Years ago, when my daughter was first learning her math facts, I made “families” of flash cards for her. For example, in one family there were flash cards that read 2x3, 3x2, 6÷3 and 6÷2, making the relationship between multiplication and division clear to her from the beginning. I found myself thinking of this recently as I recovered from the third time I have broken two bones in an extremity at the same time, making a total of six bones I had broken in seven years.
My classes were over in early May, and I was almost done grading when I decided to take a break and get some exercise. After almost completing the exercises I had planned, I tripped and fell, putting my arm out to stop my fall. Alas, that was a mistake, as my bones had already shown themselves to be very brittle. After 27 years of almost continuously taking anti-seizure medicine, the weight of my body against my fragile arm bones snapped the radius and the ulna, making them bones #5 and #6 that I had broken since 2010. A visit to the hospital gave me a cast, and I am now recovering from the fracture, thanks to the miracle of physical therapy.
Before I had a chance to get my cast off, my friends convinced me that I needed to do something about the situation. Calls to several of my doctors all led to the suggestion that I find a way to stop taking the anti-seizure medicine that I knew was leading to my osteoporosis (not the osteopenia promised in the “side effects” list associated with the medicine.) I was reluctant to do this, as I knew that it would mean not driving for a few months. However, I also knew that I was in the enviable position of not having to drive to work most of the summer, as, for the first time in years, I had decided not to teach summer classes l this year. Under the advice of an “epileptologist” (AKA, a “miracle worker”), I checked into a hospital, where I was taken off of one medicine and then put on another. It was a very scary experience, as the withdrawal symptoms were frightening, leaving me with several days of absolutely no sleep and a desperate fear that I would have a seizure. I did not have any seizures, and was able to safely return home on a new medicine.
Switching such medicine comes with a price, and the most immediate price was that, for several months, I am not allowed to drive. This was an obstacle that was easily overcome, thanks to my husband and the daughter of a colleague who was home from college and interested in earning some money by driving me around town. Also, attached to this change was a restriction on how much, and under what circumstances, I could swim. As memories of lazy days at the public pool with my daughter are common fond memories from most summers, this was a restriction that makes me sad. However, I did not want to trust the lifeguards to be watching me, should I become unconscious suddenly.
I have used the time stuck in my home to make progress on work and to write some things that are not associated with work, which I wanted to start for some time. Indeed, although still experiencing side effects such as dizziness, my productivity since switching medicines has gone up so fast that I even asked the doctors if they had given me “speed,” rather than a new anti-seizure medicine. I also called them to complain of “insomnia,” since I was now needing only 7-8 hours of sleep per night, rather than the usual 10-12 I needed on my old medicine. I was assured that these were not side effects of the new medicine, but merely examples of how much the old medicine, which had become toxic as I aged, was affecting my overall lifestyle.
While my doctors gave me the best available medicine in 1990, this experience reminded me that it is vitally important be one’s own vocal advocate when it comes to health issues. I’m glad I did.