"Monroe" by Jill C. Halliday

Drug Free

From what best I can recall my habit of taking an over-the-counter pain killer started in 1967 when I was studying Philosophy in undergraduate university at Glendon Hall, Toronto.

It was after I had left boarding school and when booze began to figure regularly in my existence (though even then the legal drinking age was 21 years so we “fooled” the authorities by frequenting upscale lounges and restaurants in downtown Toronto where our minority of 18 years wouldn’t be questioned as would likely have been the case in neighbourhood pubs). Interestingly the professors at the university encouraged weekly “Sherry parties” in the residence common rooms (Glendon was unquestionably elitist in its foundation) but of course Sherry didn’t provide much more than a possible alcoholic springboard to greater heights. Eventually I and others learned to “stock” a supply of the liquor of choice (which then, upon the heels of our latest visit to the Caribbean, was rum). The drug of choice was Aspirin, the round, white, common Aspirin pill before the days of “Extra Strength”. This was also before Tylenol or Advil were either invented or certainly before they were popularized by the rapacious drug companies. I believe I used the pills to calm me down, not just to eliminate a headache or sore throat for example. And often I combined the digestion with strong, black instant coffee (generous tablespoons of the stuff and hot water). The concoction was partly a stimulant of course, with the assurance of a smooth ride. Unwittingly I had learned to cultivate a recipe which formed the basis of what eventually became an addiction. It was the first of my “dressing drinks” which were a preamble to a subsequent social engagement. Aspirin was routinely part of my my bathroom commodities and certainly was always found in my shaving kit when traveling. I considered it an innocuous and effective additive, as much a part of my daily consumption as an apple.

Since my open-heart surgery in 2007 I have been taking a number of other drugs specifically those directed to heart disease and my burgeoning arthritic symptoms. My daily prescribed medication now includes Lipitor (cardiovascular disease), Coversyl (high blood pressure), baby Aspirin (blood thinner) and Celebrex (arthritis). In addition I normally take 2 Tylenol Arthritis pills, three times daily. As a result for the past several years at least I have generally felt drugged (or at least numbed) from morning until night. Most recently (in the past year especially) my legs and feet feel like de-sensitized appendages and my bowels feel as though I have been eating cement (I now consider prunes a mandatory part of my daily diet). Walking and movement generally has become a distinct liability bordering on disability, a condition I have excused as the purported combined effect of aging, arthroscopic (left) knee surgery and chronic lower back stiffness (for which I consulted a chiropractor for many years though I stopped a year ago when chiropractic was no longer having any meaningful effect). Privately I resigned myself to impending bone disintegration and even ultimate paralysis or at the very least being bound to a wheelchair for normal mobility. Inwardly I began exploring how much it might cost to refit my automobile to permit me to drive without the use of my legs.

On Tuesday, May 10th, 2016 I visited my physician (who is pointedly a new, young doctor in the area) with a view to addressing this issue. I have only lately hooked up with this new, young physician as a result of the impending retirement of my regular physician and the universal realignment of area patients upon the creation of the local “Family Health Clinic” (a provincial government motivation). When upon previous routine visits to my surgeon I asked whether I could quit taking the heart medication, the suggestion was categorically denounced. My new, young doctor however blandly observed, “The prescription is not a life sentence”. This was refreshing news to my ears and all the motivation I required! So when I left his office on May 10th I decided I would stop taking any medication; and for the past several days I have continued to do so (or should I say, not to do so). I hasten to add that this precipitous alteration was my own decision. It was not a decision founded upon anything more than brief and global consideration with my physician.

