Hey. Ginger tore her meniscus around last Thanksgiving. She’s gone through a failed orthoscopic surgery, multiple shots, and a lot of pain. Nothing’s worked so she just received a store bought knee. Sears catalog page 362. Before jumping into the story, I want to say that her new knee is great and she is progressing extremely well. The whole experience was positive with one exception. Along with a cocktail of pain meds, the doctor prescribed a drug to help with nerve damage and seizures. The evening Ginger was released from the hospital she called her doctor’s office and described confusion, a disconnection from her thoughts, and a general failure to connect with reality. We didn’t relate her symptoms with a past event until the doctor mentioned the medication was for nerve damage. I resurrected this old piece I wrote about that occasion way back in 2009.
2009 – My wife has a twitch. Not a normal, irritating, part-time twitch. This is the mother of all twitches.
During her yearly exam, she explained her problem to our family doctor, but of course, the doctor noticed it as soon as my bride walked in. She couldn’t miss it. Ginger’s left eye spent most of its time half closed and had progressed to the point where it was periodically pulling up the corner of her mouth.
We believed an attempt to quite smoking had caused her facial spasms. Hang with me while I explain that. My beloved was trying to kick the cigarette habit when another one jumped up and grabbed her by the butt. Chewing. She didn’t take up dipping, or sticking a wad between her cheek and gum, or any habit that required spitting into a used Coke bottle. Hers was a more modern addiction: Nicorette gum. She buys the family sized packages from Australia. She’ll bite a piece in half, stuff a piece of Extra in her mouth, and her jaw is off to the races.
What she wanted from the medical profession was a Botox shot. If she could deaden the muscles causing her eye to flutter, she could continue to chew without worrying about limited sight in one eye or even the stares of check-out girls at the supermarket. Instead of a plastic surgeon, our physician referred her to a neural surgeon. Insurance wouldn’t pay for a plastic surgeon, but it would pay for the neural guy.
Before the surgeon would discuss the twitch, he gave Ginger a drunk test. He made her touch her finger to her nose, walk a straight line, and recite the alphabet backwards in fifteen seconds. She failed. Then he asked her a series of questions: do you confuse right from left, hot from cold, up from down. She failed. The surgeon decided he wanted to look at her brain so he scheduled an MRI for the following Monday.
The neural dude called us the Wednesday before her procedure. He had thought about it and decided that there was a drug that might help Ginger. His office called the prescription into a local drug store. I picked up the pills; and since she’s more diligent than I ever thought of being, Ginger called the drug store to make sure she would have no ill effects from drug interaction. The pharmacist assured her she would be fine. The instructions said to take one pill a day for a week, two a day for the second week, and three a day the third.
In the mean time, my wife had her semi-yearly dentist appointment. Our dentist noticed a couple of blisters on the roof of her mouth and inquired about the what, when and where. The what was very hot spaghetti sauce. The when was about a week and a half before. The where was, obviously, the roof of her mouth.
Ginger’s mouth seemed to be taking too long to heal so the dentist decided to do something. Our insurance company really likes generic drugs. So of course, she prescribed a very expensive, non-generic cream to put on the blisters.
On the Saturday before the MRI, the mild discomfort in Ginger’s mouth transformed into pains shooting up and down her throat. This didn’t seem normal to either of us, and instilled the fear of cancer in Ginger. We decided to visit the urgent care center.
With flu season in full force we still got to see the doctor within two hours. The physician said the wound looked ulcerated. There seemed to be an infection, but he couldn’t rule out the cancer. He asked what Ginger was doing for it. So she handed him the prescription cream.
He read the ingredients and said, “Yea, this would make it worse.” He was right. It had. According to the physician, the ointment contained steroids, which would suppress the body’s natural defenses. We ended up with an infection on steroids growing unencumbered by nature’s defenses.
He referred her to an ear, nose and throat guy. In the mean time, he prescribed a mouthwash with a variety of ingredients that had to be mixed or “compounded” at the pharmacy. We hurried to a local drug store the doctor’s office assured us could handle the order. The young lady behind the counter compounded the mouthwash in short order. That’s compounded, not generic, so our insurance didn’t like it either, which made it expensive. The instructions were simple: “Swish and spit every two hours.”
The evening went well, and the next morning Ginger’s mouth felt better, but at some time in the night, the mouthwash had transformed from a liquid to a solid. Instead of swishing and spitting, my bride was forced to chew and spit. The next day, Sunday, we rode the horses and then parked the horse trailer in the drug-store parking lot while we went in for more mouthwash.
The same young lady manned the counter so I shook the bottle clunking the mouthwash for her. She was nice and mixed us up some more of the compound, no charge. Ginger took it every three hours during Sunday.
Ginger had her MRI scheduled for 9:00, the next morning, Monday, and I was going with her. I planned to do the farm chores and let her sleep in. I asked what time she wanted to get up.
She considered it for a minute. “We’ve already talked to David and Mike.”
This confused me. “About what?”
“About the wavy teeth.”
That cleared it up. Our small palomino horse had wavy teeth, and we had discussed it with our vets, David and Mike. “Yea we have. What time do you want to get up?”
Again, she thought hard about her answer. “If you have a choice between the thin one and the thick one, pick the thin one.”
Once again I had entered the world of the confused. “What are we talking about now?”
“Your colonoscopy. If you have a choice, pick the thin one.”
