Fully Functional Opposable Thumbs: Fun While They Lasted

I am in such a pissy mood this fine evening. Do I want to explain why? Hmmm. Hmmmmmm…. I’m not really sure. Let’s see…

For one thing, electricians have been rewiring my apartment for the last 2 days. This place is old, and the wiring probably violated some kind of building code. Anyway, I came home today from the sweatshop where I work to find most of my furniture moved around and dirt everywhere – dirt which probably contains microscopic flecks of lead paint, might I add. So I got to spend the last hour moving furniture and dropping expletives, like when I discovered dusty layers of crud all over my kid’s freshly washed sheets, my rugs, and the toiletries on my sink. Oh, and when I found out my bathroom fan is now wired to the light switch so it whirs annoyingly every time the light is turned on. I mean, come on. This is not a gas station restroom. Or…it wasn’t until today.

So, spending my evening moving furniture and cleaning dirt off my floors and surfaces sucked. It also allowed my other annoyances to bubble to the surface, one of which is that this very post has been saved in my drafts for almost an entire month and I haven’t managed to finish it. Not only that, but I first started writing it several months ago. It bothers me that life is so hectic that I rarely find the time to write, even though writing is one of the few activities that fills that vast hole of despair I wrangle with from time to time. Or if I do find the time, I’m too exhausted to form cohesive sentences.

Of course, my ever-pervasive perfectionism might also, sort of, hinder the writing process as well. It just might.

Anyway, energized by my aforementioned pissiness, I decided that I’m going to sit right here on my slightly askew couch, surrounded by my slightly askew furniture, lead paint dust underfoot, and finish this blog post tonight, by god. Finish this shit and post it, even if it’s not perfect. Even if it has…(GASP)…some typos. EGADS! So, here we are.

Old thumb post I’ve decided to publish, potential typos and all (take THAT, perfectionism!):

I was blessed with these working thumbs for thirty six and a half years, though I doubt I used them for much besides sucking and inadvertently poking myself in the eye during my first six months of life. Still, I kind of thought their functionality would last my ENTIRE life, and I don’t show signs of dropping dead anytime soon. This is distressing.

Oh, what happened to my thumbs? Right, that detail would help, wouldn’t it? Okay. You see, at work I performed a task which I’ve done thousands of times before at my menial job for the last 10 years.

That’s it. That’s all I did.

Oh, you wanted more? There really isn’t more. While this work task was slightly more labor-intensive in terms of quantity and time spent on its performance, this very thing occurs every so often at my job, and so was nothing new for me. I even performed this task repeatedly in the early days of floxing with no issue.

So what gives?

Physicians may disagree, but I suspect I’ve not yet arrived at the age where loss of functionality in my joints can be blamed on aging alone, especially given the abrupt onset of my thumb issues.

Wait…I never explained what’s wrong with my thumbs, did I? They fucking hurt – that’s what’s wrong with them. More specifically, once the time consuming task was over at work, they were sore, and the soreness never healed. It’s been more than three months. My thumbs now hurt when I perform certain tasks both related and unrelated to work, from the task that fucked them up to begin with, to washing dishes, to typing, to putting on pants, to cutting paper to make the collages I so love to make.

Did you hear that pathetic crushing sound? It was my heart breaking at the thought of losing my ability to create the art I like to create without pain or limitations in movement. But have I lost it? I don’t know, because I don’t know what’s really wrong with my thumbs, or whether they will heal. They make these snapping noises sometimes, in addition to pain. That can’t be good. I probably need to see a doctor, but I can’t afford tests and xrays, and god forbid if something is wrong with them and I need specialized care. I suppose I could agree to a payment plan with a doctor’s office, and then never pay the bill like I did when something was wrong with my kidneys and I had to get tests that never yielded answers. Then I could welcome yet another bill collector into my life, whose calls I ignore daily. We’ll just have to see.

The elephant in the room here, is why the hell was I suddenly injured from a task I’ve performed occasionally for the last 10 years with no previous trouble? Did my thumbs finally reach their maximum threshold of normal usage after being damaged by Cipro?*** I’m suspecting so. Of course, can you imagine the doctor’s reaction if presented with this information?

“Um, yeah…my thumbs are injured from doing this work task I’ve done thousands of times before, and I think it’s because my tendons and cartilage were weakened by a Cipro prescription I took 5 and a half years ago.”