As might be expected there have been apparent side-effects to quitting all the meds. Naturally I am not qualified or otherwise capable of measuring the repercussions of my quitting but I generally feel better. There has been a moderate decrease in the inflammatory feature of my legs (from the knees down); the balls of my feet feel somewhat less numb all the time and I am able to “crack” my toe and other foot joints more often for partial relief from the rigidity of the arthritis. My bowels feel less constrained (I don’t feel perpetually fat). My neck has however worsened, getting stiff, though it might be that I slept on it improperly and that I am slowly recovering (I had for example a number of relieving cracks today). Cracks have traditionally been a relief for my muscular stiffness. Until last year I would normally have been able to lift myself off my feet at a counter, then twist my lower back to promote a relieving crack. Lately that hasn’t worked and my back seemed locked in a muscular knot. Almost miraculously today (May 14th) I succeeded to imitate the start of what was traditionally the self-cracking of my low back and which was the device chiropractors formerly were able to precipitate. For the first time in years I can walk upright, I feel that my legs are my own and that they work as they should (though the balls and toes of my feet retain some numbness).

The little I have recently read about the prescription and non-prescription drugs I was taking has not been encouraging. My new young doctor also echoed my sentiments when he highlighted that all drugs have unwanted side effects. There is a growing view that we have seriously underestimated the deleterious impact of over-the-counter pain killers on our liver and kidneys; and the drug companies are at last being called to task.

Two things have unquestionably changed since I quit the drugs on Tuesday. First, I am not as fidgety; I don’t seem as overcome as usual by so-called ticks or nervousness. Second, I have noticed a decline in my appetite particularly for sweets. Last week as my current medical condition approached its acme of discomfort I attacked sweets with a vengeance, concluding the mania by spooning sweetened condensed milk from the can. This obscenity was flanked by maple butter (also spooned directly from the jar) and homemade praline fudge. Perhaps by those excesses I succeeded temporarily to quell my appetite for sugar but I am inclined to think by quitting the drugs I have killed the appetite (which was becoming more of an addiction than an appetite).

Certainly after just several days of abstinence it is very early to draw any conclusions. It is possible that the euphoria is a temporary state only, perhaps with certain unwanted results, either foreseeable or long-term. My new doctor will of course monitor my cholesterol, blood pressure, etc. to ensure things are stable and not beginning to skyrocket. After our initial meeting I went for “blood work” to establish a baseline. We’re also going to investigate my nervous system connectivity in my lower limbs. For the time being I feel less “under the influence”, more authentic, less drugged in a word. My metabolism is working properly. I must do stretches to loosen the tightened muscles of the hamstrings of backs of my legs; and twist my lower back to provide similar relief.

When I get out of bed in the morning my first instinct is to take the usual handful of pills (which I have therefore secreted in a lower bathroom drawer). I feel rather like the alcoholic who imagines that the fastest and surest method to relieve the pain is to take the dope, but I have had all the proof I require to convince me that I will only catapult myself into a stunned zone. Actually the stimulation for my recent motivation was most likely the advice of an acquaintance that her elderly father left his nursing home, moved in with his daughter and stopped taking all his meds. The father has apparently faired incredibly well! I have no reason to mistrust this woman’s observation and I accept that the father’s improvement is due to lack of drugs, not the other way round. I acknowledge the medical community would be less enthusiastic about embracing such anecdotal accounts. My interest is not to prove or disprove the story, it just conveniently fits with my latest experience. By way of complete disclosure I should add that I had my usual daily 1-hour bicycle ride this morning and that my diet is mostly fresh fruit, salad and vegetables with minimal meat and cheese. And I call or visit my elderly mother every day!

Aside from the physical alterations precipitated by the lack of drugs, my mental state has likewise changed. In a word things are more critical. The exploit has the sensation of cleaning house. There is the collateral effect of wanting to rid myself of certain long-held opinions or thoughts. Given the sparseness of my current activity this purification process leaves some challenges in its wake. On the other hand I am just as happy to eliminate unwanted baggage by whatever process is necessary. Being in touch with the reality of my physical being mirrors the reality of my mental and spiritual state, all of which is to say that I am winding down and de-contaminating.

Come down off your throne and leave your body alone. Somebody must change.

Eric Clapton, Blind Faith, “Can’t Find My Way Home