3.28.2008

Three Left...

I gave blood today.

Not that big a deal, really. Millions of people have done it. But this was my first time… also the first *real* opportunity I’ve ever had to do it.

I’ve been by Blood Drives before… but I was never able to give blood then and there when they had them… because by constant coincidences, I was usually on some kind of medication, or I had to be at an appointment, or out of town at that point, or whatever. I think the first time was in High School as a Senior, and I just missed the age cutoff because of where my birthday fell. I *wanted* to give blood… but couldn’t.

But today, when I went into work… there was the big Blood Drive Bus right there in front of the employee entrance. Then the HR woman stopped by and asked if I wanted to sign up to give blood. I thought for a second… I’m not on any medications right now, so I actually *can* give this time. There’s no reason not to. So I signed up for 2:45pm.

The partial-exsanguination itself was uneventful… or if it *was* eventful, I didn’t know… because I wasn’t looking. Yeah, I was weaned on Horror movies all my life… but I hate the real sight of blood. Especially my own. And needles? No thank you. (I don’t care if you think I’m a puss.) From the time they were wiping the iodine on my arm to after pulling the needle out and saying, “You’re done”… I did not look at my arm. Just concentrated on “gently squeezing” the little foam half-ball they gave me every 5 seconds, and looking slightly to my left, away from the needle and tubes.

Apparently, it took me 5 minutes and 12 seconds to bleed out the donation. Why they told me the exact time, I’m not exactly sure. Maybe next time, I’m supposed to try and beat my record and go for 5 flat.

I wasn’t that crazy about them telling me I was a “good bleeder”. Somehow, that’s not an accomplishment or title I was shooting for in my life. Kinda like when I’ve always been told by nurses that I have “good veins”… something a bit on the macabre side to those statements… the kind of macabre that I *don’t* want to hear.

So, I gave blood. Yay. Real American Red Cross Hero, here… whatever. I think I did it more for the fact that I’ve never done it… rather than the puff-your-chest-out-“I’m saving human-lives-with-this-benevolent-act” kind of thing.

The part that got me thinking was the pre-donation-interview they have to do. (As a personal kind of reflection… not a “quirky observation on society”) They ask you 50 health questions and give you a mini-physical. Now, the questions were pretty much all answered “No” for me… even the sexual ones. (I almost felt like I should flat-out admit I have a boring social life) They do an Iron-level test of your blood… apparently, I’ve got plenty to spare… take your pulse and your blood pressure. My pulse was completely normal… and my blood pressure was low. The nurse said I was in “perfect health”, and even remarked that I apparently “must have no stress” in my life.

And I… really don’t know what to think about that. Any of it.

First of all… I disagree… I do have stresses. The whole “living-at-home” thing stresses me to no end, and not to mention my near-constant conflicts with one of the ones I live *with*. My blood pressure and pulse aren’t showing it. My theory is that it’s because I’m working (even if only temporary). I like having something to do… even if it isn’t ideally what I want to do… its nice to actually be productive. It’s even charged me creatively in my other writing, and I’ve been doing THAT a lot more lately as well. I just need to be busy, I think.

So saying that my blood pressure and pulse is low/normal… *and* saying I’m in Perfect Health? Surely that’s a good thing, right?

But that’s what I’m so unsure of… because it was such a very long time ago when I last heard it. Plus, the last time my health WAS an issue… I was in a state that was the complete opposite of now.

I was diagnosed with Anxiety. Now a friend of mine pointed out that Anxiety and Depression are the same beast… “one just has a forked tongue”. Anxiety does sound a little nicer than Depression… almost like I could make a comedy routine about it. But it sure as hell didn’t feel like it. And it sure as hell wasn’t just an emotional/mental thing. No, I was feeling physical consequences on this puppy.

I couldn’t eat anything. Not that I didn’t have the desire or hunger… I literally *couldn’t eat ANYTHING*. It came back up soon after, and nothing would stay down. Even the liquid diet I eventually went to out of necessity wouldn’t always remain where I put it.

My stomach… or rather “abdominal area”, hurt so much I was doubled over most everywhere I went… I was walking like an old man, it seemed. It was a shooting, searing pain that would just pass through my gut at random and frequent intervals. I’d never felt anything like it. Less than a year previously, I had gone through stomach pains, and though these felt a little different, it seemed reasonable it might have been the same thing.

