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. 

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”.