Later this year I will turn 43 years old. The forties have not been the most pleasant of years. High blood pressure creeps in and you have doctors start prescribing blood pressure meds that have side effects. My first BP med was Lisinopril (sp), an ACE inhibitor. Lisinopril has a fun side effect - it gives you a tickle in your lungs. So you are constantly coughing because of that nice little tickle. The cough lasted a couple of months and I went back for something different.
The doc sent me back with Benecar HCT 20/12.5. The first number is the actual Benecar. The second number is the hydrochlorothyazide (hence the HCT), which in my opinion is a nasty drug. First, if you look at HCT, it has a list of side effects and interactions that makes the Federal Stimulus Bill of 2009 look like a postcard in comparison. You can't take any ibuprofen. You can't spend any time in sun. And the list goes on. When the doctor prescribed it, I protested. I didn't want a diuretic. I go to the bathroom probably 3,719 times a day as it is. I don't need a drug making me go 18,268 times a day. And as the son of a pharmacist, I knew that a diuretic meant that I had to take potassium, which the doctor did not prescribe. (Remember this little bit of information....)
A few more words on diuretics...... Think of a diuretic this way. Take a sponge. Get it wet. Then squeeze the sponge until it is bone dry. That is a diuretic. Or think of Moses. Think of him smiting a rock and having water pour out of it. That is a diuretic. Diuretics were used by Moses in the Bible to obtain water from rocks. Seriously. That's how powerful a diuretic is.
So the body needs salts and elements for it to work properly. Under normal circumstances, the body does a pretty darn good job at keeping all those various minerals at the right levels. One of those elements is potassium. Well, now enter the diuretic into the mix. Hydroclorothiazide (HCT for short), leaches off potassium. Benecar is supposed to be potassium sparing. Together they should even out so your potassium level stays "normal".
Well, one Sunday I wasn't feeling too good. So I stayed home from Church. My wife comes home and starts undressing out of her Church clothes and my heart starts beating irregularly. Yes, my wife is pretty, but I've never had heart problems because of her changing her clothes. We dial 911. Heart is still beating irregularly. I lay down. I remain conscious but scared beyond belief. "Where is that ambulance?" The ambulance arrives, but my heart rhythm goes back to normal before they show up. They draw blood. They hook me up to an IV and they take me in. After all the labs, what's the verdict? You guessed it. Low potassium. The "normal" potassium range is from 3 to 5, or 3.5 to about 5 point something. It depends on who you talk to. My blood potassium was a 2.9! OK, not good. Actually, really not good.
Now here's the kicker. I go into my doctor. The same doctor that prescribed the Benecar HCT. I tell him what's going on. He says to me (and this is a direct quote as near as I can remember it), "I don't know what to do for you...." Dude, doc, you nearly killed me with this crap and you don't know what to do for me? Hmmmm...... Maybe take me off the diuretic? He wanted me to come in for a treadmill test and he wanted me to wait several weeks and come in and see if my potassium levels go back to normal. Doc, if they are freaking low now, I'm sure they're going to be low in a few weeks. Are you just begging for a malpractice lawsuit from my future widow? Do you really want to be invited to my funeral?
So the next day I go looking for a new car. While I'm at the car dealership, I have another arrythmia episode and I spend some time in the ER. I'll have to blog about that fun experience. Long story short, I recovered before they got an EKG of my heart so I am back to square one. The potassium levels were up to near normal levels, but they weren't there. One interesting thing the ER doc said is that one of the drugs I was taking (generic Allegra for allergies) can cause cardio issues. So I immediately went off all my prescriptions except for my blood pressure. The first heart episode happened on a Sunday. The second espisode happened on a Friday.
The following Monday I went to a cardiologist. Guess what? He knew what to do. And that is to change my freaking BP meds so I don't have a third heart problem or something that will eventually kill me.
The new meds are Azor 5/20. The 5 is a calcium channel blocker. The second number is the main ingredient in Benecar. The calcium channel blocker has a nice side effect - it can cause swelling of your feet and thus water retention. And guess what? Yep, you've got it. I've got swelling of the feet. So what does the cardiologist want to do? He wants to put me back on the Benecar HCT (no freaking way, Jose) and give me potassium pills to compensate for the low potassium in my system. No, no, no, no, NO!!!!!!!!! Listen to me... That junk about killed me before. I don't want to die from this stuff before I turn 43. I'd like to live to be 83. I want to see my kids get married. I'd like to see grandkids. So let's not tempt fate again, OK?
The cool thing about all this is the 10% I get to pay. My federal tax return went to medical bills. I am grateful that I had the money to pay for the bills. But at the same time, I sure could have used that money to stimulate the economy. I guess I did. I helped a bunch of rich doctors and hospitals. Not really where I wanted my money to go to, but at least we're good. And I thank Divine Providence for taking care of me.