Nope. Wasn’t.

The only doctor I knew and trusted was down in San Diego (don’t ask why)… a 3-hour drive from where I was living in Los Angeles. So, when I wanted to see him… I had to take a day off work, drive down and back, using a whole tank of gas for the trip… it got expensive, quickly. I did that twice… and many phone calls in between. Every theory that was tried was disproved. Thought it might have been indigestion… nope, that medication didn’t work. Acid reflux (Indigestion squared)? Nope, that didn’t work either. Flu? Nope. Through all these constant calls, the Doctors and nurses kept saying they weren’t really sure what they could do… they couldn’t make any kind of decent guess unless I actually came in to be examined. That’s when I went the second time. The Doc checked me out… and admitted he was a little confused, but figured since Antibiotics worked last time… might be a good idea to try them again. I picked up the prescription, and that night… I actually stayed over in San Diego. A friend of mine invited me to stay the night at her house, in case I didn’t want to make the big drive back to L.A. right away… it’s a harsh drive, especially doing twice in one day. Searing pain still shooting through my gut… I accepted.

The next morning… I woke up in the guest bedroom, feeling right as rain! Seriously, I was feeling SO good, I felt like doing push-ups! (I even did a few) Thinking these Antibiotics were the miracle cure that worked, I was even happy to drive back to L.A. It had been several weeks (even months) before I had felt THAT good.

Got back to the City of Angels… back to my apartment, dutifully taking my Antibiotics on time and consistently… but then… over the next 2 days… the pains came back. With a vengeance. Call to the Doc… well, the antibiotics aren’t working, better stop them now. If I want another option/solution… I need to go back in again. Which I couldn’t afford.

It was around this time I started thinking… “Could this be… in my head?”

I called my friend up, the one I stayed with in San Diego overnight… and asked her, “What is so different about living down there… and me living here?” She said, “Stress.” I said, “What?” “Stress. You’ve got a lot of stress in your apartment, that you haven’t been able to get away from, and it’s a constant reminder for you.” “Uh… actually, I was thinking if I should take the Cat-box out of the bathroom so I’m not breathing in Feline Feces… but that actually makes more sense!”

So, I figured I need to start finding ways to reduce my stress. (And just to be safe, I moved the Litter Box out of the bathroom anyway) I also needed to find a new Doctor… because there HAS to be something else to all this… and I can’t afford to keep going to San Diego.

I talked about my Doctor dilemma with another friend… who recommended HIS doctor. He gave me his number and highly recommended him. Since I *had* to find a closer doctor (I have trouble finding ones I trust), I made an appointment.

First appointment… I arrive, check in. I’m taken into the examination area, they weigh me, the nurse takes my blood pressure, pulse, temperature, etc., then tells me the doctor will be in as soon as he can.

After waiting about 2 minutes, I suddenly hear this scream of bloody murder (this is NOT an exaggeration) of a man going, “OH GOD, IT HURTS!! AAAHH!”

The nurse pops her head back in and says, “Uh…yeah, don’t mind that.” And leaves again.

Don’t mind it??? The guy sounds like he’s getting a deep-tissue massage from Hermann Goehring himself! That’s a little hard to ignore! This is my first impression BEFORE I meet the Doc!

Thankfully, the actual meeting with the good Doctor dispelled that imagery from my head. He was a very pleasant Jewish doctor (making the Hermann Goehring comment a bit on the ironic side... I guess the other guy was just a wimp), and I soon started to feel that he was as good, and possibly BETTER than the San Diego Doctor. He listened to my whole story, even letting me finish all the details, didn’t seem to dismiss anything. I told him about the several tries with the other Doctor, and he thought that guy’s methodology was sensible, and trying the right things. I finished, he started to examine me… and eventually said, “Well, I’ll be honest… it looks like stress to me.”

(Hmmm… guess there really wasn’t “more to it”. *shrug*)

He asked me what had been going on in my life… so I started going back in the recent timeline. He kept saying, “hmm… okay, keep going.” I tell him the next thing, “Keep going”… then, I get to the clincher. The very stress that my friend was talking about when SHE said I was “living in stress”. (It’s something I’ve blogged about quite a bit before… and you know something? I don’t care to give it any more space.) Upon hearing that, the Doc said, “Yep, that’s it.”

