July 2009, Hell
On the cusp of my 61st birthday, I construct a balance sheet of sorts… a device to examine the last year. It is a process that haunts me, given the emotional undertow of the last 20 months.
I share this experience with you – despite the very intimate nature of my angst – so you can understand more fully the man who calls himself Martin Bayne.
During the month of July, 2009, my life began to unravel. I’d spent the previous six years in an assisted living facility, at odds with both staff and administration. I point no fingers at individuals though – I gave as good as I got.
The real nightmare began when, for reasons still unclear, my primary care physician decided the benzodiazepine he’d prescribed for the previous four years had become “problematic.”
Here, a note about the “benzos.” This class of anxiolytic drugs, which include both Xanax and Valium, have a well-researched and documented safety profile. But they also come with a significant risk of addiction. Because these drugs worked so well in controlling some of the more onerous symptoms of my Parkinson’s, they had been prescribed with no incident for 15 years.
Yes, I was addicted to the medication. But every physician who’d prescribed the medication to that point had made a decision that I believe sounded something like this: “Yes, Martin will likely become an addict. So? Considering the obvious benefits, it’s a no-brainer.”
Now here’s where it gets tricky. The drugs do have a potentially lethal side effect, if they are withdrawn too quickly. But I figured I was in good hands when I presented to the ER at St. Peter’s Hospital in Albany with “acute benzodiazepine withdrawal”. After all, my Primary Care Physician (PCP) was also the Director of the hospital’s Addiction Recovery Center.
But I had guessed wrong.
You see, I never anticipated the “squeeze play” the assisted living facility and the PCP would apply jointly. In effect, if I didn’t sign myself into the locked wards at the Detox Center, and complete their program, I couldn’t return to the facility. Even then, as angry as I was, I figured, What the hell, they know what they’re doing. This will all turn out OK.
It was my second wrong assumption.
There I was, breaking bread with heroin junkies, meth heads and chronic alcoholics; which, if I wasn’t going through the despair of withdrawal, would have been an interesting experience. As it happened, I seemed to be having a rougher time than most of the heroin addicts.
Now, here’s another piece of information about Xanax. The manufacturer, Upjohn, clearly and rigorously, published a withdrawal schedule. Upjohn stated: “titrating someone off the medication should be done slowly and gradually, specifically – 0.5 milligrams every three days. That means that a patient who was taking five milligrams per day for 15 years should take at least 25-35 days to detox safely.
My doctor, the Director of the Detox Center, did it in four days.
It was Hell.
I would finally return to my assisted living facility, but not before they tried another ‘end run.’
They said, “Yes, you completed your detox, now we want you to complete a 27-day rehab program in a designated halfway house.”
Fortunately for me, one of the detox’s social workers stood her ground and told the facility that what they were trying to do was unlawful. The facility capitulated.
I was home, and the real horror story was about to begin.
TICKLING THE DRAGON’S TALE
In 1942, American nuclear physicists knew that – in theory – enriched Uranium would reach a supercritical state, a ‘critical mass,’ if a sufficient amount of it was brought together. Enrico Fermi, in a makeshift laboratory under the squash courts at Chicago University, had the job of discovering what ‘sufficient’ was. Thus, each tiny amount added to the pile of U235, was thought of as tickling the dragon’s tail – achieving fission without creating an uncontrolled explosion.
Fermi was more successful in taming dragons than I.
My PCP not only created a life-threatening situation with his four-day titration, he also sent a registered letter only days after I’d arrived home, notifying me he was “terminating our professional relationship.” Now, I had to scurry and find another PCP, as New York Law required all assisted living facility residents to have a PCP.
It was during these weeks that I began to fall apart emotionally and psychologically. Each day seemed more stressful and surreal than the last. By October, I had been to the Emergency Rooms of four hospitals and was hallucinating vividly. Also, during one of my ER visits, I was given an anti-Parkinson’s medication that would suddenly become part of my daily med regimen without my knowledge. And the side effects of this compound were well-known.
To everyone but me.
By the time I discovered I was on new meds, it was too late. The damage had been done. The new PCP I brought aboard quit because I refused weekly urine tests, and I was abruptly booted out of the facility after seven years.
[lots of scurrying] When I arrived at the new facility I think it’s safe to say I was out of my head. I was calling friends at 4:00 AM with updates of my “spiritual discoveries” and every day I’d go deeper into my drug-induced madness.
I spent many nights (I was only sleeping for 1-2 hours) cataloging guardian angels and creating stories about the Eternal Nemesis. Also, one of the more prominent side effects of the drug I was still receiving was hyper sexuality. It was during this phase of my crazies that I gave $1,500 and my video cam to a woman I’d met though an escort service.
In all, I would end up in seven hospitals, each experience progressively worse than the last. In the last of the seven hospitals I was beaten by three aides in the shower room until I was unconscious. I ended up in ICU with two pulmonary embolisms.
It was my youngest sister, Susan, who saved me from the Inferno. She took the four-hour drive from Bath, PA to Albany, NY on more than one occasion. Finally, she convinced me it was in my best interest to find a facility in PA near her. I agreed and she spent dozens of hours checking out facilities, helping me fill out the reams of paperwork and making what was a Herculean task seem doable.
I made the move in March, 2010. [trying to hold on; just an hour, just a minute at a time]
When the move was complete I crashed. It was Susan, again, to the rescue. When I suggested Electro-Convulsive Therapy in Philadelphia, she made all the arrangements and drove me to Thomas Jefferson Hospital. The eight treatments brought a profound relief.
As I write these words, I pray for the peace I know now, after 40 years, only time can bring.
But things will resolve. All in good time.