I never liked taking pills. In fact, up until my mid 70s, the only pill I took was for my type II diabetes. If I had known then what I know now, I would not have taken that one. Seriously. Type II Diabetes can and should be managed with diet and exercise. I know because I did it for ten years, and should have kept doing it. That one pill started a trail of unimaginable devastation that would end only with my death.
I remarried when I was 73 years old, and moved to San Antonio, Texas with my new husband, Richard Joseph Snow. I adored him. We went everywhere together. Spent more time away from home than at home. Always buzzing here and there, finding new things to do.
Richard was retired Air Force, and He doctored with military physicians at Lackland Air Force Base. The military went through some changes, so I was not eligible as his new wife to doctor there with him. I found a civilian doctor, Julie Abbott, MD. She took excellent care of me for eight years, until she was shot dead in the parking lot by a romantic stalker.
Dr. Abbott was a marvelous doctor. Like so many other doctors, she occasionally made mistakes with medication choices – but was always quick to remedy the situation when I told her there was an issue.
Blood pressure pills to protect my kidneys from side effects of the diabetic medication
She started me on blood pressure medicine. My blood pressure was fine, but she was concerned about the effect the diabetes pills might be having on my kidneys. She said the blood pressure pills would protect my kidneys. I didn’t really understand those details, but trusted her judgment.
Enter the side effects of the blood pressure pills . . .
She had to change the blood pressure pills twice over some side effects I was having. The first prescription caused my lower legs and feet to swell. The second prescription caused me to see large rabbits hopping around the room, and dead people sitting next to me. But she finally found a blood pressure pill that did what she wanted it to do, without issue.
Is there a doctor in the house?
When Dr. Abbott was killed, I was devastated. She was such a wonderful person, and I truly missed talking with her. The practice she had been with was very slow to assign another doctor to me, in fact they never did. For those of you who don’t know, it is next to impossible for an elderly patient on Medicare to get in to see a new doctor in San Antonio without a ridiculous wait. I called every doctor I could find, but not one of them would see me for at least 3-6 months. I needed prescription refills, and could not postpone that long. I find it very sad that I could not find one doctor who would see me in a city the size of San Antonio.
The Hondo Doctor
I finally found a doctor an hour away, in Hondo, Texas who agreed to see me immediately. Richard drove me to my first appointment. I was less than impressed with doctor, but she seemed my only choice at the time. First off, she performed an exam, then wrote prescriptions for different diabetes and blood pressure pills than I had been taking. I debated with her about the medication changes, but she refused to budge. She simply handed me the pieces of paper from her prescription pad with a ‘take it or leave it’ expression on her face.
Side effects . . . again
So I reluctantly had the prescriptions filled at CVS pharmacy, and started taking the new pills. Within a few days my lower legs and feet began to swell as a side effect of the blood pressure pills. The swelling was so great that I couldn’t get my shoes on.
Lasix added to combat the side effects of the new blood pressure pill
I recalled a similar effect from the first blood pressure pills Dr. Abbott had prescribed me, so called the Hondo doctor to explain the situation. I expected her to put me back on the pills Dr. Abbott had me on. Instead, she prescribed an additional pill. Lasix. She said the swelling was fluid retention from the blood pressure pill, and that Lasix would remove the fluid. She also encouraged me to eat a banana each morning to replenish the potassium that Lasix would wash out of my system.
So now I was up to three pills plus a banana, and had to be concerned about my potassium levels. When I was in my 50s, my potassium was depleted so badly that I had to go to the ER. I didn’t know my problem was related to potassium. I simply felt like I was having a nervous breakdown, and my secretary took me to the hospital. I was told then to eat bananas because for whatever reason, my body had the tendency to get low on potassium, and bananas are a good source of potassium.
So now the Hondo doctor had prescribed a pill that was known to deplete potassium. I told her about the incident years ago, and how I already ate a banana every day to keep my potassium levels up, but to no avail. She was the doctor, and she knew best. Actually she was my only choice. So I picked up the Lasix from CVS, and took it, as directed.
More swelling, and dizzy spells.
The swelling did not go away. My whole body was puffy with fluid. I could see it in my face each time I stood before a mirror. My eyes were becoming slits as fluid filled in around them.
On top of that, I began to feel bad. I was light-headed from the effects of the pills, which were causing sudden drops in my blood pressure. I called the Hondo doctor, and she assured me it would take time for the pills to reach a level of effectiveness, and not to worry, she’d see me in a month.
