A Bad Drug

When I returned to my home state of Washington in July 2017, my broken, disabled body was less able than it had been in years. My first order of business was to make appointments with both my primary care practitioner and my pulmonologist.  My asthma had been flaring, causing me to spend at least one day in an emergency room each month to seek breathing treatments.Prescription bottle for levofloxacin 10 days and tablets with prednisone tablets

The result of my July visits was a diagnosis of pansinusitis with a complete obfuscation of ALL of my frontal sinuses. My prescriptions for my inhalers were renewed and I received two new prescriptions, one for a steroid, prednisone, to lessen the inflammation inside my sinuses and an antibiotic, levofloxacin, (generic for Levaquin) to clear the infection.

I was staying with a friend to help her pack and clean the house she was vacating and set about taking my first round of tablets hoping for a quick recovery. That night as I scrubbed the driving callus on my right heel that looked worse than it felt, I felt pain in my heel and ankle felt fragile and odd, but I didn’t do anything except note it in my journal.

The next morning, I felt like a train had hit my body and brain.  My brain was confused and every muscle and joint in my body hurt. However, both of my physicians had made a point of telling me that the pansinusitis was “probably causing me considerable system-wide fatigue and pain.” So, I chalked up these symptoms to my body reacting to me stopping long enough to feel it.

preview-4.jpgAs my body seemed to weaken, I was embarrassed at the lack of work I was physically able to complete. It wasn’t like me. Yes, I need to take a lot of breaks, but I am a bit of a perfectionist where it comes to packing and cleaning, and it was taking me hours and hours longer than it should have. I apologized to my friend.

About a month later, I revisited my pulmonologist who saw no improvement in my infection and again prescribed the same combination. Again, I took and finished that ten-day course. But my sinuses were still completely full and now my joint pain was even worse. Then my pulmonologist referred me to an ear, nose and throat specialist who prescribed Prednisone and Levofloxacin for 21 more days.

I couldn’t understand how a longer course of the same antibiotics I had been on was going to do any good, but I acquiesced took the prescribed medication once again.

I will add, when I filled my prescriptions at the Walgreens’s pharmacy, the only thing that was said to me was “do you want me to throw away all these papers,” referring to the medication information in the bag of my prescriptions.

Two days before my 51st birthday, I traveled to my medical clinic for a follow-up appointment with my pulmonologist as well as an appointment with a new primary care provider. I expressed to both physicians that I was experiencing a HUGE amount of pain in my joints and fatigue that caused me to feel like I had been hit by a semi-truck from the moment I woke each and every day. Each of my steps that hit the ground was followed by knives shooting up my heel and the back of my leg, then into my knee and hips. After a few feet of walking, I wanted to cry. The pain and swelling in my hands, wrists, and arms made any household chore next to impossible.

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Braces made by my occupational therapist. I had to remove one brace to take the photo

 

Both mentioned they thought the tendinopathy I was describing and which my primary care provider had examined and verified in my hands, wrists, elbows, knees, and heels could be the reaction for which the Levofloxacin and its entire family of antibiotics was deigned to carry a “black box warning” from the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). A “black box warning” denotes a serious reaction history and a limitation from the FDA in a medication’s usage. In relation to the class of drugs of which Levofloxacin was a member, the warning was issued almost one year to the date of my exposure. It read:
“Because the risk of these serious side effects generally outweighs the benefits for patients with acute bacterial sinusitis, acute exacerbation of chronic bronchitis and uncomplicated urinary tract infections, the FDA has determined that fluoroquinolones should be reserved for use in patients with these conditions who have no alternative treatment options. For some serious bacterial infections, including anthrax, plague, and bacterial pneumonia among others, the benefits of fluoroquinolones outweigh the risks and it is appropriate for them to remain available as a therapeutic option.”preview-3.jpg

My pansinusitis was not anthrax or the plague…however, I have multiple antibiotic allergies and have reacted to many different medications. Due to this fact, my physicians rationalized it would be okay to risk my well-being because of an infection that was not fatal. In fact, I had that same active sinus infection for months before any treatment. However, after the prednisone and levofloxacin, I felt worse than I had EVER felt with the infection.

As days turned into weeks, then months, I started to cry when my feet hit the floor and it was not only not any better than the day before but felt like it had gotten worse. I was no stranger to chronic pain, having been through the gauntlet with chronic pelvic pain for decades and back pain for years. I had written REPORTS about chronic pain and cannabis. I KNEW the timeline of pain. I KNEW when pain becomes chronic, the brain changes. Although my body and brain had already gone through that process for a few injuries, I did NOT want that paradigm to repeat with BODY-WIDE pain!!