Sounded like good advice, but didn’t answer the question. “I appreciate that, but what time do you want me to get you up?”
“Let’s see.” She thought for a moment. “My appointment’s at 11:00.”
“No. Your appointment’s at 9:00.”
Our conversation went on like that for about twenty minutes before I decided I didn’t need her input that badly. I’d get her up at 7:00.
When Ginger rose, her mouthwash was solid again. She seemed more lucid, but still not prepared to discuss world hunger. She’d been up a while before I found her sitting at the kitchen table with an assortment of medicines, vitamins, and supplements in front of her.
I said, “Babe, I don’t think you should take any more of the brain surgeon’s medicine.”
“You’re probably right.” She popped a pill in her mouth.
“I’m serious, you shouldn’t take anymore of those brain pills.”
“I won’t.” She ate another pill.
“Have you taken that pill yet?”
“I don’t think so.” She reached down and picked up a little white pill. “I think this is it.” And she popped one of the other pills.
“Are you sure?”
“No.” And she swallowed another pill.
“Just stop.” I held both hands up, and she stilled. We checked, and the pill she had pulled out matched the ones in the pill bottle.
We made it to the MRI, dropped by a lab for a $900 blood test, and called the urgent care center requesting them to send the mouthwash prescription to another pharmacy. I dropped Ginger by the house, picked up the third bottle of mouthwash and still made it to work a little after lunch.
Ginger called me later Monday afternoon and informed me the batteries in the living room remote were dead and we needed some double A’s. When I got home with the batteries, I found six remotes lying on their faces on the kitchen counter. Their battery compartments were open and empty.
“Hey babe. What’s up with the remotes?”
“The living room one stopped working. I figured it was the batteries.”
I waited for more, but it didn’t come. “I can understand that, but how about the others?”
“I thought I’d check all the batteries.”
“But you don’t have anything to check batteries with.”
She just gave me a blank look.
All but one of the remotes were lying dead in the kitchen. I put them back together, but the remote from the living room that started the whole mess was missing.
Ginger barely remembered where she had been much less where the remote was. We looked in the kitchen, bedroom, and even the barn before we found it in the bathroom.
Every morning that week, after Ginger stopped taking her brain pills, she woke up smarter. We read in the literature that one possible side effect could be confusion.
Wednesday morning she went to see the ear, nose and throat guy. He looked at that sore in her mouth, the one that she managed to worry about even when she was on her brain medicine, and agreed it was burned. To heal it, she should leave it alone.
Wednesday afternoon we both visited the neurologist that had prescribed her brain medicine. After we sat in the waiting room for the expected hour, he walked in the room and introduced himself to me again and asked, “How’s our patient?”
Ginger, who had nearly resurrected her right mind, answered. “That medicine you prescribed was terrible.”
“But how are you doing?”
“It made me ditsy, bad. I’m still not normal.”
“But how are your symptoms?”
“I was forgetting things and had a hard time putting words together.”
“No. How is the symptom you came in for?”
Oddly, Ginger losing her mind had drawn out attention away from her twitch. “It may be better. How was the MRI?”
“Let’s talk for a minute before we get to that.”
Ginger went through the brain medicine symptoms. When she wound down, the surgeon said, “Then you probably should stop taking the pills.” That’s the kind of observation that makes a surgeon worth the money we pay him.
Ginger pointed to her chest. “And I’ve developed this rash.”
He looked up. “You’re allergic. You should definitely stop taking them.” I considered this bonus advice.
According to the MRI, Ginger had a small stroke sometime in the past. Sometime in the past meant not this week. It could have been last month, fifty years ago, or even in utero.
Ginger’s mouth got better, and the experience convinced her to quit smoking. Her brain continued to improve, and up until our latest bout with the medicine she was really close to normal. The brain surgeon did send her to an eye doctor who gave her Botox for her twitch. It bruised her and made the skin around her eye swell. The twitch never went away completely, and it came back full force before the bruising went away.
What bothered me most about our experience back then wasn’t the money or the time we wasted. It was a what if. What if Ginger had been in the hospital when the doctor prescribed that brain medicine. In the hospital, she may have seen a doctor three minutes a day. Would he have noticed she was confused? Would he have known it was the medicine? Would he have thought it wasn’t working and prescribed more? Or prescribed additional medicine trying to solve a problem he caused. Ginger was in no shape to know what was causing her problems, so she couldn’t have stopped it. Her symptoms were the kind of thing to get a person declared incompetent and put in a home.
I can take credit for her most recent problems. They asked about allergies, but I never considered the anti-seizure medicine. I never thought they might use it for knee surgery, but what do I know. Ginger’s about over her latest battle with the brain medicine. She’s found a local eye doctor who can treat her eye twitch, and her new knee is working great. But I’m still bothered by that old what if. What makes it worse is that this time Ginger did get the medicine in a hospital, and even though we had seen them before, we didn’t recognize the symptoms. The environment in the hospital is so foreign, and she was getting such a combination of drugs that we didn’t put it all together until we got her home. I’ve added a new question. We have conquered so many diseases, so many problems that plague man, but how many people are trapped in hospitals today because of the drugs that were supposed to help them.
Take care of your loved ones. Pay attention when they’re being treated and the drugs they’re taking. Make conscious decisions. Help them.
Modern medicine is a wonderful, but terrifying thing.