When I was in college, I’d started seeing a doctor at the university clinic for migraines. I was finally prompted to get help for them after self-medicating with OTC pain killers to the point where I burned a hole in the lining of my stomach. At the same time, I was hit with several concurrent stressful situations (grandfather’s death, relationship ending, etc.) and a bout of stomach flu that left me lactose intolerant. The doctor that I saw was wonderful and, though we discussed me being overweight, it was only because I brought it up. She focused on the problems that actually needed to be addressed.
Fast forward to several months later. A nasty sinus infection had been hanging around me for weeks. I was finally able to see the visiting ENT, who put me on a high-dose decongestant and recommended sinus surgery. Shortly after, I began feeling dizzy at weird times and found it much more tiring to climb stairs. I hadn’t gained or lost any weight and was actually taking better care of myself, thanks to the advice of my acupuncturist. So, thinking there must be something wrong, I made an appointment with my regular doctor. Except she was out on indefinite personal leave, so I got to see her replacement instead.
The doctor took one look at my chart and informed me that I was obese. I’m about 5’9″, male, and at the time was probably around 200-210. Most nurses make me get on the scale multiple times because they don’t believe what it says. Especially at the time, I looked relatively fit, though a bit overweight. So to hear, in an extremely annoyed tone (because of course it was wrong of me to be so) that I was clinically obese was quite a shock. She then proceeded to go over my blood pressure results (something like 130/80) and tell me that I was on the fast track to heart disease. At 20 years old, I left the office over an hour later with an appointment for an EKG, a cholesterol test, and a prescription for blood pressure medication. I broke down just outside the clinic.
I went back for my EKG, which was normal, made an appointment on my own with the clinic’s nutritionist, and never went for the cholesterol test. I was too ashamed. I filled the script and dutifully began taking the medication. I convinced myself that the doctor was right, that years of being overweight had finally caught up with me and I was going to die sooner than any of my fat family. This did wonders for my depression and anxiety, mind you.
Being that my life was going through a lot of stress, I sometimes forgot to take my medication on time. This sparked a chain reaction that had me living in terror of what I’d done to myself for the next year and a half. If I didn’t take my medication daily, I’d notice my pulse starting to race while lying or sitting down, weird dizzy spells or lightheadedness, or extreme waves of fatigue. I assumed this was because my bad, fatty body was trying to kill my heart and I would reach for the BP meds. As long as I took them regularly, these spells were kept to a minimum.
After a few months, I was finally able to see my regular doctor. I filled her in on my experiences on the medication and she paused and stared at the chart. She then asked me to clarify when I’d taken the decongestants for my sinus problems. What the other doctor had blatantly ignored was that the meds the ENT had given me were frequently responsible for huge spikes in blood pressure and occasional dizziness. The diagnosis of hypertension was almost entirely based on the symptoms I had from that medication – that, and being fat. What happened after, however, still confounds me.
We decided that, because I felt okay as long as I took the BP meds, that I should continue taking them. I came in for regular BP checks, which were always normal. Still, it took my regular doctor over a year to say, “Oh, by the way. That BP medication you’re still taking? A side effect of withdrawal is heart palpitations, erratic pulse, and BP fluxuation.” The meds were so fast-cycling that even going 12 hours without them could start these symptoms. I immediately threw the bottle in a cabinet and decided to wait out the symptoms. After a few days, I felt just as good as I had on them – better, even, because even the occasional spells were gone. And my subsequent BP checks remained in the perfect range.
For over a year and a half, I took a medication that made me sick, for a condition I didn’t have, because of a diagnosis based on side effects of another medication. And all because a doctor refused to put down the BMI chart and look at the scared patient sitting directly in front of her.