I can see the incredulous look on this doctor’s face all the way from the alternate universe in which I decided to actually tell this to a doctor. Therefore, I will not bother to mention it in this universe. If I see a doctor, and that’s still an IF at this point, there will be no mention of Cipro. Why? Because I don’t want to be referred to a psych or offered Prozac like the last doctor who told me I was crazy for believing Cipro harmed me. Instead, I’ll be the good, agreeable patient and let the doctor figure out what’s wrong with me, because he knows best, right? What do I know? I’m too dumb to understand a package insert anyway. Let him blame my thumb woes on overuse, or even age, even though I’m still relatively young. Then I’ll go home and add my thumbs to the list in my after-death plan (I’ll post more about that some other time), try to carry on with these mangled, pain-riddled appendages, and like everything else that’s gone wrong post-Cipro, wait around for months to see if they ever improve.

Or, I’ll just skip the doctor altogether and keep on waiting around. It’s what I’ve been doing all this time, anyway.

***I know it sounds crazy, but frequent muscoskeletal injury from everyday tasks is not uncommon post-FQ Toxicity. Some of my other injuries include: 1. My shoulder/arm, after putting on a coat (this bothered me for approximately 2 years) , 2. My feet, after wearing 3″ heels for 6 hours (my left foot still has not completely healed, 7 months later), 3. My shoulders, from something new I was doing at work. Doctor said it was bursitis, recommended physical therapy – I declined for financial reasons. They have mostly healed now, but it took more than a year. 4. My wrists – again, from a work task. They eventually healed, but now I have a new wrist injury of unknown origin, going on a month now. 5. My foot. I don’t remember what was wrong, or where it hurt, but I remember it was sore for weeks after walking up a tiny hill. And I mean, tiny – about 3 feet long at a 20 degree incline. 6. My feeble brain cannot recall the sixth injury, but I know I had more than 6 during the last several years. Either way, there is no reason a person in their early thirties should injure themselves while walking or putting on a coat. Somehow, FQs seem to accelerate the aging process, weakening joints and tendons – this is why some people end up in wheelchairs. Although my injuries are annoying and troublesome, I’m grateful every day they weren’t severe enough to hinder my ability to walk. 

“I do not want to die…

“I do not want to die…until I have faithfully made the most of my talent and cultivated the seed that was placed in me until the last small twig has grown.”
~Kathy Kollwitz

My Cipro Story

This is the condensed story of my adverse reaction to Cipro, which was printed in a booklet containing victims’ stories to take to Washington DC for this year’s Fluoroquinolone rally. Because there was a 1000 word limit, I omitted several key points which I will probably not bother to expand upon now. I would have included more about PTSD, time lost with my son, MCS, and the Twilight Zone feeling that permeates my existence now. How I have to sit on the sidelines of life watching people take Fluoroquinolones left and right, and then develop mysterious health ailments which doctors can’t diagnose, or never link to the drugs. It used to fill me with rage, or make me cry, but now I feel like I’m viewing it all objectively, like life is a movie I’m watching and have no control over. I guess it’s a self-preservation mechanism. It’s simply not good for me to get all worked up over this anymore.

Anyway, my story:

About five years ago my life was forever altered by a simple round of antibiotics taken for a suspected commonplace infection. September 23, 2008, a date forever branded into my memory, was the mark of my life’s distinct “before” and “after”.

September 23, 2008 is not the day I began taking my prescription for Cipro; Rather, it’s the day I took my last pill. The week prior, I had visited my doctor for a suspected UTI. Like the date, her words also burned into my memory. “I’m going to prescribe you Cipro.” Sounds so innocuous – not at all something that would or should be remembered. After all, why would anyone suspect a round of antibiotics could ruin their life? But like that moment in a horror movie when the viewer shouts, “No! Don’t open the door!”, knowing the terrible fate which awaits the character on the other side, I found myself replaying that moment with my doctor over and over, as though I could go back in time and refuse the medication. In my memory I became the objective viewer of my own horror movie, watching the “before” version of myself right before opening that door. Because I knew that no matter what, from that point forward my life would never be the same.

While taking the medication I noticed few side effects. In hindsight, I felt twinges of symptoms that would later worsen into the unrelenting hell of my adverse reaction, like fuzzy thinking, slight neuropathy, and headache, but nothing severe enough to warrant stopping the medication or even researching side effects. That all changed on September 23, 2008. While my worst symptoms didn’t appear immediately, the date is symbolic because I remember sitting on my bed nursing the worst headache of my life, final pill in hand, wondering whether I should take it. Like somewhere deep inside I knew that swallowing the pill would lead me one step closer to opening the door in the horror movie. But like a good patient, I took it, because not finishing a course of antibiotics could have terrible consequences. (So could finishing it, I would soon learn.)

