something about it, but then again it’s remotely conceivable your current illness is possibly exaggerating your levels, soooo [awkward pause for mental coin flip, or to decide they’d just rather never see me again] we’ll let it slide and you can go.” In hindsight it’s alarming how many times a college-educated medical professional has decided I almost needed to do something about my borderline BP.
I told this to my new doctor. She listened patiently and pointed out “borderline” should not be my baseline.
For the first time in my life, I was given a prescription for a long-term medication. I’d never been given a prescription meant to last more than a few weeks. Ever. I had no diagnosed childhood issues of that sort, nothing that’s plagued me nonstop in adulthood. Even the one time I was put on cholesterol meds back in ’04 ended when those plus my new diet saw my numbers plummet from 300 to 100, which to my old doctor meant we’d effectively solved the problem at the time. Unless you count caffeine, sugar, or comics, I’ve been living drug-free for decades.
Now those days are gone. I was sent on my way with a 90-day supply of Lisinopril. I still can’t remember its name on my own and just now had to get help from Google Autocomplete. It’s entirely likely that dieting will be in my future as well, but first the doctor wants my BP under control. Anne and I are mentally preparing for that eventuality, and working through the “bargaining” phase of grieving the loss of our current, soon-to-be-compromised dining habits. But first, the meds need to do their job.
The first night, a Friday, was no big deal. I took the pill around 10 p.m. I felt a very slight tinge of lightheadedness in bed that night. Otherwise, no obvious consequences.
Saturday night seemed identical at first, except I bumped it up to 9:30 p.m. All was well for a bit.
Around 1:30 in the morning I was awakened by the horrid sensation of being stabbed repeatedly in the stomach by something resembling a machete, but the stabs were coming from inside the stomach. I had no idea what to do. I was afraid to take any additional meds for fear of the dreaded “drug interaction” that every prescription label warns might be the death of you. I worried that involving another doctor or an emergency room would only complicate matters long-term. Yes, I can think that weirdly even while I’m screaming on the inside. The clinic itself isn’t open nights or weekends, and has no 24-hour hotline. Their answering machine tells callers to dial 911 in case of emergency, which is probably helpful to anyone with a mnemonic disorder that prevents them from remembering numbers more than two digits long.
I hoped it was simply food poisoning. I’ve been through that plenty of times. 24 hours of miserable vomiting and diarrhea, and then I’m back to normal. One odd thing this time: no vomiting or diarrhea whatsoever. At one point I stood by the bathroom door and wished really hard that I would throw up. That life-saving nausea never came. Just more stabbing.
This gastrointestinal slasher flick continued for at least the next four to six hours. It was impossible to tell when the cramps ended, but the debilitating soreness left in their wake lingered through the entire next day and well into Monday. I spent all of Sunday in my living room chair, which eased the pressure on my stomach ever so slightly enough to let me nap intermittently throughout the day. I had no desire to watch TV, read, or even do some internets. I had zero appetite. At 4 p.m. I force-fed myself a few saltine crackers. At 6 p.m. I had two slices of turkey and a scoop of mashed potatoes. That was my entire caloric intake that day. I refused to take any more Lisinopril after that.
Monday I called the clinic and obviously couldn’t go to work. They agreed I should skip the pill till my next appointment. I returned to work Tuesday, but my abdominal muscles were sore for days. My doctor agreed the complete lack of vomiting and diarrhea all but ruled out coincidental foodborne illness. She wrote me a prescription for a different BP med, and my next two appointments were calendared.
She warned me the new med might cause drowsiness. She was correct. The first night I didn’t bother to read the label till 10 p.m., at which time I saw the boldface warning, “TAKE WITH OR IMMEDIATELY AFTER MEALS”. I took my first pill, chugged a glass of milk just to be safe (I mean, that works with ibuprofen), and was out cold within an hour.
I’ve taken it with meals ever since. Results have varied, but there’s been one persistent consequence: earlier bedtimes. As a lifelong night-owl, I resent this. The doctor had started me on Lisinopril in the first place specifically because drowsiness is not among its commonest side effects. Unfortunately, the label confirmed what I’d discovered the hard way, that its rarer side effects include Breadbasket Leatherface.
So now my body has been revolting against me and siding with the new pill, sending me to bed every night at ridiculously annoying times that any average adult would consider normal. This shortcoming directly conflicts with the time slot reserved for posting here on MCC. I’d already been taking more nights off than usual lately anyway because my aging body decided on its own that getting 5-6 hours of sleep was no longer cutting it at my age. The new pill has only fortified my body’s resolve in its dumb stupid killjoy stance.
Two weeks into that prescription — i.e., this week — my BP came up 140/92. Back on the borderline.
The doctor has now ordered me to double the dosage and see if that moves the needle even further. I was not thrilled, but I understood what was at stake.
I started that Thursday. My brain flatlined shortly after 8 p.m.
Tonight is night #2. I’m now on my third cup of coffee because I’m bound and determined to finish writing one lousy post after skipping the last three nights in a row. Also, there’s something I want to catch on TV later, which is exceedingly rare for me nowadays.
So that’s where things stand, with me still not yet ordered to diet, still following what few explicit orders I’ve been given, and waiting to see what happens next.
In the meantime, Lucky has regained half a pound, has stopped contaminating all our non-tiled surfaces, has seen his blood sugar reduced to 230 (still needs improvement, says Dr. Mary), and has otherwise returned to normal, though we’ve changed his food brand, eliminated all his favorite snacks, and drastically reduced his general pleasure in eating. I expect to join him in solemn solidarity in the weeks ahead — he with his drug and I with mine.
We’re only five weeks into 2019, but to me feels like it’s been eight months since America zealously buried Grampaw Old Year 2018 and poured three tons of cement over his grave just to be sure. Frankly, I think we need another layer of cement.