My nights were not restful at all. I would roll to one side and my elbow would feel like it was full of glass pieces and if I rolled onto it, they would only go deeper into my flesh… The other elbow was on fire. My wrists and hands swelled making typing insanely difficult as my Master of Arts program began in late November. Although I had some accommodations in place for my previously diagnosed limitations, I found myself utilizing the dictation software. It was frustrating and ineffective, to the point I reached out to an online group for my university and a wonderful undergrad student offered to type my dictation over the phone.

IMG_20150909_123512744For the pain, I was limited to cannabis. I will not use opioids after having been in recovery from them for the last 8 years and the other issues with the other medications prescribed for pain are what caused my physicians to initially recommend cannabis as my medication.

I’ve been working on recipes for topicals and bath bombs with this pain. A foot soak with a tablespoon of cannabis-infused coconut oil and Epsom salt is a good substitute when I don’t know if I can pull myself out of the tub.

I wanted to do something more to assist my own recovery, but I feared to damage my tendons more. I read about microcellular damage inside of my tendons and feared them tearing or worse. I requested physical therapy for my body and occupational therapy for my hands to get me started. My psychotherapist was also used to assist with the mental confusion caused by the medication interaction/injury.  Throughout this last December and January, I had therapy appointments three days a week! Still, every morning, as I put my feet out of bed and onto the floor, the pain would shoot up, and I would cry. Like the mercury in a thermometer that has been placed in boiling water, the pain shot up my heels. Yes, worse again.preview-1.jpg

I was in the middle of my finals week for that first term in my Master of Arts program when I woke up, put my feet on the floor, and …. It was about the same as the previous day. The next day, after my exercises and stretching, it almost felt better. I was reluctant to hope, but I had stopped crying. At this point, it had been over six months since the first prescriptions.

The occupational therapist confirmed the swelling in my forearm and wrist had lessened. Two days later, the physical therapist confirmed that my Achilles’ tendons had more movement. FINALLY!

I’m FINALLY on the road to recovery. I have never developed so much empathy, so quickly, for any group of people. I have many friends who have chronic illnesses that come complete with body-wide intense pain. I wish I didn’t have to know, but I do understand comprehensively at this point. I am looking forward to healing from this injury and spreading the word about this medication and its PAINFUL interaction with prednisone and some people’s chemistries! Levofloxacin is a BAD BAD DRUG!preview-2.jpg

 

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Continuing My Education

For the last six months I struggled with the decision whether to continue into a graduate program or to be satisfied with the Bachelor of Arts that I will be finishing at the beginning of September 2017. Although I LOVE writing, without a best-seller (sometimes even WITH), it is difficult to support oneself writing books let alone to have the funds to support my dreams of helping others. In the middle of the night a few days ago, I felt a light and an idea: Master of Arts: Health Communications.

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After that late-night epiphany, many things came together quickly. I applied, submitted my writing sample (an edited version of “Making Our Mark” without the run-on sentences) and statement of purpose…and waited.

 

Today I received the news: I have been accepted to Southern New Hampshire University’s Master of Arts Communication – Health Communication program!!!!

For years my physical and mental disabilities combined with my lack of higher education have stagnated my growth. I resigned myself to collecting a disability pension even though the lack of being able to help others was frustrating to no end.

As long as I can remember, I have wanted to help people improve their health. As a child I was more focused on their pets and livestock, being enthralled with James Harriott and his novels. As I grew, I dreamed of being a surgeon for humans. However, difficult choices after foolish ones when I became a parent at 17 caused me to rethink that path.

IMG_20170623_133610I first trained as a medical assistant and worked in that profession to support my young family. When my first disabling injury made me unable to work in the medical field, I was devastated.

Even after I left healthcare as a profession, as a mother, wife and disabled person, I found myself constantly performing research into medical subjects. My writing talents have enabled me to share the information gathered with others on my blogs as an attempt to assist them in their own struggles.

Continuing my education with a Masters in Communication focusing on healthcare communication will add authority and legitimacy to this passion I have for helping others. It will enable me to assist more people to take charge of their own health and heal.

