Diagnosis: Healthy (for once!).

06 Feb 2007

Twenty-nine months ago, I was working on a proposal one morning when I became overwhelmed with a feeling of dizziness and a possible oncoming loss of consciousness. Unsure of what to do, I began pacing around, and it more or less ebbed. Then it returned again -- so I paced some more. Eventually, I found myself wandering around the parking lot wondering what in hell was wrong with me. A few coworkers were mildly concerned. Around 3:00 p.m. (yes, I'm disgusted to admit, after I'd finished my proposal), I decided that something might be seriously wrong with me. So, I drove to my doctor's office and, though I had no appointment, asked if someone could check my vitals. Turned out my blood pressure was 180-something over some other scary number, and my resting pulse rate was upwards of 130. Yep, we had a little problem.

The long and short of it is that I went on a common pill called a beta-blocker -- chills out your heart, lowers your BP, etc. Man, going on those damn things was one hell of a change. When you're used to life whizzing by at 120 beats/minute and then you suddenly downshift to 60 beats/minute, you tend to feel like you're at death's door. But, then, like most other pharmaceuticals, you get used to them. In no time, I was functioning as normal (with a ticker that remained at exactly 60 bpm pretty much all the time) -- all thanks to prescription drug companies. I know we tend to view these giants as evil and, yeah, in many cases, they are. But, they also do save lives in the process, and we shouldn't forget that important fact. I'd probably have been a goner if it weren't for whatever company manufactures that tiny little heart regulator.

For a while, I just chilled out -- made some necessary changes like getting more sleep, trying to reduce things that I felt were stressful, cutting out caffeine, etc. In fact, I'm pretty sure a newly developed sensitivity to caffeine is what set it all off. That day, I'd downed two huge mugs of the black stuff (on an empty stomach) in preparation for that proposal work session. I used to be the "I'll make another pot" guy in the office and, to tell you the truth, it was a pretty nice work environment. We used to take turns walking around our little enclave refilling each other's mugs all day.

Kicking coffee was tough. I was all about Starbucks and/or any other coffee house. In fact, call me whatever names you want, but I'll admit to a long-term love affair with the grande cappuccino. Not only that, but life without iced tea has proven miserable at times. I used to drink enough of that at lunch time to make myself visibly fidgety. But, over time, it got easier. I eventually found substitutes ( lesser substitutes, of course, but half-way decent ones like herbal teas containing chicory and carob). Celestial Seasonings makes a blend called Roastaroma that almost tastes coffee-like. (Ironically, I'd be lying if I claimed not to miss java, even though I currently regard it as a poison -- but, don't worry, I won't use this space to proselytize.)

In time, I came to like the beta blocker lifestyle. Kick back and let the pharmaceuticals do all the work for you, you know? Sleep, especially, migrated from generally refreshing to genuinely peaceful. I'd lie down, close my eyes, and wake up in almost the exact same position 8 hours later. I think I dreamed less as well, though I'm not sure. I definitely slept deeper, though. Whatever side effects I had (again, minimal stuff like occasional drowsiness or dizziness) seemed livable; whatever concerns I had about long-term effects on my body and/or life expectancy seemed like things I could deal with some other time.

I also learned that beta blockers are sometimes prescribed to treat anxiety. And, again, everything made sense. I was chilled out, relaxed. I recalled that, every so often in my past, I would wake breathless at 3:30 a.m. or so in a cold sweat, my heart pounding, my brain trying to come to terms with some vague notion of hopelessness that I'd been struggling with in an unremembered, recurring dream. That no longer happened. (Still hasn't happened again.)

So, yeah, I'm a mental case; now you know, okay?

But then, for whatever reason, I decided to start running. I ran all the time, and still do. The extra weight didn't come off at first, but I did feel better. Pants loosened up a bit, my face got a little thinner, etc. I think I became a bit upset at my lack of weight loss after that 10k race last fall. That helped me step things up a bit in a few areas. Not only did I begin to run longer routes, I also adopted some of my wife's nutritional interests.

That's a whole different subject, of course. But, the long and short of it, for me, is to try to increase the percentage of enzyme-rich foods in my diet. My wife eats 100% living foods (which basically translates into raw produce, nuts, seeds, etc.) -- which is probably viewed as pretty hard-core by most people. I don't think I could ever do 100% like that, but I figure I'm at 80% or so, and have been for a couple of months. (Still have to have my bagels on the weekend, and the occasional Steak -n- Shake burger. But, suffice it to say that we eat a lot of salad, which is fine, since we all really like salad to begin with.)

The result? I went to see my doctor again today. I figured it'd be the usual -- take my vitals, re-write me another year on the beta blockers. But not this time. He said, "How're you doing, Patrick?"

I said, "Let me show you," then hopped off the table and showed him how my pants are at least 4 inches too big at the waist. (I'm down around 20 pounds since October.) One might even say -- and, this is really weird for me to type -- that I'm "normal."

Dr. J's eyes grew wide. "Well, damn, you're healthy! It's time to get you off that shit." He actually said that. And, then I got one of the coolest lectures from a doctor that I've heard to date. "You know," he said, "there are two ways to deal with this disease -- the easy way [ i.e., simply gulping pills], and the hard way [i.e., making the lifestyle changes your body is calling for]. You did it the hard way, which few people actually do."

"So, I should stop taking the pills?"

"We'll wean you off them," he said, outlining a plan to reduce the dosage down to zero over a month. He said it'd keep my body from freaking out from such a major change (which is good, as it wasn't pleasant going on the damned things).

"So, when do you want to see me again?" I asked.

"Next time you're sick," he said.

So, I'm feeling overwhelmed right now, and, for some reason, more than slightly apprehensive. Damn near two-and-a-half years of treatment, and I've got a new prescription in some handwriting I can't read -- except for the final word, which says "stop." Life without meds ... Imagine that.

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