Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Levaquin Crippled the Cow

I hate to "honor" the antibiotic Levaquin in the title of one of my blogs, but maybe a search engine will bring people here who need a lil hope.  If you are a floxie looking for hope, it’s here!

*I suppose I should kick off with a disclaimer that this is my personal story about my own experience and subsequent beliefs and that I am not a qualified medical professional.
I met Sally for the first time on a yahoo message board in 2005. We both suffered adverse reactions to a fluoroquinolone antibiotic. We were "floxed". This group has adopted the self-assigned label "floxie." Sally and I got to know each other on facebook. With me in Idaho and her in Connecticut, this was our first face to face meeting. Sally is a professional clown. We had a delightful time connecting in Mystic, Connecticut that will be documented in a happier blog soon.

Sally suffered extensive nerve damage due to Avelox.
I suffered tears in both Achilles tendons &other tendon & joint damage.
This won’t be like my other blogs.  There are three specific audiences here:  people who will ever take prescription drugs, people who’ve had their lives destroyed or repositioned due to an adverse quinolone reaction and myself.  I need to hear myself here.
This contains a looooong recap of accounts, anger, sadness and loss. You can scroll to header titles that may be of greater interest to you. I hope as I type, a rebirth and gratitude find their way out my fingertips. Here are the bull-et points that I’ll be as arrogant enough to say, YOU NEED:
  1. I should have trusted my body when I felt something wasn’t right.
  2. I should have paid attention to the drug I was prescribed and researched its potential side effects and contraindications.
  3. From now on, when I feel a doctor, physician assistant, nurse practitioner or pharmacist isn’t taking me seriously, I challenge them. It’s MY body. I am courteous and direct, but I am also a fierce protector of my body now.
  4. Fluroquinolone antibiotics (particularly Cipro, Levaquin and Avelox) have horrible side effects that I believe (after consults with a few law firms and other drug victims) were not fully and properly disclosed and investigated by the manufacturers before and since these drugs went on the market.
  5. I am an example of someone whose worst life experience led to unimaginable,  “WONDER"ful things. (There are a lot of rainbows after this heifer’s hurricane.)
The Heifer’s History

I am a former college volleyball and rugby player. I know fitness. I know my muscles. I know my tendons and I know pain—both the good and the bad. In April of 2005, a rusty nail in an old wooden garden border punctured my leather work glove and the meaty part of my hand near the thumb. I went to the ER because my last tetanus shot had been in the spring of 1997.

I was prescribed Levaquin at  500mg 2 times a day for 7 days to prevent infection. Levaquin is in the class of drugs called fluoroquinolones. Sometimes they are called quinolones or quins. Victims of their toxicity call them poison. Popular other drugs in this class include Cipro and Avelox and Avocid and Baytril for dogs and cats.

The physician assistant at the ER over-prescribed here.  Period. I didn’t need the drug. I heard “anit-biotic” and recalled countless strep throats and the penicillin and amoxicillin and figured, “Meh—OK.”  I was so not OK after Levaquin.

I remember the week like yesterday. I had started a new job with my same company that January where I would be working with our software vendors to determine and incorporate design methodologies among our engineering groups. This week entailed my first face-to-face sit-down with vendor engineers.  Two weeks prior, I had attended my first technical conference in San Jose.  I can remember the routes I jogged outside the hotel. It was sea level!! I ran and ran and ran.  I didn’t know what an important data point that would be. I was fine. My body was good.

I started the drug on a Sunday. On Tuesday, I felt I was coming down with a cold. I had body aches reminiscent of rugby days. A soreness everywhere. On Wednesday after a lunch at the local Greek restaurant with our vendor engineers, I had to go home and sleep. One of my biggest weeks in my career and I couldn’t make myself stay at work.
I thought it was a cold. I was hopeful that since I was taking an antibiotic already, that it would be short-lived. I remember watching Criminal Minds that night swaddled in my down comforter. I was physically shivering and felt brittle. My joints were more than achey.  They felt…weak, too.  The image that eventually came to my mind was Pinocchio—I felt like my muscles were barely being held together.

