Attack of the Killer Medicine!
Saturday, November 24, 2012
I've always believed in traditional medicine. When I was 7, I had my first case of pneumonia, followed by 3 more, plus innumerable bouts of bronchitis. Antibiotics saved my life more than once; if the lung problems had not done me in, my appendicitis at age 18 probably would have. So, I've usually trusted doctors, nurses, and medications.
Now, if you're familiar with respiratory illness, you exclaimed, right after reading the first paragraph: "Asthma!" Exactly. Back when I was growing up, only the kids who passed out in the gym were diagnosed with asthma, but I had the classic symptoms of intermittent asthma, triggered by minor colds. A little inhaler puff here and there would have saved me a lot of trouble.
When I was an adult, I was finally treated for asthma with Singulair, Advair, and the occasional rescue inhaler use. All was well, and I did not get sick that often. When I did get a bad attack, the allergist put me on prednisone, a steroid, for a week, which kept me up all night, but gave me lots of energy to clean house, so I did not mind the side effects. I received an informational page about the medicine, which said that in some cases, with patients who take it for an extended period of time and who have family history, the medicine can trigger diabetes. No problem; I had no family history of the disease, and I only took the medication for a week or two a few times a year, so this did not apply to me.
A few years later, my allergist ordered routine blood tests, and my sugar was 384. My doctor patted me on the shoulder and told me to go to my primary physician, or better yet, to the ER. That got my attention, so I drove home, parked the car, and walked across the street to the hospital, where I got admitted. When I said "blood sugar" and "prednisone", the nurses nodded knowingly. After an IV and a shot of insulin, my sugar went down, and I felt so much cooler; I had been hot all the time for a while and had no idea that had been another side effect of the high sugars.
The doctor told me that it would take a few weeks for the prednisone to leave my system, so she put me on insulin, gave me a blood sugar meter, and told me to drink lots of water. I had the luxury of something most people don't have: I had a month to be in realistic denial. I could seriously tell myself that while I might have diabetes, it was more likely that this was a temporary issue. So I had some time to get used to the idea.
Problem was, my sugars kept bouncing back up, and a few months later, I was finally diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes. In the meantime, I had talked to my parents about the incident, and my mom told me she had been diagnosed with Type 2, and so had my paternal grandmother - they just didn't tell me, because they didn't want to worry me! I had it on both sides of the family! If I had known that I had family history, I would have never taken the steroids! The doctor told me that, given my history, I would have probably gotten diabetes in another decade or two, but the steroids triggered it off early. I was so angry I could have thrown things - at my family for not telling me, and at my allergist for prescribing me the stuff.
Getting used to the diabetes itself was not even that bad; I had worked with several Type 1 diabetics before and was familiar with blood sugar ranges, symptoms, meters, insulin, etc. Besides, once you've worked with a 7 year old who has had Type 1 since he was a baby, you know you can't complain if you get Type 2 as an adult; at least I was able to eat what I wanted for decades. My anger came from not knowing - not knowing about family history, and not knowing about the side effects from infrequent use.
The morals of the story:
1. Always, always, check the side effects of any medicines they put you on, and don't assume you are low risk.
2. Even if you know both sides of your biological family, don't assume that you know your medical history; ask questions of the most talkative family members until you get enough information.
3. Get regular blood tests to get alerts on problems you may not be aware of; if there is a free screening at the drug store, go. I must have walked right past dozens of free diabetes screenings, thinking it would be a waste of my time and their resources to get tested.
Wishing all of you good health!