When your legs aren’t working, and you’re breathing on a ventilator, and cleansing your blood through dialysis, and you have a heart that is prone to sudden and inexplicable stoppages; even the nicest guys – and I count myself amongst them – have a tendency to be grouchy.
By the time I left the hospital to matriculate as an in-patient at the physical rehabilitation clinic, all of these complaints, other than the inability to use my legs, had resolved. A vast improvement; but still, this business of maybe not being able to walk again had me in something of a funk.
“How are you feeling?” the mental health team wanted to know when I arrived at the clinic.
“I’ve felt better,” I had to admit.
“Are you depressed?”
“….I’m not thrilled,” I answered after due consideration. “But no. I think that my mood is appropriate to my circumstances.”
“Would you like to try an anti-depressant?” they offered.
“I really don’t think that I’m depressed.”
“We just got samples of a wonderful new drug called Zoloft.”
“I’d rather work my way through this on my own.”
“Prozac, we have found, has worked wonders on people in your situation.”
“I know your intentions are good; but I sense that you’re not listening. “What I need,” I now insisted, “is to go home for a while.”
“Ah,” said the team as one. “You see, Alan,” now you’re not being realistic. You’ve only just arrived here. And you’ll be with us for several months if you hope to walk again one day.
“I want to go home.”
“How about a taste of Paxil?”
I was trapped -- trapped by a platoon of well-meaning mental health professionals who seemed hell-bent on turning me into a drug addict. As if the morphine I was living on weren’t enough.
“Look, guys,” I pleaded. The doctors say my legs won’t be weight-bearing (definition: healed enough for me to try to stand on) for at least six weeks. And there aren’t any exercises that they have me doing in the gym that I couldn’t do just as well at home. So if you’re really concerned about my well-being, put away your prescription pads and just let me go home for a while.
A compromise was reached. I would be allowed to recuperate and do my physical therapy at home, provided that I would at least let them write me one prescription for Paxil – just in case.
My wife, Lorrie,Lorrie came to fetch me home.
“What’s that?” she asked when she saw me studying the vial of Paxil that I had removed from my shirt pocket.
“It’s an anti-depressant,” I answered, handing her the bottle.
“You didn’t tell me you were taking anti-depressants.”
“I’m not,” I assured her.
“Then what are they doing in your pocket?”
I explained that they were part of the deal.
“I think you should try one.” Eve in the garden.
“I haven’t heard you laugh in four months. I miss your laugh. Maybe they can make you laugh.”
I thought for a minute of all that she’d been through these past several months: all the near-death episodes and reports of my chances of survival expressed as single-digit percentages. And now all she wanted was to hear me laugh. I opened the vial and swallowed a pill.
I guess I must have a sensitive system, because by the time we got back to Stowe, not an hour after leaving the hospital, I wanted to buy everyone in the world a new car. If I’d ever been happier in my life, I can’t remember when. Every woman I saw was the most beautiful creature on earth; every man my best friend. I saw life, even from the confines of my wheelchair, as one never-ending orgy of love and camaraderie.
Until the cramps set in. Torturous, unrelenting, muscle cramps. Mind-bending pain the likes of which I’d never known. Gone was the lust; gone the camaraderie. All that I wanted was to find someone who would shoot me.
And then, as suddenly as it had begun, it was over. The cramps abated. The passions went calm. Soon I was safely stowed in my own bed, surrounded by my cats and dogs and kids and wife. This was what I had lobbied for; and this was what I had won. I tossed the Paxil down the toilet.
Six heavenly weeks later I returned to rehab -- a stronger, fitter, more cooperative client. My legs were ready. I had strengthened my upper body mightily in order to support the effort that lay ahead. In a matter of weeks, not months, I graduated from wheelchair to walker to crutches to cane. The readiness is all.
That was nearly eleven years ago. And I doubt that I’d be writing about any of this were it not for the one lingering affliction that has been my constant companion since the day of the accident that landed me in rehab.
You know that feeling you get when your foot falls asleep and it’s just beginning to wake up? That’s what my feet feel like all the time. And to that buzzing and tingling sensation, add some burning and the occasional stabbing pain. It’s called neuropathy; and I wouldn’t wish it on … well, I don’t really have a worst enemy.
So when I spoke to my neurologist recently, and he told me that there was a new drug, a wonder drug called Lyrica, that was getting rave reviews amongst the tingling feet set, I decided to give it a try. He said not to expect overnight relief; that it might be four to six weeks before I would begin to feel a difference.
At the level of relief of the symptoms in my feet, it appears that he is correct. No noticeable change as of yet. But what he failed to mention, and I suspect it was because he is unaware, was the peculiar side effect that appeared just this morning.
It snuck up on me while I was sitting at the bagel shop having a cup of coffee with my friend, Dave. All at once I realized that I was enveloped by a feeling of enormous well- being – a feeling that I had known once before.
Euphoria. That’s what it was. It was euphoria that found me putting a ten-dollar bill in the tip jar for the purchase of two cups of coffee. Euphoria that was making me want to buy Dave that house that he’d always dreamed of owning one day. Euphoria that riveted my heart and mind on the pretty, blond mom from Connecticut who was just then exiting her S.U.V. and entering the bagel shop.
It was then that I panicked. If I was feeling this good now, could unbearable muscle cramps be far behind?
I got my doctor on the phone. “Don’t worry about it, Alan”, he said when I elaborated my fear of the agony to come. “You only got the muscle cramps back then because your legs were so weak. You’ll be fine.”
It appears that he is right. Not a twinge so far. Here it is, seven o’clock in the evening. And here I sit, in my garden with my wife, the most beautiful woman on earth, by my side. Soon we will dine on two-inch thick rib eye steaks and the ridiculously expensive bottle of wine that I bought on my way home.
Is this stuff really legal?