On Thursday, I had a cryosurgery appointment with my gynecologist. My pap smear came back with atypical cells in March prior, and I’d been put on hormone therapy. This appointment entailed a freezing of my cervix to kill any abnormal cells. (I can’t believe I just blogged with the phrases “my pap smear” and “my cervix.” I HATE Levaquin for this discomfort and over disclosure right now.)
On Friday, I was still miserable, but had settled into the discomfort, I suppose. Over my lunch hour was my first gig as the mascot for our local Greenway. I donned a big green frog suit and transformed to Greta the Greenway Frog for the City’s Environmental Fair.  I walked, skipped and danced along a block of our main street waving at cars. I always wanted to be a mascot. (Yes…I’ve been a frog and here a cow. The end of the Wonder Calves entry breaks this fetish down a bit.)

Saturday was my last day of taking Levaquin. I had my second stint in the frog suit for a few hours. I had a bit of soreness in the suit, which I figured was normal, because I’d never worn one before. The head was heavy and I had to work my shoulders to wave so exuberantly.  And the skipping and dancing…It was so fun and freeing to really dance like no one was watching. They were watching Greta not me, and Greta danced and skipped like I hadn’t ever before. Well, maybe I busted out some of those moves in a rugby game or two, because believe me…I danced on the pitch.

I also mowed my lawn that day. It was April 23. While traversing a slightly hilly portion, I noted my calves were sore. I thought, “Geeze—did I hop around in that silly suit THAT much? Have I really become THAT out of shape this winter?” I figured I needed to stretch more.
The Heifer’s Hell

Calf and Achilles tendon soreness persisted. Other body aches remained, but the chills and train wreck sensation went away after I stopped taking the drug.  The pain was different than anything I’d ever felt. It made no sense. I recalled my gynecologist telling me about blood clots as a potential side effect of the hormones and to note any pain in my legs.

On May 9 I went to the ER because I could barely walk. The only thing I could think of that was different were the hormones and the recent atypical cells of my pap smear. The antibiotic didn’t even dawn on me because I lumped it in with all the others I’d had over the years, but this ER doc noticed it in my chart from my rusty nail visit. When he looked up Levaquin he noted a “rare” but documented side effect of tendon tears and tendonitis. What? How? Are you kidding me?
And thus started the downward spiral.

I was so fortunate to have a doctor and physical therapist who believed that Levaquin was responsible for my pain and injuries. I developed micro-tears in both of my Achilles tendons. All of my joints started to feel like they were crumbling from the inside out. “Brittle” was here to stay. I was given crutches and two walking casts immediately. 

I found an article online that documented one physical therapist’s experience working with someone with my condition.  When I met my physical therapist, he set me up on a table with heat on both Achilles while he read her article. After 20 minutes, he came back and said, “We aren’t going to do anything today. I need to learn more before we tackle this.”  He could not have handled my injury and my fragile spirit any better.

That summer was set to begin with a trip to Hawaii with my former partner and her 11 year old daughter. I blame Levaquin for a lot of that word “former.”  It changed me. I became a different person than the one she was going to spend a lifetime with. She also didn’t handle my depression and fears in the ways that I most needed.  Levaquin brought out the worst in both of us.
The night before our trip, she found me crying and writing in my journal. It was the kind of crying where your body doesn’t seem like your own and its heaves are driven by furious, unyielding waves of hopelessness.  

I needed a wheelchair in the airport. You haven’t lived until part of you dies when you see a pity in people’s eyes from a wheelchair. I smile purposefully and genuinely when I see people in wheelchairs now. I smile at them as though they are wearing a cow suit. No pity. None. They don’t need that from me.

Counseling would have been a wise choice here. I’d sought therapy during my mom’s terminal illness. I don’t know why I never did during Levaquin. Well---actually, I do know.
A parent’s death is on life’s checklist of experiences; a severe drug reaction which was due (in my opinion) in part to the negligence of the manufacturer, the prescribing agent, and the pharmacist (I was not given the warning—either verbal or written—about tendon side effects), is not.  I was…ahem…a victim. "Victim" is a label I never wanted, and like victims of many things, I experienced denial and anger and loss and depression and … blech!

The former college athlete couldn’t run anymore. I couldn’t mountain bike. Walking my dogs later that summer was a slow shuffle after the 9 weeks of sedentary. My partner held their leashes because I was afraid a lunge at a squirre would tear every tendon in my shoulder.  Physical activity was a part of my identity and intense exercise was my chief coping mechanism for life’s stresses. My coping mechanism was crippled and broken. And my heart followed for about 3 long, dark years.
The Hiefer’s Hope

A lot of little steps got here. There wasn’t a giant leap.  I run now—well, waddle. I can pound out a good 30 minutes on the treadmill or 45 minutes … say at sea level in Connecticut while contemplating it all.  I can bike like a fiend, both road and mountain. I can lift weights like any other gal whose relationship with the gym goes through similar push me/pull me cycles during her how-the-hell-did-I-turn-40 crisis.

My turn-around came in my fourth summer after Levaquin. After a long project at work, I treated myself to a new bike with a custom paint-job. I got to name it.   

Me and "Achilles' Triumph" with a poetic rainbow.
I'd been in the wheelchair that week 8 years before.

My body still has aches and pains, but I’ve come to embrace it as what comes with the passage of time rather than the fault of Levquin.

At my 20 year class reunion a few years ago, I gave a little talk at the main dinner. I had an enviable high school experience—successful athlete, honor roll, 1st chair trombone and student body president. I told my classmates that I have felt for years the need to apologize for having a great high school experience. How messed up is that?  
I feel similarly as I talk to fellow floxies. I am one of the lucky ones. Survivor’s guilt, perhaps? I don’t want to say that I’m healed because I know that some floxies won’t ever be. I told Sally as we walked that I do feel healed, but I also don’t want to say that because it lets Johnson & Johnson off the hook. I want to hold onto my anger because I couldn't hold onto the years lost, but it serves no one.  I am lucky. I hope my story breeds hope because luck IS out there.
Through luck and focus I dug out of it. My mind and my body worked together for a long time, and I can let Levaquin go now.  

The Heifer’s Hero
I’m in New England for work, but I went to Connecticut because of Levaquin. To meet Sally. (Yes—this could have been titled “When Billie met Sally.”)  I went to a laundromat at Mistic Village last Saturday in my cow suit—because it was a Cow Suit Saturday after all. I wandered through the village shops while my not-as-fun outfits spun.  

I bought a Red Sox hat and stopped in their little visitor center to grab brochures to help me decide what to do for the rest of the day.  Casinos? Connecticut has casinos? This cow looooooves craps!
I went back to the laundromat to check out the brochures. After reading all about the fancy-schmance Mohegan Sun Casino, I decided to check Twitter on my phone. I rarely check Twitter.
Lynda Carter (I should not have to add—the actress who played Wonder Woman in the 1970’s show) tweeted:

What a great night in NYC! Thanks to everyone who came out for the show last night. We had a blast. On to Mohegan Sun!
What? How? Are you kidding me?

Long story short…Levaquin led to Lynda Carter. I stood 10 feet from my childhood hero. No. Words. 

Lynda's picture is blurry but everything surrounding
this night sure isn't.

I will stop short of saying I am grateful for Levaquin, but holy cow! The opportunities and experiences and reflection and clarity that came this weekend…. I am grateful for all of that.

In letting levaquin go, I imagined hurling it and all of the memories & pain into the Connecticut sea with a dramatic parting of ways. But it had already slipped through my hand like water. It wasn't there.
There’s now a colorful tattoo at the base of my throwing hand that doesn’t need to throw anything for a while. Nope, this hand is for holding , and this life-changing weekend highlighted exactly the things this heifer should hold onto fiercely.

Sunday, October 27, 2013


I have so much blog mooterial in my head that it's hard to get any of it out. When this happens while I'm talking and I audibly stutter, I compare it to eight burly guys trying to run through a doorway at the same time. None of them quite make it through.  Speaking of burley guys...
This one is getting his very own blog post. I don't even know his name, but I told him today I'd be calling him Dartmoooth because he and the people at his table were all decked out in the college's dark green gear.
Sally and I were enjoying lunch at Mystic Pizza when his party walked up the stairs. I see the gear. I feel the testosterone and I notice the wheels turning in his head as he takes in our costumes. I'm bracing myself for some inappropriate comment as soon as he sees the udders.  It never came. At least, I didn't hear any. 
He and his table of buddies and wives and kids were great. I quickly explained my blog and less than five minutes later he belted out, "What's your tattoo?" I was thinking, "What? Are they talking to me? Psychic jocks in Mystic Pizza?" Seeing my confusion, he held up his phone. He'd seen my blog from yesterday.
He cheerfully asked if he could take our picture. We said, "Sure!" He said, "Can I be in it?" We said, "Of course!" He said, "Can I get it with you each kissing my cheek?"  
"Dude are you serious? I need some gum." I didn't have any gum. I must start carrying gum with the cow suit because anything can happen.
As Sally and I left one of the kids in green at their table yelled out, "Why are you dressed as a cow?" I quickly replied with outstretched, welcoming here-I-am arms, "Because it's fun!" 
Dartmooooth was fun today.  Cheers, Man!

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Blaze and the Bovine

I got a tattoo in Connecticut yesterday. I wasn’t planning on wearing the cow suit. I wasn’t planning on blogging about it. I was hoping to go on about my mid-life crisis and embark upon tonight’s episode in my hunt for self in a little solitude and private reflection. Then I saw this as I walked in. It was a sign.  A lot of signs are flashing and screaming at me lately. I flit between looking and listening or getting shades and earplugs.  

I was over an hour late for my appointment. Traffic surprised me. I rushed from work but the only things rushing in that traffic were my pulse and rising frustration. There was not a darn thing I could do about it. I had to just turn on Katy Perry’s new album, and settle into the music and my own thoughts as I would get there when I got there.

Once traffic cleared, I flew. Even after my first 10 minutes of stillness and calm in the bright, quirky gallery, my average speed in Connecticut was still in the 80mph range. This wasn’t the pace I wanted going into such a big deal. When I called to tell them I would be late, Lari was chill and soothing .  When I arrived, Blaze and her husband Derek exuded a relaxed and accommodating energy and there was no rush at all. And a tranquility swept over the cow.
While Blaze sketched I took in the art and displays of the gallery. I wish I had taken more pictures. I was in my jeans, the day’s long sleeve button-up shirt and my dress Converse. I kept thinking about the flashing and screaming cow print beetle parked outside. As Blaze and I chatted while she got a feel for her new client, I was still nervous and preoccupied. I was explaining why Connecticut for the weekend [ a blog to come] and as I heard myself speak, I knew I had to sprint back to the car for a suit.  She was resketching and resizing anyway, so it wasn’t like she was going to be further waiting on me.  I hate making people wait on me.

I got both of my other tattoos with my friend Erin. I was feeling a bit vacant without her. When I sat down in Blaze’s chair, however, her professional certification was on the wall to the left.  “Erin Blaze Schwaller.”   Smirk.  Although alone in the chair, my friend was there. In fact, many were there in spirit as I gritted my teeth and winced in the Sprit Gallery yesterday.

As my time with Blaze mirrored a therapy session, we talked more about the cow suit. I explained much that is in Cow Suit Saturday and at one point she said, “that is why I changed my name. I knew I needed a more outgoing persona and a name to go with it. So, Blaze it was.”
Blaze is an introvert. My friend Erin was not.  Of my time in the studio in my cow suit yesterday, the theme and contemplations that rose to the top in my mind are the contrasts of intro- and extroversion. I had a conversation with another friend just last weekend on a bike ride about my friendship with Erin during my 20’s. We are both such extroverts that the elements of that friendship don’t exist in many of my other relationships with people. Most of my best friends are introverts. They’re everywhere, and I’m learning that I think they are weird. (Gasp—I am a jerk.) I love them, but I critique them and don’t understand their quiet and comfort with and need for solitude

Now hold on. I love my solitude. Having grown up an only child, I need and crave it, but I don’t get the same type of energy from it that introverts do.  I am reenergized by stimulating social interactions and laughter and noise and revelry—and Cow Suits!  Although, as I’m uncovering this element of me that is a writer… writing is solitude and quiet and I feel an energy from it. Oh good grief. I don’t think I can handle it if I discover that I’m a closet introvert.
Back to Blaze and my time at the Spirit Gallery. Yes, it hurt. She giggled a bit when I whined and confirmed that the wrist is one of the most sensitive places for the needle.  She told me it was a “legit” tattoo. Ah, a nice boost for this bovine from this talented artist.
There are a number of reasons I chose my right wrist. First of all, I can see it. One of my other tattoos is on my lower back (before they became called “tramp stamps!" )and I’m sad I can’t see it.
Another reason I chose my wrist is because it’s visible to others.  In my continuing caring of what others think, I am too much of a pleaser. I told a friend years ago that I think about the scratch ‘n’ sniff stickers we got on our papers in first grade often. I’m always striving for the sticker and the accompanying accolades from the teacher and I hate to disappoint or be a bad example. Pft. It’s my wrist and it’s about me, so there. (“And I can always wear a long sleeve shirt to cover it if I have to,” she mutters sheepishly.)
No mid-life crisis occasion is complete without a splash of Jesus talk which was spurred by their restroom’s d├ęcor. Blaze’s and my chapter on Jesus ended with: People just need to be nice to each other. He stood (stands) for that simple concept.  

I will post a picture of the tattoo later which is EXACTLY what I hoped it would be, but I need to show a few people in person first. I could write more about the experience, but right now I smell bacon. Everything comes to a halt when I smell bacon.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

A Cow-Culated Trip to the Dentist

Most of my cowing adventures simply unfold in spontenaity and then I write about it. Today was different. Today's "blog" is one of my columns from the Idaho State Journal. After I submitted it to the editor, I knew I had to get these people to cow with me so I could post the text here.

Today made me think about a number of important people in my life over the years. I need to write about them. And now that I can check my check-up off my to-do list,  I'm cow-culating as I type...

The Ones You Want to Keep
A cheerful post card reminder from my dentist’s office came this month. Okay, last month. It’s time for a teeth cleaning and check up. I love going to the dentist. Really. There wasn’t an ounce of sarcasm in that statement. Or in that one. I’ve just been busy.

I began going to this dentist when I was four years old. I remember the Dr. Seuss books in the waiting room, the golden shag carpet of his old office, and posing for toothy Polaroid’s when I didn’t have a cavity.

Having my picture taken was plenty incentive to brush, but I also loved the box of erasers and bouncy balls. MarJean, the receptionist, is one of about five people that can still get away with calling me Billie Jo.
This is MarJean. Smiling is so easy to do in a cow suit and with nice folks.

My dentist doesn’t see as many patients as he used to, but I can tell he stops in the office now and then. The Karen Carpenter and Barry Manilow crooning over the speakers give him away. Nowadays I see his son or son in law who have joined his practice. They have maintained that homey comfort and I always look forward to my visits with them.
My dentist came in today! He joked about trying to round up
some music. (Luckily he was unsuccessful.)
There used to be a sign above one of the exam room thresholds. It was precisely in my field of vision from the reclined, too-big chair. I would look past my toes and study the handmade wooden plaque with a 1970’s hippie font and caked-on shellac.

“You don’t have to floss all your teeth—just the ones you want to keep.” 
I’m a diligent teeth-flosser during corn on the cob and steak grilling season and during the month between receiving the postcard and my check up. If I floss for a month straight, surely they will think I have flossed every day since I saw them last.

Flossing is on the same list as watering the plants, cleaning my bike after muddy rides, and sending “thank you” notes. Sometimes these happen. Sometimes they don’t. I recognize the need. My intentions are good. My follow-through ebbs and flows and I could stand to take care of all of them better.
I have three Hawaiian shirts older than a fifth grader that I always wash on delicate and air dry. I hand wash the ice cream scoop and pizza cutter that once belonged to my grandmother, and I get an annual mammogram because I definitely want to keep those. With my box turtle having just celebrated his 30th birthday, it’s clear that I get the “care and keeping” concept with many things.

