An Overmedicated World?

medication and bee stings

An Overmedicated World?
| published June 22, 2014 |

By Kelly Leigh Harris
Thursday Review contributor

Behind in my reading a bit, I just finished Michael Specter’s article “The Lyme Wars” from The New Yorker, July 2013. In Specter’s article, he gives the example of a Sarasota Springs, New York 12-year-old bitten by a tick in 2002.

Despite numerous doctor visits and multiple rounds of antibiotics and other medications, the girl suffered for years with a variety of symptoms, including fatigue, anxiety, insomnia and headaches. She grew from her pre-teen to her young adult years on a roller-coaster of symptoms and treatments.

In the end, the various antibiotics prescribed may—or may not--have helped in the girl’s recovery, or had any impact on her ups and downs from the effects of Lyme disease. And in the infectious disease community there is deep disagreement and even occasional flare-ups of temper over how to address the growing problem. The controversy is rooted in larger questions about the use of antibiotics.

I agree with the confusion.

My careers picked me I’m guessing, because of my personality. I have a healthy activity level and have had as long as I can remember.

In 2006 while I was mowing I was stung by a yellow jacket. Being allergic, I came inside, took a Benadryl, and sat down for a bit to make sure I was okay before going out to finish my chore. Before I could get the Weedeater started about ten bees attacked.

I live about two miles from the hospital so I figured it was quicker to drive myself instead of waiting for an ambulance. By the time I got there all the nurse could say was “bless your heart,” as my face was swelling before her eyes. Several hours later, after intravenous medications and getting rehydrated, I was sent home with an Epi-pen prescription, told to stay away from bees, and waited for the puffiness to go away.

Several days after the trauma of the bee event, being an avid tennis player, I went to play my regular doubles game. I realized that I’d have to stop not between games, but between points because I was short of breath. My partners were patient and concerned.

I’ve always been around 115-120 pounds, but in the weeks after the stings I plumped up to around 135 plus. My energy level plummeted. I took naps often. I was having palpitations. I ached all over. Noises bothered me. I was lightheaded. My blood pressure, traditionally on the low side of normal was bouncing from really low to really high several times during the day. It was scary. I forgot nouns, even the first names of people I’ve known for years. I didn’t sleep because the palpitations and pain were awful. I was breathless even walking up to my office on my property. I couldn’t sing because I couldn’t hold a note. I was teaching water aerobics five days a week and would have to sit on the edge of the deck to teach. I’m also a clown for a living so it took everything I had to be a happy energetic clown. About eleven weeks after the stings I could play a full set of tennis without panting.

As the symptoms seemed more random and cyclical, I decided it was time to go to the doctor. The first idea was “Well, you know at your age…” “Women in their late 40s…” Oh, PLEASE! I didn’t think it was a menopause issue. Been there, done that naturally and earlier than most. Yay me!

So down the rabbit hole I went. I had check ups by all the “ists.” Cardiologist, “You passed your check-up and treadmill run with flying colors.” Pulmonologist, “Well you may have a bit of asthma.” Rheumatologist, “Well you may have some chronic fatigue syndrome.” Gynecologist, “Nope,” the doctor said, “this is not a menopause issue.” Allergist “Uh, you are allergic to yellow jackets and white-faced hornets.” Really? Did I just pay him to tell me that? Oh, the $5,000 deductible pain…CHA-CHING!

Okay. I must be a crazy post-menopausal blonde with an attitude. So, I made an appointment with a counselor thinking my emotional baggage I thought was carefully packed was seeping out of the suitcase and attacking my body. I was told that I was in good shape mentally and spiritually. My therapist agreed that something else was wrong.

Talking with a friend who tested positive for Lyme a few years earlier, he suggested I go back to my primary care doctor and ask if I could please have a Lyme test. Yep. POSITIVE.

Doxycycline for three weeks followed by more symptoms, I went to a doctor known for her Lyme treatments. I tried more antibiotics, doubling and tripling types to kill the current flare and others antibiotics and potions to hopefully kill the spirochetes. I’d feel better for a time, then tank again.

In 2009 I stopped all over-the-counter, prescription, natural potions and whining and figured I’d try it my way. I lost 18 pounds, got back in my size four wardrobe and life was good. I had energy, looked great and all was right with the world! That lasted for about a year, then I seemed to cycle back through the Lyme spiral.

Is it Lyme? I’ve had plenty of all types of tick bites and lived in areas with woods and deer. Do bees carry it now, or because I am allergic, it exacerbates the issue?

In June 2012 I learned a new word. Derecho. The storm came through violently. The damage was extensive enough. The turbines from my roof blew off, so I got a ladder to go up and put some plastic over the holes until I could get someone out to help. I sat the ladder down…on a nest of yellow jackets.

The stings really hurt. Okay, I’m prepared. I’d read the instructions and done the test jab in my hip after getting the prescription at the time of the last attack. I got my trusty Epi-pen took off the safety cap, aimed at my hip, and YOWIE! I had the pen turned the wrong way so the needle went through my thumb and out my thumbnail. Did I say I was a blonde?”

Okay, wait for the ambulance? No. Instead I drove myself to the hospital, attempting to hold my punctured, throbbing left thumb over my head to hopefully direct any Epi-juice into my body!

I found out later I was lucky not to lose my thumb because of the concentration of medication. “Bless your heart,” said the nurses after they stopped laughing. Yes, there was a comic take-away from this adventure. Several hours later in severe pain, I went to stay with my mom because I had no electricity. The storm has knocked out all power, and it was terribly hot that week.

By the way, the Epi-pens now come with colored tips and arrows pointing to “this end in thigh.” Obviously I wasn’t the only one who’d had an issue with this.

Eight days later, my electricity returned, and I was able to go back to my bee infested haven. My neighbors came down with gasoline to rid my property of those pesky varmits.

I have lots of old injuries from accidents, cheerleading, roller-skating, gymnastics, sports, dancing, clowning and more. It seems that whatever issues bothered me before are worsening by whatever this illness, syndrome or disease is.

I believe that we are weaker people than our ancestors. I believe things like fibromyalgia, Lyme disease, chronic fatigue, seasonal affective disorder, allergies and other ailments we experience now are issues with the lymphatic and endocrine systems. I think we’re medicating instead of fixing. I think our climate-controlled houses, climate-controlled garages, climate-controlled offices and climate-controlled exercise gyms are killing us. We are exposed to re-circled, not necessarily recycled air.

Today I continue to love everything I do. I do the best I can on bad days. I am an Entrepreneurial Renaissance post-menopausal, vertically challenged, statically challenged, left-handed, blonde clown, teacher, massage therapist and musician. I am a “W-O-M-A-N.” “Hear me roar?” I think I should get a handicap license plate for my new “I just turned 55” convertible.

I continue heading onward and upward! I have too many bucket list pails to fill!