My first book, currently in the works, is titled “Medical Marijuana for Mormons” and it addresses cannabis treatment in a population consisting of many who would not normally pick up a book on this subject. As more members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are searching for alternative healthcare answers, my book will be there to help guide them.

My dream is to open disability/addiction recovery centers across the nation focusing on a holistic approach to chronic pain and disability that assists patients in recovering from the destructive influence opioid medication has had on their lives. The focus will be on re-educating patients in every aspect of daily life. Teaching them how to grow their own food and herbal medicine and helping bring them out of their sick beds and back into a life they want to live. An advanced communications degree focusing on healthcare will assist me in making my dream come true.IMG_20170623_133224

I have enjoyed immensely the Southern New Hampshire University community and the support I have received during my undergraduate program and would not feel nearly as “at home” in any other school. I am excited to continue in my education with SNHU and look forward to being able to help many people with the knowledge I will obtain there.

Today is the first day of the rest of my life!!!

Making Our Mark

In North Carolina, I was met with the proof of a fact that I had no way of knowing when I began my journey towards graduating from Southern New Hampshire University. Having come from very intelligent parents and grandparents, yet knowing that none of them had attained what my daughter and I were obtaining in our educations; I had

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Solomon Richardson’s mark when he took a marriage bond to marry my 4th great-grandmother in 1822

never doubted that my family “had always” been literate. When I read the words, “his mark” surrounding the “x” that made Solomon Richardson’s mark, I was taken aback with the proof in front of me that my fourth great-grandfather, born in North Carolina in 1800, had been unable to read and write: He was illiterate.

My own education, in retrospect, would appear to those not intimately involved, to be a series of “fits and starts.” I remember when I became pregnant at the age of 16 (after being told due to female health problems that would be impossible) I was unsatisfied to take the GED tests, choosing rather to enroll in an alternative school that was based on the format of the local Evergreen State College and allowed me to set my own curriculum with the guidance of teachers and a counselor become friend. It was imperative to me that I actually graduate high school. I did so with one child on my lap and one on the way.

I continued my education immediately after high school, enrolling in South Puget Sound Community College’s medical assisting program. Looking back, I don’t think I would have had the guts to do so if it weren’t for my mom’s employment there. She was an integral and vibrant part of the college’s support system. Throughout my preteen and teen years, she had invited my brother and myself to the campus, introducing us to faculty members and support staff, making the school feel for us like a second home and its staff our extended family.

Having loved writing all of my life, I found myself drawn to the school’s newspaper. Although I was a very busy young woman with two very active toddlers, I would spend any free moment from my grueling curriculum in the Student Center. I learned the now archaic Apple computer with a manual on my lap and my hands on the keyboard in the room that doubled as the school’s newspaper office. I assisted with getting a paper we would call “Sounds” off the ground and was asked to step in as a Vice President of the Student Body of South Puget Sound Community College (SPSCC) when the student election had gone awry.

With more than six months to go in my program, financial aid not going far enough to cover my expenses and in the midst of a personal mental health crisis, I resigned my position with the student body. I left my writing gig at the student newspaper and got a job as a Medical Assistant/Back-Office Nurse when the need to support my tiny family overwhelmed my desire to actually finish my degree. This was 1988.

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At our reception

In 1989, I married my husband Bruce after we used the idea of us being engaged to prank the student government we both worked for. He knew my mother before he met me, she was an integral part of the social sciences department where he had found a passion. The campus was still my family, our wedding reception was held in the Student Center where we met and became best friends.

Our daughter, Siobhan, was born in February 1990. She was the product of our college education, although neither of us finished any degree at SPSCC. Siobhan graduated with her Associates in Arts 18 years later. It was on the same campus where her parents had met the day before her high school graduation. She embodied the epitome of our desire for our children to take education seriously.

My own education continued when Siobhan was only three. I had returned to the campus I called home to retrain when the strain of the birth of my daughter caused my first disabling condition no longer allowing me to work in the medical profession.

With Siobhan in the daycare that I helped to build while I was Vice President of the student body, I retrained in the computer field. A year and a half after I began, I once again was forced to call my education to a halt before any degree was attained. My husband Bruce was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis and his overwhelming symptoms made it difficult to maintain his employment. I quit my program and went to work for The State of Washington as a computer programmer to support our family. My dreams of finishing my education seemed to dim in the everyday chores of raising a family.