Loss of balance and inner ear problem
The swelling and light-headedness persisted, and I started having wild dizzy spells that threw me off balance, at times. At my next appointment with the Hondo doctor, she said I had apparently developed an inner ear infection. She prescribed a pill for that, and sent me home.
The pill did not work, and my balance issues and dizzy spells became progressively worse, so I started using a cane. At my next monthly visit, the Hondo doctor performed some kind of procedure on me that was supposed to remedy the inner ear condition I had developed. It was a strange exercise where I slammed myself down into a laying position. She told me to continue the exercise at home. I did. Nothing changed.
”Get used to it.”
At my next monthly visit, the Hondo doctor told me the exercise was likely not working because the condition had become permanent due to my age. In other words, ‘get used to it.‘ What she did not tell me was that the light-headedness, dizziness, and loss of balance were known side effects from the blood pressure pill and Lasix, as was the fluid retention and development of a permanent inner ear condition. The blood pressure pills continued to cause swelling, and the Lasix did nothing but deplete my potassium level.
I had to buy new shoes in a larger size to accommodate my puffy feet. I had also gained quite a bit of weight, overall, which was likely fluid. I also developed anemia from periodic dehydration related to the Lasix. Basically, I was a mess. And I didn’t know what to do about it.
Next up – insulin injections.
Next, the Hondo doctor informed me she would be prescribing insulin injections, rather than pills. I explained that I didn’t know how to do that, was afraid to do that, and didn’t want to do that. She pretty much dictated that’s how it was going to be if she were to continue as my doctor.
And now – sugar crashes
My hands trembled as I gave myself the first injection of Lantus. I was afraid of needles. But I did it. I was to give myself a shot each night at bedtime. And each morning, I was trembling and weak from a sugar level that was too low, and remained too low until I was able to prepare and eat breakfast. I would finally feel better about an hour after eating.
I called the Hondo doctor to share my concerns, but she was unsympathetic, telling me to continue as I was doing. What she did not tell me was that having repeated and prolonged low sugar levels has been shown to cause the kind of brain damage that is associated with dementia. Not knowing this, I continued waking up day after day with low blood sugar, which I am certain contributed to the dementia that eventually developed in my brain.
Things got worse.
Richard was having problems with his memory, and was no longer comfortable driving an hour to take me to the Hondo doctor. So now I was without a doctor, again – and in much worse shape than before.
Doctor number three strike out
Somehow I managed to find a physician practice that took me in. I still had to wait a month for my first appointment, but it was okay since I had enough medications to wait that long.
I doctored there for a couple of months, but Richard’s memory and cognition was getting worse – to the point where he had difficulty finding the doctor office. The last two times we tried to go there, we arrived significantly late, and the office was closed by the time we got there.
I know what – I’ll try the nearby Urgent Care clinic
Out of desperation, I resorted to doctoring at an urgent care clinic that was located two blocks from our home. There I could get prescription refills, and treatment, as needed. Granted, I didn’t always see the same doctor each time, but it was better than nothing.
It was a little awkward, though, because each time I came back, they told me I needed to start going to my own doctor because they were urgent care, and couldn’t continue to treat me and prescribe medication for me on a regular basis. And each time I told them I did not have a doctor. They never refused to see me, though – and I kept going back until I finally found a doctor a year later. Correction: until a doctor found me.
Found by an angel – Dr. Stella
I received a letter one day from Dr. Stella. She had seen me once at the last physician group practice I had gone to before Richard was unable to drive me there, anymore. Dr. Stella decided to leave that practice, and open her own practice. She sent letters to all the patients she had treated, asking if they would like to follow her to her new office.
By this time, Janet had just moved to San Antonio to be close to help Richard and me. She offered to take me to Dr. Stella, and that was the beginning of a beautiful doctor-patient relationship. Dr. Stella would see me until two months before I died when I moved to a memory care facility, and was seen by the facility doctor. Dr. Stella treated all that ailed me with love, expertise, and grace. In fact, each visit began with a tender hug as from an angel.
Sadly, by the time Dr. Stella found me, I had quite a bit more wrong than has been mentioned thus far.
Also, here are a few links from Harvard and Consumer Reports that talk about the relation between medications, loss of balance, and dementia.
How medications can affect your balance:
Drugs that might be the cause of your dizziness:
Could medications contribute to dementia: