Diaries Magazine

Giving Up

Posted on the 13 July 2013 by Rielouise @MarieLouiseNoonan


During the Christmas holidays I did something – one of the most heart-stoppingly, mind-blowingly stupid things I have ever done and, believe me, there’s a lot of competition. I decided to do what so-called Junkies and other assorted addicts (of both legal and illegal sort) call ‘going cold turkey’. My own drug of choice isn’t a ‘drug of choice’ at all. It was prescribed for me when I was an inpatient in the local psychiatric hospital by an attractive older lady who called herself a ‘doctor’. She was highly plausible. She looked like a doctor, acted like a doctor, wrote prescriptions like a doctor. The only things she lacked were a stethoscope and a white coat. The absence of these things should have given me a clue. Well, all that proves is that I am no Miss Marple.

Some of you may be aware that my ‘diagnonsense’ (hat tip to ‘Girl Interrupted’, both book and film) is schizoaffective disorder (a word that is a fully paid up member of the English language. I know this because my usually efficient spell-checker did not attempt to correct it.) My diagnosis has not changed over the years and given the unfortunate experiences of many (for example Seaneen from The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive) I consider myself fortunate. It dates back to the year of our Lord: nineteen hundred and forty four. Throughout the nineties (aside from the odd brief spells in hospital) I was well and truly ‘pushing the envelope’ as our good friends across The Big Pond would say. I was taking just one type of medication: a relatively low potent ‘typical neurotic’ called Melleril. I give away my age when I tell you that on my second admission to hospital I was prescribed the drug Chlorpromazine (known by their trade names in the US as ‘Thorazine’ and in the UK as ‘Largactil’), the oldest neuroleptic on the planet. (Details of its long and, some would say: ignoble, history can be found here).

Then one day (circa 1998) it was revealed that Melleril was capable of causing sudden cardiac arrest (it has something in common with life then). I remember being vaguely amused at the GP’s receptionist’s panicked tones on my answering machine: “This is an urgent matter. It requires your immediate attention. It is imperative that you contact the surgery straightaway.’ (Don’t you just adore italics?) Given that I had been on this particular medication for almost half a decade without incident, frankly I was prepared to take my chances. To my mind their concern, grateful though I was for it, was a little excessive. Still, it had been taken off the market so I had no choice in the matter so I strolled on down to my GP’s surgery and was prescribed an alternative low potency antipsychotic. Unfortunately they got the dose wrong and forgot to prescribe Procyclidine, a drug designed to combat the side effects of neuroleptics which include…(It’s like the old lady who swallowed the fly but more on that later.) The result was that I had what medics call ‘a bad reaction’
(understatement of the millennium) and lost control of my own body.

Later, it transpired that I had been experiencing ‘dystonia’, a neurological disorder that causes twisting and repetitive ‘motor-side-effects’ and ‘spasmodic’ (don’t be childish, now) ‘Torticollis’ which causes the head to pull down towards the neck or back. I felt as though my limbs were being wrenched part, as though I were a puppet caught up in a war of two rival puppeteers who seemed determined to pull me in two. (the elderly get this frequently but because they are elderly no one, including, it would seem, the majority of the medical profession really gives a toss.) On top of this I was also encountering ‘’Oromandibular Dystonia’ which involves mouth and tongue spasms. In short, my own body had become my adversary.

I lay down on my bed still writhing. I figured that I could sleep for just a while the side effects of this daemon drug would have worn off upon waking. Even metaphorical puppet masters drop their guard eventually. But it was not to be. Five minutes passed. then ten and finally the quarter hour. At this point I realized that my condition was not improving. It was getting worse. I would have to get help.

I wasn’t sure whether my condition was ‘999-worthy’ so I decided to take the fifteen minute walk to my GP’s surgery. I barely made it across the grass. An elderly ex soldier came walking towards me. He could see that there was clearly something wrong. He said later that I looked like I had experienced a stroke. And he should know because as well as being a war veteran he as also an ex paramedic. He took me by the arm and led me into his ground floor flat. There he insisted on calling an ambulance.

Ten minutes later an ambulance pulled up outside. The driver and the paramedic disembarked. My ‘Good Samaritan’ neighbor rose to let them in. The driver hovered hear the living room door while his colleague sat beside me on the sofa clutching his clipboard and pen. He seemed strangely hostile. At the time I attributed this to my imagination but later my neighbor said that he had picked up on it too. He was certainly supercilious.

My tongue had swollen in my mouth by then and my jaw felt as though it had locked but I did my best to accurately answer the ten minutes worth of questions he was compelled to ask me. I told him that the antidote to ‘my condition’ was Procyclidine. He had never heard of it. But then he had never heard of the drug that caused it either.

Eventually I was bundled into the ambulance, strapped in and driven to the local general hospital. The paramedic climbed in after me and sat beside me. He maintained his air of sneering hostility. Later Nobby told me that he had asked if he could accompany me on my journey to Addenbrookes. Our friendly paramedic said that this would not be possible citing ‘health and safety’ and ‘insurance issues’. Nobby described his attitude as ‘dismissive’, uninterested in the dear old chap’s own experiences as a paramedic (or ‘ambulance man as he was called in those much less enlightened times).  His driver, however, was spellbound.  Just before he climbed into the vehicle and drove off he said something to Nobby that cast recent events in an entirely different light.  Referring to the paramedic he said “Take no notice of him.  He’s only been on the job five minutes and already he thinks he knows everything.’  It would seem that Nobby and I had walked in on a ‘domestic’.

(To Be Continued)

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