Wow… an actual Medical Opinion telling me this. Hard to argue with that.

He said my stomach muscles were almost constantly clamped up. My hands were clammy, with constant adrenaline coursing through my body… and with no where to go, no other release, it makes you nauseous and sick. My resting pulse… was TWICE that of a normal person. I was clocking over 120 beats per minute… that’s relaxing. That’s why I couldn’t keep anything down, why I was always getting sick, why I was losing so much weight, and why I was having those searing pains in my gut. My body was beating itself up. It said to me, “Okay, you’ve put off dealing with these issues long enough… you’re going to attend to them… NOW!!”

First medication he gave me was two muscle relaxants for my gut. Then something for the nausea. Then something else that I don’t even remember, doing something that I forget. At the height of my daily medicinal cocktail, I was taking 6 different medications. And while I know some people that take more, and will continue so for the rest of their lives, it was a personal record for me. The big kicker, however… was an antidepressant.

Effexor XR. This is where the doctor stressed that he was diagnosing “Anxiety”… and Effexor was approved by the FDA for treating Anxiety. He also had tons of it for samples, so I wouldn’t ever have to pay for it. He loaded me up each time I went there. And I was taking a relatively low dose. The most was 75 milligrams… and there are many patients that take a few hundred a day. The purpose was to get the serotonin levels in my brain up just a bit, to help me deal with the issues that I needed to deal with.

The idea of being on an Antidepressant… Depressed me, ironically enough. Yet, since I find irony to be very entertaining… the existence of that irony made me happy, and then made me depressed to think that I was happy for being on an antidepressant… it was a vicious cycle.

He also told me I should “try to relax, maybe get out and meet new people”… which I think is the medical profession’s euphemism for “Chill out and get laid” (but I could be wrong on that). He’s also the one that suggested I “write about it”.

Seems obvious, me being a writer and all… but I had avoided doing so. For one, I was being defiant, because I didn’t want to give the respect to that situation, and therefore refused. But since the Doctor pretty much ordered it… I started to write. Didn’t go for fictionalizing it. I just wrote… the whole story from MY point of view. 20 pages later… “Oooch, that was longer than I thought it would be.” As an effort to “get away from it”; I posted it as my first blog on MySpace. Then the gossip started, and the story of that story, is a story unto itself. So many people had read it in such a short amount of time, I could only think, “Don’t you bastards have JOBS???” I didn’t think that *anyone*, much less so many people, would even have the time or interest to read it. Boy, was I wrong.

I was thankful that people were willing to read my soul-pouring… and since I never mentioned names, it was anonymous (the start of my practice of that)… so the only people that knew the names, knew the whole story already… and frankly, didn’t really care. But still, it was just simply my artistic expression to deal with my stress… and an effort for me, emotionally, to get away from the situation that was ultimately, and pretty directly, causing me serious physical pain. So, I looked at being on Effexor as simply helping me to do that. (Doc said one of the extra bonuses, it helps stimulate creativity)

It became a very heavy lesson for me… that sometimes, you just need Help. It doesn’t mean you’re crazy… doesn’t mean you’re less of a quality person… it just happens that way.

One thing that I didn’t want to happen… I didn’t want to be one of those people that quietly sits in their corner, takes their meds, and hides it from everyone. I had once known a guy for 3 years, only to find out he’d been taking meds for 5 years… and he never told anyone, and went out of his way to hide it. My thinking was… the more friends and loved ones that *know* about it… the more emotional support I’d be getting, and hence… the less time I’d actually be on them. I figured with this positive attitude… I’d be on Effexor maybe 6 months… tops.

I also consciously decided to start going to therapy… as an extra measure of helping myself. If I was going to enlist help in dealing with things… seemed useless to only do that medically… and talking to someone who’s only there to listen (not to talk about their own problems at the same time) was an idea that sounded really nice to me.

So that’s what I did… for the rest of the year. Yeah, it went a bit longer than 6 months. But when I decided to take my break from Los Angeles, I was already moved down to the lower dose… 37.5 mg… I was feeling comfortable to wean myself off it.