The next night I was talking on the phone when suddenly thinking and speaking became difficult. The conversation was straightforward, yet I was having an inordinate amount of trouble keeping up mentally. The words I managed to utter stumbled out slowly and awkwardly. Though disconcerting, I blamed it on sleep deprivation, thinking I’d feel better in the morning. I was wrong. My ability to think clearly would vanish almost entirely for the next few years, only to return sporadically until settling on roughly 80% of my former functioning. At that point, I had unknowingly opened the door in the horror movie and crossed the threshold.

The next day brought a wide variety of strange and terrifying symptoms along with the confusion: burning, stabbing pains all throughout my body, numbness and tingling in my extremities and even my face, headache, joint pain, weakness, poor motor control, extreme anxiety, and an overall sensation of vibrating, like being plugged into an electrical outlet. It was as though a bomb had exploded in my body. In spite of my mental sluggishness, I remembered that hints of these symptoms had begun over the previous weekend and decided to Google “Cipro side effects”. Horrified, I learned all about Fluoroquinolone Toxicity and its victims, including the possibility of permanent injury to one’s tendons, and peripheral and central nervous systems.

I immediately called my doctor’s office and made a follow-up appointment. My online reading revealed a rampant denial from within the medical community. However, I still naively thought that once presented with obvious facts, my doctor would not only believe me, but she would somehow help me heal. I couldn’t have been more wrong. In spite of my obvious, abrupt onset of symptoms, along with the Cipro insert stating the possibility of permanent neuropathy, as well as a letter I had found online from a doctor explaining Fluoroquinolone Toxicity, my doctor did not believe I was experiencing an adverse reaction to Cipro. I was astounded.

In the months and years that followed, my health deteriorated further until I was barely functioning, yet forcing myself to work day after day while enduring sickness nearly every single moment. I was a single mom forced to choose between working through my hellish nightmare of symptoms and losing custody of my child. Meanwhile, I kept returning to doctors and seeking help, practically begging them to acknowledge my adverse drug reaction. Almost no one would. The only validation came from a neurologist who researched Cipro but couldn’t provide treatment, and an integrative physician whose nutritional treatments were unaffordable, and not guaranteed to help. The others merely offered Prozac, still believing my symptoms were psychosomatic.

Words cannot convey the hell I endured physically and mentally before finally, very slowly seeing improvements during my third year, no thanks to any doctor. I researched, talked to other sufferers, and guided myself through dietary and lifestyle changes which helped bring me to an acceptable level of health. Now in my fifth year, I’m grateful every day I am no longer in the depths of suffering, but my body and my life will never be the same. Though mild in comparison, I still have neuropathy, chemical and food sensitivities, insomnia, and pain, along with medical-induced PTSD. I lost years of my life, and precious time with my young son which I will never get back. It’s my sincere hope that my suffering not be in vain, that my story will help provide awareness of Fluoroquinolone Toxicity, expose the drug companies’ minimization of this issue, and prevent the suffering of untold masses. We must protect unsuspecting people by informing them of the dangers of Fluoroquinolone drugs, so that their lives will never become their own personal versions of a horror movie: tragic and preventable, with a distinct “before” and “after”.

I have the nervous system of an electrocuted insect. Also, I like cats. And the afterlife.

I work in a cesspool of noise. I was recently informed that this cesspool of noise will soon grow exponentially because a new business is moving in next door – a business that installs audio systems into cars and makes a shit ton of noise. That’s just fucking super.

I already wear earplugs most of the day. I also wear them all night, otherwise I’m at the mercy of the late night/early morning stirrings of my upstairs neighbors – because of the hardwood floors with poor insulation combined with their incessant clomping and stomping, the clack-clack-clack-clack-clack-clackclackclackclackclack-ing of their daily stampedes above my head.

Did I mention their only footwear consists of hard-soled shoes? I mean, who wears that shit first thing in the morning? My upstairs neighbors do. I guess they’ve never heard of cushy slippers. Either that, or these people are actually half-devils with cloven hooves for feet, sent to eternally disrupt my peace.

Did I also mention that I hate them for existing? This is awful, but understandable, since my degree of hatred is directly proportional to the amount of sleep deprivation their cloven hooves have recently inflicted upon me. Since sleep deprivation is a form of torture, I get a free pass for any resulting negativity.

Even this cat, who has started appearing outside my living room window, is all like: “Whoa. What’s with all the RACKET?!” And she’s hearing it from outside.