There are days I miss the memo, though. I feel like a participating drone in an overly consumerist and easily bored society, and I’m not sure how to step out of the habituated herd.
As the school year began, parents everywhere admonished their children, “you get one backpack this year, so take care of it.” But how many purses do their moms go through?

“You need to make these shoes last through the fall until we can afford boots and no mud puddles!” How many pairs of hunting boots or gym shoes do we really need? We plead with kids to take care of things, but do we model the same behavior? With things? With people?
Hoping for behaviors in the next generation is futile if we can’t change them in our own. We lose things we wish we’d taken better care of. We get new things before we need them and without first caring for the old. We get hurried and careless, but then it’s tricky to draw upon a success story because sometimes we take as good of care as we possibly can and things are lost regardless.

I have lost plants, wool sweaters, bike components and friendships because I didn’t take care of them, but at least I still have my teeth—most of them anyway.
I guess I should take care of this lingering to-do list item and schedule my appointment. MarJean and the rest of the folks at my dentist’s office have done a wonderful job taking care of me for over three decades. You’d think they want to keep me.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Cows Skipping

My cow experiences are growing in number and richness daily. Ok, not quite daily. I’ve still got to balance the day job and navigating of boundaries of social acceptance that is the cow suit, but the memoories are certainly mounting.

I did not go into my day thinking I’d get into the cow suit. It was a Thursday. A work day. A big, important work day full of seriousness and scheduling and presenting and planning.  Sometimes I plan too much. Once on a weeklong vacation to Hawaii, we knew a lot of the things we wanted to accomplish, so we wrote them down and made a plan. We actually penciled in “Be Spontaneous” for a couple hours one morning. Oy.
My penchant for planning is one of my greatest strengths, but also my most crippling weakness. At times it leaves me rigid. Unyielding. Judgmental.  Those faults are forced away in the cow suit because they don't stand a chance with floppy ears and udders. They also don’t stand a chance in moments spent with children.
This is Rene. She is a spirited, witty 9 year old visiting Idaho for the first time and she about jumped right over the moon at a chance to wear a cow suit.
The pictures tell our night's story...
Rene is watching people exit the restaurant. It looks like it's only a suit and a hood, but it comes with a new set of eyes as well.

Getting up the nerve to go into a sporting good store.

It's easier with a tall cow to lean on.
First we went to look at running shoes for me. (The suit's getting a little too snug!) A task focused on me diverted her attention perfectly.
She flitted between the discomfort and freedom of the costume. Wanting to run surfaced to the top of her cow suit sentiment.
Sometimes ya wanna settle into a little ca-moo-flage, though, and not be quite as exposed.
And she's starting to feel "safe" in the suit. (What a cute lil Safe-Cracker Calf!)
The former volleyball player in me can only comment on what a great setting posture her hands have here. Those are not the hooves of a basketball player. (yet?)
I wasn't allowed to set in college. My nicknames were "Forks" and "Meat Hook."
(The irony...)
And finally...the pose of complete cow suit ease. Hooray, Rene!!
Here she exclaimed in udder glee, "I'm looking through the nostrils!"
Awesome. Always, find different ways to see the world, Lil Calf.
On the way back to her corral for the night, I asked Rene a few questions about her experience.
Me: How did the cow suit make you feel?
Rene: Like running and skipping!!
Which we did.
Another conversation went like this:
Me: Did the cow suit make you uncomfortable?
Rene: Yeah. At first.
Me: Well, what made it comfortable?
Rene: [with a muffled giggle] You.
That is one of the best complements I could receive. I helped a kid feel comfortable. I should call it a week because there's really nothing more to accomplish after that.
Oh. Wait.
Another wave of seriousness and scheduling and presenting and planning lies ahead of me today. After skipping it all for a few hours last night, I'm ready.