A couple of years before the blessed event of my daughter’s dual graduations, my body and brain conspired to make continuing to work at my position as a computer programmer impossible. Once again disabled, I conceded to draw a pension and concentrate on my health and the matters of domesticity. My daughter struggled through the stress of her parents losing their home and gradually losing their relationship with one another as the overwhelming stress of being disabled mentally and physically changed the shape of what she knew as “family.”

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Me, Siobhan and my mom, her grandma Joan

Her Grandma Joan was a beacon for Siobhan. The community college where her parents had met and celebrated their marriage became a home for her as well. She was welcomed in the position as a math tutor, just as one of her older brothers had been. Tutoring people twice and three times her age, they adored her amazing intelligence and beauty.  When she graduated with honors, no one was one bit surprised, but we were all amazed.

I was living in the middle of 37 undeveloped acres of land in a 5th wheel trailer with my new husband of 18 months in October 2015 when I felt impressed by God to ask Siobhan about this University where she and her husband had chosen to finish their degrees.  She had left the University of Washington’s engineering program after being the first in our family to ever be admitted to a four-year college when her dad and I had finally divorced. The event had not only put me without a home but had shattered her very idea of stability. She went on to find that stability with her new husband and they rapidly went about supporting each other in the pursuit of their dreams, making and achieving goal after goal together. In this same spirit, they had researched online education extensively and had chosen Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) to be the best college to meet their needs with programs and credentials that they found exemplary.  When Siobhan posted online about a place called “the writing center,” I replied that sounded like a dreamy place. She encouraged me to apply and see if SNHU could do anything with my 130 community college credits. I made the call.

IMG_20151021_093242703Although I had no practical way of living to most people, the lack of basics such as electricity, water or even a place to use the toilet did not deter me from what it seemed that God was calling me to do. Where there is a will, there is a way? Perhaps, but it seemed that God was guiding me to start school where many would only find impossibility. My first term back was highlighted by a blown head gasket in our truck which would strand me 5 miles away from a paved road with a partially collapsed lung. The installation of the satellite internet that student loans helped to pay for was delayed by the company so long that although I tried to complete my classes on the disposable phone from Walmart that my husband and I shared; I failed my first term back at school.

I wept. I felt utterly dejected and discouraged. My Visiting Teacher, Amy, through the local Branch of my church, was encouraging. She was a retired lawyer choosing to create her dream of a farm in the middle of nowhere.  We shared a commonality in our mental

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Amy at Snowflake Temple

illnesses. In spite of an increasingly abusive marriage, I found a friend and support in Amy that would enable me to continue. I was faced with overwhelming adversity, but a glimmer of hope each week in Amy’s and my weekly visits to the Snowflake Temple made the impossible to most, seem achievable to me.

This year when my second divorce was finally finished, I headed to the east: My daughter was to be graduating summa cum laude from SNHU in Mathematics on Mother’s Day. Every mechanic that looked at the little Volvo which was my only return from my second marriage of three years deemed it impossible. Every time I prayed, and every Priesthood Blessing I received said it could be done. I persevered in the face of impending doom and followed every impression on the journey. Just days before Easter, I arrived in New Hampshire and toured the “brick and mortar” campus of SNHU: It was real. I made it.

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My first-year adviser, Lauren with me

Through the intense assistance of my first-year adviser, Lauren, and then her follow-up, my “senior adviser,” Liz, I recovered from that disastrous first term. When my credits began accumulating quickly, we realized I may also be eligible to graduate this May. I was frustrated when life and the college schedule extended my classes out through August but was thrilled when the university stated that I could walk with the class of 2017 in spite of the fact I was finishing up in the summer. My daughter and I would be walking for graduation the same weekend.

This Mother’s Day weekend was fabulous. Dreams that I never thought I could dream have come true. By pursuing her education, Siobhan became the first in her father’s family and my family to achieve her Bachelor’s degree after also being the first in both our families to earn her Associate’s. She has made me so proud and she has now made education more possible and inviting for generations of our family yet to come.

We both have learned to “make our mark,” after coming from those who could do no

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Siobhan and me Mother’s Day weekend 2017

more than to sign with an “x.” I know that our ancestors worked hard and traveled to distances trying to make a better life for their children. The pioneers of our families did all they could while imagining more significant opportunities for future generations. As I traveled across the country to receive the honor of my degree and watch my daughter receive hers, I realized that we are the product of those hopes and dreams. I thank God for relatives that reached across the veil to help me to understand that.

Watch: A video from backstage at the SNHU Arena