Window Cat

The fucked up part of all of this? I’m a quiet, peaceful person. I love stillness. Relish it. REQUIRE it, even. And like solitude, I never fucking get it. Here I remain, stuck in a noisy job that I hate, in a noisy apartment that I also hate (mostly because of the noise), which I can’t afford to leave because I haven’t figured out an escape route from my shitty, noisy job. And now it’s going to get worse?

Hey, universe…do you stage these events to torture me? Job well done. (That’s a partial Gilmore Girls quote, BTW.)

In a future entry I’ll explain how my floxing contributed to remaining in the purgatory of my shitty job, but for now I just want to slump over exhaustedly and whine a little in my new blog.

Speaking of…I’m really hoping this blog will amount to something more than a complaint repository. However, since complaints so often seem to fuel my desire to write…who the hell knows.

I feel compelled to point out that if I could just sleep like a normal person, perhaps my neighbors would not evoke my internal wrath. At least…not as often. But since I have a such a high startle reflex, and an overly-wired nervous system, I don’t sleep like a normal person. Every once in a while I’ll get restful sleep, but for the most part I’m chronically sleep-deprived. And yes, Cipro did this to me. My sleep has much improved since the first two years – I don’t get jolted awake by brain zaps while falling asleep anymore, thank god – but my sleep is far from wonderful.

But nevermind that for now…Let’s talk about the cat who comes to visit. She has shown up twice now, and both times I sat with her on the front stoop after her manipulative cries for attention and/or food won me over. She’s sweet, and has lime green eyes. I like her.

We have some things in common:

1. She’s a little jumpy, and she constantly trips over herself just walking a few feet.
2. She seems a little scatterbrained. Today she kept going back to the windowsill to sit, then acting surprised to see me calling her from the stoop. Like she was all, “Oh, I forgot you were still out here. I was going to meow at you from outside the window again.” So she’d jump down and come play with me for a while, tripping over herself on the way, then go right back to the windowsill to stare into my empty apartment…then notice me calling her again, stumble on over, and end up back on the windowsill after a few minutes of nuzzles and head rubs.

See? She’s awkward and she’s got memory problems and a short attention span. I think we’re soulmates.

I can’t adopt her, though. For one thing, she might already be someone’s pet. For another, I’m slightly allergic to cats, and my kid is moderately allergic. Also, I can’t afford a cat. If the thing gets sick and needs vet visits, I might have to put it to sleep, or give it away, or starve myself to pay for it.

Not to mention, how will I handle issues like fleas? Chemicals and I do not get along well. Even if we did, I cannot fathom squirting insecticides onto living creatures like I did with my former pets in my former, healthy life. Why? Because they might end up poisoned. You might think I’m being paranoid, but this happens sometimes. Just like people sometimes get poisoned from chemicals (and prescription drugs). I know what it’s like to feel poisoned day in and day out, with no relief in sight. I can’t potentially inflict that on an animal. Just thinking about it aggravates my PTSD.

Anyway, that leaves the option of researching natural ways to deal with fleas, which I can only assume have low to moderate success rates. Not to mention, I’m a little burned out from researching natural treatments for my own health issues, thank you very much. I can’t start doing that for an animal, too.

Wait…why am I even talking about this? My kid and I are allergic to cats, and therefore will not be acquiring a cat. Which is a god damned shame, because I love cats. My kid even says I’m a crazy cat lady without all the cats. That’s just sad.

Sigh.

You know what some people do when life deprives them of things? They start planning their afterlife, even if they aren’t completely sure it exists. I believe I started planning mine in the depths of my Cipro-induced misery. It will consist of a healing/decompression chamber to cleanse me of this chronic illness and trauma bullshit, and a GIGANTIC, luxurious bed…maybe the kind you can balance a glass of wine on without spilling it. There will also be an ocean, gardens (both flower and vegetable), fruit trees and bushes, endless sunshine, hammocks, people to massage me whenever I like, all the food and drink I was deprived of in life, vast libraries and schools, and endless art supplies. And now cats. I intend to read, write, create art, sleep (hey, its my afterlife – I can sleep it away if I want to), swim in the ocean, bask in the sun, eat and drink anything I want, get massages, tend to plants, and pet cats. It’s going to be awesome.

And if this afterlife doesn’t happen? So what. So I wasted some time daydreaming – big deal. It’s better than wasting time playing Scrabble on my phone, or being angry at another human, or scrolling compulsively through Facebook for hours…all of which I do on a regular basis. At least daydreaming about the afterlife involves thoughts of petting cats and eating cake and sleeping – precious, elusive sleep – creating a pleasant diversion from the seemingly endless suckitude of life. What could possibly be wrong with that?

