Friday, November 21, 2008

The Pill

This is a strange, random post, but I'm thinking if you don't want to read about my experience with birth control, you are forewarned! Stop reading now. =)

I was 24, just about to get married when I started taking the pill. It seemed like the right, responsible thing to do, but the truth is that I knew very little about it. I didn't know, nor was I made aware of, about any of the risks, possibly fatal side effects. I also didn't know that given my familial history of heart disease, I should probably be more careful about possible side effects and what they meant.

Just about every single possible side effect named I experienced. I gained a lot of weight - about 10 pounds the first week!! I had many other issues that should have been big red flags but nobody picked up on. Add on top of that the stress of buying my first house, finishing up a school year and getting married.... It was a whirlwind of craziness. Just after getting married, my health insurance changed and my doctor who had started the craziness was no longer available to me. I actually think she would have corrected many of my issues. Instead, I became subject to an HMO where, although I had chosen a primary care physician, each time I went in I saw a different doctor.

I had a myriad of crazy things going on. I was gaining weight like crazy, I had constant sinus infections and was practically taking back to back prescriptions of Amoxicillen, which ironically negates the effect of being on the pill in the first place!! I had irregular Pap test results, multiple infections and I could no longer bend my knees without being in excruciating pain. Not one single doctor even considered any of these symptoms might be related to birth control pills. At each doctor visit, my blood pressure began to creep up and my heart rate was out the roof. This was typically attributed to "white coat syndrome" or my infection of the day.

Finally, things escalated to the point where, in January, just 7 months after starting the pill, I went in for my 7th sinus infection and my blood pressure was 200/180 - or something along those lines. I had spent probably an hour in the waiting room of the urgent care department of our HMO along with many sick people before hearing the alarming news that I was a "special case" of utmost importance. I can't remember how many doctors were consulted, but I felt lousy and I was there for a very long time before they finally sent me home.

At that time, I was given a beta blocker, which I should never have been given due to having asthma, which made me so dizzy I couldn't drive. I also began having nightmares, which I thought were anxiety related but stopped once they changed my medication (three weeks later!). In those three weeks, I was visiting the doctor's office daily, having some bizarre tests run - all coming back negative, although some with crazy results. At one of my visits, a test returned that led the doctor to believe that I had a brain tumor. After looking into my eyes and having me repeat a few funny motion tests, the alarming look on her face wasn't registering well with me, so I asked her what was going on. She looked me right in the eye and said, "Well, I think you might have a brain tumor, but the on-call doctor doesn't want me to admit you to the hospital. Instead, we are going to give you this little pill. You will either be fine, which means there is no tumor, or you will go into cardiac arrest and we will transport you to the hospital." Seriously, that is what they told me. That was a long doctor's visit!!

Anyway, it only took me about a week to decide on my own to go off birth control pills. Nobody suggested it, nobody was concerned I was on them, but in my heart I just knew they had something to do with all this craziness. Not to mention, will all the antibiotics I was on, they were worthless!! When I told the doctor about my decision, she hit the roof!!! She insisted that the one thing I could not afford was to get pregnant at that time. My response was... well, I won't get into it, but it something to do with how horrible I felt and looked. I am so glad that for once I put my foot down.

As part of the "ruling out everything under the sun" testing, I was subjected to a procedure called a captopryll renalgram. This is typically used to screen for kidney disease, which we had already ruled out. I have amazing kidney function. All my doctor wanted was one good photo of my kidneys to see if I possibly had a genetic defect that caused the veins that feed my kidneys to be too small, leading to high blood pressure. The procedure involved being given a drug via IV, captopryll, which opens up veins/arteries, and then having some radioactive gunk fed through those veins. They took images of this radioactive gunk at 15 minute intervals (I should have told them I have great kidney function!).

The idea is that this gunk was to be injected, then travel to the kidneys and out the bladder. Some of it, in fact, followed the rules of the gunk. Fortunately, we were able to get the one picture my doctor needed to rule out the oddly small veins I didn't have. Unfortunately, the gunk that didn't follow the rules headed straight for my thyroid. The technicians apologized profusely (because they were students and didn't know any better) and I was sent home with the possibility of having to return at some point to repeat this tragedy, which I swore I would never do!!

About two months later, we determined that I had an underactive thyroid, coincidentally after the unnecessary test fried it. I was 25 years old. I now had chronic hypertension and hypothyroidism. It was finally that April, after a former Miss America had just been on Oprah to warn women about the potential of having a stroke as she had from use of birth control pills, that my doctor finally admitted to me that she was concluding that my hypertension was due in part to a familial history of the condition combined with my use of the pill. Had I not made that suggestion myself??

Anyway, I'm not sharing this because I think nobody should use birth control pills. I just want people to be informed so they never have to go through what I went through. I was "lucky" in many senses. I didn't have a stroke, although I was certainly a great candidate for it. I've had many in the medical profession communicate to me in various ways that that kind of blood pressure reading is "not normal" and most likely indicates stroke. I also am almost 39, have had two children naturally and have maintained a reasonable blood pressure. It's not easy. The experience has created it's own kind of "white coat syndrome" for me. There is not a time I visit the doctor without the thought in the back of my mind that they might find something crazy. I have also struggled with weight issues that are difficult to control due to being on two medications for 14 years that each cause weight gain. It's a constant battle for me, and one that I often feel defeated fighting.

This past week, a college student that T knows alerted us to her sister being taken to the hospital having had a stroke.... and I wonder in the back of my mind. Was she taking some medication?? Did she know about the possibility?? Was she informed?? I'm also reminded about how "lucky" I am. While there are many things I can't do - like ride the really crazy roller coasters with my kids that I really WANT to ride - I'm thankful to have the opportunity to be with them. Some day, when they are ready to hear about how, I'll be happy to share all this with them. Until then, I will have to remain that "uncool" mother, who takes appropriate risks seriously, and proceeds with great caution. I may be boring, but I'm here!

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

Wow. Amazing, D. You've had a really rough go of it, health-wise. I'm glad you are off the pill!

I experienced negative side effects from the pill as well--not the same as yours, but bad enough to make me ditch the meds.

Sometimes, we know better than our doctors.