Anyway, here’s how I found out about my lovely physical condition. I was at my kids’ school for one of those dreaded Meet the Teachers night and I had to walk up five flights of stairs. By the second flight, I was dizzy and couldn’t catch my breath. I somehow made it to the fifth floor, taking it step by step, but I was so disoriented I spent the entire evening like a deaf mute in a cold sweat. I was also well aware that this had happened before and it was time to stop diagnosing myself on the internet and see my real doctor. Despite the fact I was sure I was going to end up with a pig’s heart transplanted in my chest.
The news wasn’t pretty. My systolic blood pressure, which should have been 120/60, was 180/120. Worse was the news about my cholesterol. I was a cardiac arrest waiting to happen. I was placed on that regimen of five different medications, which allegedly were side-effect free. They were simply supposed to do their job and keep me from having a stroke.
Over the years, though, I began to have little niggling problems. I had always taken fanatically good care of my teeth, but now my gums were swollen and painful. There was blood on my toothbrush. And, I don’t know how to describe this, but my belly felt weird. There were times I thought I could feel my liver. That last bit was based on reading the blog of a friend in the final stages of inflammatory breast cancer. She wrote that she “was aware of her swollen liver protruding,” and her words chilled me to the bone. To this day, it is all I can do to keep my hands from probing my belly whenever I have even the semblance of a stomach ache, even if I know it’s because of that last potato-stuffed samosa at the all-you-can-eat Indian buffet. Anyway, despite being a Google fanatic, I deliberately did not run a check on my medications because I knew if I did, I would immediately develop every one of the side effects. I’m one of the people they have in mind for those television commercials in which they innocently advise you in hushed, rushed tones that the pill you are popping to control your depression can cause deviant sexual behavior or loose and uncontrollable stools but don’t worry because if you die, you can call any of the law firms whose advertisements come afterwards.
My dentist, whom I saw three times a year for a cleaning, confirmed my worst fears. I had developed serious gum disease.
“But how is this possible? I floss, I rubber tip…”
“It’s your blood pressure medication. Unfortunately, it destroys your gums. You need to see a periodontist right away.”
Oh fuck. My internist had started me out slowly on low-dosage meds but none of them worked. The only drug that did the trick was the one I was currently taking twice daily. While it was great at controlling my hypertension, my teeth were in the process of marching out in protest.
I had scaling; I had gum surgery, which was such utter hell they gave me a prescription for Vicodin and all I can remember is that I slept straight through for seven days. I call it my lost week but I didn’t have any sex and rock and roll like John Lennon had on his.
The surgery didn’t work. I ended up hearing words no vain, food-loving woman wants to accept: At least two teeth had to go, implants not a possibility due to compromised gums; only possibility is partial plate or bridge, but consider it a baby step toward full-fledged dentures.
I couldn’t bring myself to go to the dentist and have the teeth removed voluntarily. I would wait until they either fell out, which really wasn’t a smart option because I had a nine to five job and could not take the time off while I waited for a bridge to be made, nor could I go to work with missing teeth; or plan B, which was waiting for the teeth to become really loose or the pain to become so intense I couldn’t take it anymore. I decided on plan B. But every morning I knew the dreaded day was coming sooner rather than later. And every day I got a little bit more depressed. Brushing my teeth became an act of dread, but I continued to take extra care, even gingerly continuing the daily rubber tipping ritual, although I knew it was akin to giving an agoraphobic person a summer pass to Great Adventure.
So I was in a miserable state of mind when I went to get my prescriptions filled at the local corporate pharmaceutical chain during the Thanksgiving holidays. The line was so long I almost turned around and left, but it was moving kind of quickly and I felt secure in the knowledge that I had pre-ordered my medicine online.
A half hour later, I reached the cashier who could not find my pills or my order.
“We are really short-staffed and we apologize, but could you come back later tonight?”
No, I could not. I stormed out without my pills, furious with myself for not listening to my husband, who had been telling me for months not to give our hard-earned money to corporate chains but to use one of the few remaining family-owned pharmacies, which we were lucky enough to have a few blocks from our house. Ironically, my only excuse for not using them was that they didn’t offer online ordering.
Okay, so I would be without my pills for a day. Big deal. I was healthier than I had ever been in my entire adult life. I was not only a vegetarian, I was practically a vegan; I was in such great shape (for me) that I could fit into Lucky Jeans, and I walked to and from work, about four miles a day. I was sure going a day without my meds would not kill me. I would visit the evil corporate chain as soon as I left work, which was 4:30 p.m. the next day, and which I figured would not be as busy as a lunch hour or at 5:00 p.m.
Except that I forgot ___ (what?). I remembered late that night and thought “Hmm, I’m still alive. But I better get my ass over there tomorrow.”
But the morning of day three without pills brought a noticeable change in my mouth. What was this? No blood in the sink. My teeth actually felt normal; my gums weren’t all puffy. The thought occurred to me: What if I don’t need all of these ridiculous pills? What if I am just some pawn in a pay-off scheme between my doctor and the pharmaceutical companies? And what if even the dentists and periodontists are part of this wicked collaboration?
I conveniently forgot that it had already been determined that both my hypertension and cholesterol had been diagnosed by two different physicians as genetic, and that I indeed had a heart murmur.
I was just so sick of taking all of the pills; sick of having to have my blood drawn every six weeks to check on my liver function; and sad beyond belief at the thought of my impending dentures. I was also convinced my medications had had a cumulative effect to the point where I was dead creatively. All I wanted to do when I got home from work was curl up in the fetal position and watch the Food Network. I’d previously awakened early every morning to work on a novel in progress. I’d also made the kids lunch, worked full time, was Home and School President, spent evenings and weekends either helping said kids with projects (though it isn’t official, I believe my assistance qualifies me for degrees from both Drexel and the University of the Arts), while somehow managing to have four books published and edit two literary magazines. Now I stayed in bed each morning until the very last minute, leaving myself only time to drink coffee, get dressed, and get to work.