Side Effects

This time last year I was giving my friend Walter a ride to physical therapy on Mondays and Thursdays. That was right about the time he went into the tail spin that brought him to live at my house for five months. Statin drugs. That’s what started it all. Certainly there will be a few physicians out there who’ll read that sentence and cough up a little chuckle as Walter’s GP did right before she totally blew off my reservations and handed me the prescription. Common side effects however, of statin drugs used to treat high cholesterol include muscle pain or damage and confusion. Walter deals with both of these issues regularly and has for forty-seven years but he’s always been high-functioning. His missteps have a certain rhythm. Now I’m not convinced that a drug that causes muscle damage can tell the difference between a thigh muscle and a heart, that’s an argument for a different day but it came as no surprise that the addition of these drugs into Walter’s system created the perfect storm. I watched it happen.

Two weeks after he started taking them he began falling down. He complained that his hip hurt, then his shoulder. Everyone said “Well he fell in his room yesterday. His hip probably does hurt.” Six weeks of it and he was officially dismissed from Fifty Forward’s adult daycare program. He’d fallen in their bathroom, banged his head open and had a seizure in the ambulance. They said he was only allowed to return if he stayed in their wheelchair instead of using his walker but the concept was so new to him that he kept standing up by accident. A week later he was sent home permanently for “being defiant.”

The man has a brain stem injury and he isn’t perfect but I’d known Walter to be defiant once in twenty years and he was being verbally assaulted at the time. I tried to explain to her what was happening in his mind but she’d already made up hers and he went home that day confused and anxious. He’d been happily attached to Fifty Forward and all the people there for six years and it was the third time he’d been physically extricated from a group of friends by a system that supports ignorance and uses HIPAA to protect itself from scrutiny and conflict. Put simply, they were afraid of being sued. Walter had someone looking after him, someone who was paying attention and instead of seeing the good in that, they got spooked and pushed him away. So he sat outside on the porch of that group home for the next few mornings and waited for a bus that didn’t come.

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