Stayed on that dose for a few months, but during the drive back to New Hampshire, driving cross-country with my parents in my packed-to-the-gills-car… well, my Dad can be a hard pill to take. So, when I started feeling the familiar gut-clenches and tiny pains in the abs… I re-upped the dosage back to the 75. It helped get me through the rest of the 10 day ride without puking from the stress again. This time, from an all-new source.

It was BECAUSE of that… that I decided to stay on that dosage for as long as I could. Realizing that this is a big adjustment that’s going to take a lot of “getting used to”… it seemed like the prudent course of action. Being on my own for 10 years… living in a different time zone for most of that, completely on my own… suddenly back under my parent’s roof? “Humbling” is not the most accurate term… nor is “Stressful”, but it’s a start.

Several times that year, when I was taking my daily pill, one of my Parents would ask me, “Why do you still take that?” When I tell them simply the medical reason it was prescribed… “It’s to help me deal with stress.” The answer was usually a snide, “What do YOU have to be stressed about?”

What am I supposed to say at that? A statement like that just felt like they were making no effort to try and understand me, the situation, or what I was feeling. To try and tell the truth would make them feel insulted, so I just said nothing. And it probably kept me on them longer.

Eventually, I ran out of the 75 mg pills. Yeah, the Doc loaded me up good before I left, but it was still a finite amount. So, I could either double-up the half-dose ones, and run out of the remainder in half the time… or I could go back to trying to wean myself off again. That seemed the better course of action. So when I finally got to the end of the line in the second week of November of 2007… I knew physically the withdrawal symptoms wouldn’t be as bad as going cold-turkey (mainly just headaches for several days)… and I just hoped that the stomach pains wouldn’t return.

Since then… they haven’t. I’ve been okay. I used up the Effexor until the end, and ready or not… I was finished with it.

Or so I thought.

Because not that long ago… I found a little foil-punch-out pack… the kind that always held the pills before I popped them out and popped them in my mouth… and this particular one was tucked down under some papers in a drawer, forgotten about while I was taking from the main stockpile. This little pack… has 3 little half-dose pills in it.

3 left.

Physically, I’m not “jonesing” for an Effexor fix… it doesn’t do that to you.

Rather, it was a surreal reflection… I thought I was finished with it, and here is the absolute last medical evidence of that time in my life. This pill that helped me, and I depended on in two areas of the country, for a year and nine months… short amount of time, maybe… but no less affecting to me.

And now I’m told I’m “perfectly healthy”… and “with no stress”.

Why doesn’t that sound right?

Probably because that situation-I-don’t-care-to-waste-more-space-on-detailing… I *do* feel like it still affects me. It still does upset me to some degree. Sometimes I think I’ll never fully be “over it”… and I seriously feel very scarred by it. While it does get better the further away I get from it… I think the scars will always be there.

And I know that’s not a healthy thought.

But I did get through it. Physically, I’m still standing… so maybe this means that I can take whatever pain can be thrown at me (even if it feels the opposite)… and that I finally have back what felt like had been definitively missing for so long:

My health.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your giving blood. Both my parents when ill had to receive transfusions, yes replace their entire blood volume. So thanks to kind folks like you, they were able to get it!
Now about the needles thing, I can completely agree. I gave shots all day long, saw blood etc. I gave some poor miserable kids 4-5 at a time, but when it came to my kids getting them, I had to walk out. Couldnt handle it. Nor can I handle it for myself, or seeing their or my own blood.

-"Candy Cain" or Agent Cake will do!

fritz said...

Dude, we've all got scars (of the emotional kind). That's what life is--a giant collection of scars (or life experiences, if you prefer a less physical description). Now that you've gotten your stripes, you can more fully appreciate the difference between debilitating stress and more run of the mill stress.

Kudos to you for getting help when you really needed it. It takes a great deal of strength to admit you can't do it all by yourself.

Anonymous said...

If only you knew what really happens to your blood!!!!!

I have an effexor story that's part of my overall very ill period in my life. Effexor is a very dangerous drug as are most anti-depressants and anti anxiety meds.

The older we get the more comfortable you become with your scars. The older we get, the more we learn how to define our boundaries and how we are going to let things effect us.

Happy Healing!