As we get older, many of us find ourselves taking more and more medications. You pick up your prescription at the pharmacy, and they hand it to you with several sheets of paper attached. You go home, detach the papers, throw them in the trash, and put the bottle in the medicine cabinet. All is well.
Or is it? Those papers that you threw in the trash could mean life or death to you because they list the possible side effects of the medicine. Don’t ever take them lightly.
A physician friend has told me several times that all drugs are poison; it just depends on which poisons you can tolerate and at what quantity. We’ve all seen the TV commercials listing side effects ranging from a minor rash all the way to possible death. Those side effects, and the possible legal ramifications of them, are the reason that the average TV commercial for pharmaceuticals frequently spends more time enumerating the possible side effects than it does in promoting the product.
I can understand how medicine can have a negative effect, but it’s hard for me to understand how a drug can cause the same thing that it’s supposed to cure. I know of one that is prescribed for breathing problems and lists one of the side effects as, believe it or not, possible breathing problems.
I happen to be one whose tolerance for medications is very low, and I have a long list of things that I can’t take because of the side effects. Several years ago, I was hospitalized three times, twice nearly unconscious and transported by ambulance. Each time the emergency room doctor said that I had a heart attack. Then each time, a cardiologist said that I did not have a heart attack, but no one could immediately diagnose the problem. It turned out to be a reaction to a blood pressure medication that was resolved by just cutting the dosage in half.
I have spent my whole life blessed with — or possibly cursed by — a memory that can sometimes be scary. It makes me a walking bundle of mostly useless information. Why in heaven’s name would such specific snippets of information as the exact date and the street address of people that my family visited when I was 10 years old remain in my brain for all these years? That, and thousands of other useless details, just sit there waiting for the day that they will be needed — a day that for most of them will never come.
But my memory recently suffered a setback as a side effect of a medicine. I won’t take opioids, so a bout with shingles required me to take Gabapentin for the pain. Like most prescription drugs, Gabapentin has a long list of side effects. The list includes possible suicidal thoughts. I’m not worried about that one; there have been a few people that I felt like killing in my lifetime, but I was never one of them.
One of the major side effects of Gabapentin is possible memory loss. Sure enough, when I started taking it, little things like last names began to be slow in coming to me. It even took me several seconds to think of my barber’s last name, despite the fact that he and his father are the only two barbers I have had for over 50 years.
Another side effect is the possibility of “strange and unusual thoughts.” The way my mind has worked for most of my life, I don’t see how anyone, including myself, could sort out any new strange and unusual thoughts besides the ones that I have always had.
I know that I’m old, but age was not a factor in my recent problem. There was no gradual slowing down of my memory, it all just happened very quickly, right after I started on the Gabapentin, then the symptoms mostly went away when I stopped taking it.
So just keep in mind, if you think I’m talking or writing like someone with beginning stages of dementia, it’s just another side effect of the poison — I hope.
Don Stratton is a retired inspector for the Lima Police Department. He writes a guest column for The Lima News, often focusing on police matters.