What the hell is a dystopian flower garden?

I’m glad you asked. I though it was an apt name for my blog, as it’s my attempt to grow as a person in the midst of my hardships in this world. What hardships? Well, I was poisoned by the antibiotic Cipro almost 6 years ago. As a result, I have numerous health issues which have gone unacknowledged by the medical community. While my daily life is not nearly as hellacious as it was the first three years, I have enough leftover ailments to remind me of my ordeal on a daily basis. Good times.

But why dystopia? After all, aren’t we living in a free society, and arguably the best in the world at that? I could expound upon the subtle ways most of us are actually enslaved under the guise of freedom, but instead I’ll focus on the reason I’m writing this blog to begin with: my particular hardships are not unique. Thousands upon thousands of people are becoming ill through chemical and pharmaceutical poisoning, and many of us are thrown to the wolves by our doctors and left to rot on our own. Instead of being helped when we most desperately need it, or even shown a modicum of compassion by those to whom we have entrusted our health, we are cast aside and labeled mentally ill. Some, like me, are told we have Conversion Disorder. In other words, we’re making it all up in our minds, and our bodies are becoming sick as a result.

Meanwhile, pharmaceutical companies KNOW Fluoroquinolones are powerful chemotherapeutic agents capable of producing severe adverse reactions, but they purposefully minimize warnings and over-inflate these drugs’ safety profiles. Similarly, chemical companies know MCS is a real, physiological condition, yet they, too, minimize the potential of their products to cause it, and actively try to discredit MCS as a real disorder. Why would they do that? Duh…these multi-billion dollar industries have a vested interest in keeping these health issues quiet. I mean, it makes sense: why WOULD they acknowledge them? It would shake the very foundation upon which their sickening fortunes (pun intended) are built. Like true abusers of power, they don’t acknowledge their role, but instead blame the victim. We’re somatizing, you see. Googling too much. We impressionable dolts need to stay off the internet – there’s a mass delusion afoot! As one of my former doctors said in the midst of my worst suffering, “There’s no such ‘syndrome’ caused by Cipro. I think you need Prozac.” I think he needed a bottle of Cipro shoved up his ass, but I digress.

Anyway, my point is that not only are countless people being poisoned every day, but the extent of the problem is being vehemently denied and minimized by not only corporate giants, but doctors, and family and friends of the victims as well. We are often labeled crazy conspiracy theorists, and then cast aside from society, left on the sidelines to watch the rest of the world being slowly poisoned while we suffer alone. People just can’t fathom that an FDA approved antibiotic is capable of causing such extensive damage to the human body, so they bury their heads in the sand. Some people I know have even decided to take Fluoroquinolones after witnessing what they did to me. I can’t say I blame them, though. They trust their doctors and the FDA just like I did, until my horrific suffering shattered that trust. Hopefully they will never exceed their body’s threshold of tolerance for Fluoroquinolones, or they’ll become intimate with a level of suffering they never imagined possible. Then they’ll learn that nobody is doing anything to figure out what happened to their bodies, or how to fix it. (Well, some members of my support group are trying, but results take time.) They’ll be on their own like I was, praying their suffering only lasts a few weeks, months, or years. Longing for the days when a simple over the counter medication could provide relief. When a doctor visit for an ailment would yield results, and they could move on with their lives. Because once you’ve succumbed to Fluoroquinolone poisoning, those days are over – possibly forever.

All of this sounds a little goddamned dystopian to me. Actually, it’s such a fucked up aspect of our world that I have a hard time functioning in it. Many times I have longed for the courage to leave this Twilight Zone marathon I seem to be living in. (Or is it more Groundhog Day? Eh – it’s kind of both.) But, I won’t. After much physical and mental suffering, I decided to make the most of my remaining years on earth by living the best possible life in spite of my hardships, in spite of the dystopian way the world seems to be operating. I am determined to flourish as much as I possibly can – to synthesize my suffering into growth through whatever adverse conditions life brings, until my time is truly up. Like flowers that bloom in the harsh winter, or grow triumphantly through cracks in the concrete, I will persevere. My flowers might be fucked up, distorted mutations of my former self, but sometimes distortions are beautiful in their own right. And sometimes great beauty is an unexpected byproduct of pain.

So welcome to my dystopian flower garden, fellow sufferers and casual observers alike. Let’s see what blooms here in the “After Cipro” version of my life.