Climbing a different mountain

McMurray Musings Connects

By THERESA WELLS, Connect Weekly

When I arrive at the pharmacy counter the pharmacist looks distinctly disappointed.

“You aren’t climbing any of the big seven,” he says, clearly expecting someone else to be picking up the new medication I have been prescribed for my eye disease.

“The Kate Spade handbag doesn’t scream Everest to you?” and we both chuckle as I go on to explain that in my case this drug, usually used to treat or prevent altitude sickness in extreme mountain climbers, is meant to address the glaucoma I have developed as a side effect of my eye condition.

“What?” I respond. “The Kate Spade handbag doesn’t scream Everest to you?” and we both chuckle as I go on to explain that in my case this drug, usually used to treat or prevent altitude sickness in extreme mountain climbers, is meant to address the glaucoma I have developed as a side effect of my eye condition.

When you have a chronic medical condition of any sort you begin to understand some stark realities. You come to accept that while there are some things you can control about your disease there are others that are much like dogs who have seen a squirrel, wildly unpredictable and slightly off kilter.

You come to understand that acceptance is a huge part of dealing with chronic disease, and you come to realize that the world of pharmaceuticals is an interesting one indeed.

The reality is that most medications have side effects. In my case one of the medications I use to control inflammation in my eye causes increased pressure, otherwise known as glaucoma. In the tricky balancing act that is medicine we must find a way to control the inflammation, which causes pain and if untreated can cause blindness, and we must also keep the pressure down, which if not controlled can cause blindness. It is a bizarre sort of catch-22, which led us to this medication used for mountain climbers.

After a few days on this drug I feel terribly sorry for mountain climbers and suddenly have a new understanding of why they seem a rather surly bunch.

My corneal specialist warned me that the drug could make me dizzy (check), irritable (check), listless (check), cause tingling in my hands and feet (check and check), but he failed to mention that it would cure me of any interest in pop since all carbonated beverages taste absolutely terrible (meaning my evening gin and tonic is gone). Regrettably it also has meant cutting out all alcohol consumption, so I cannot even replace my beloved gin with a glass of wine.

No wonder mountain climbers are cranky. It’s not the mountain or the deprivations of the comforts of everyday life, not the bad food or the altitude – I would suspect it’s this drug.

No wonder mountain climbers are cranky. It’s not the mountain or the deprivations of the comforts of everyday life, not the bad food or the altitude – I would suspect it’s this drug.

And yet how grateful I am that we have ready access not only to premium medical care like what I receive from my specialist, but the opportunity to use medications such as this one.

The reality is that if I lived in almost any other part of the world I would be blind by now, robbed of my vision by a chronic eye disease that began sixteen years ago. While my prognosis remains uncertain, there is still hope that a corneal transplant, once my eye has recovered from the current bout of inflammation and glaucoma, may restore my vision almost entirely. It’s a luxury most people in this world will never have.

So no, I am not climbing Denali or Everest, not scaling any of the top seven mountain peaks in the world. I am a non-mountain climber using a drug used almost exclusively by mountain climbers, likely the only similarity between myself and a group of extreme athletes. Well, that and tingling hands, irritability and an inability to consume Coke.
Chronic disease of any sort is a journey. There are peaks and valleys, moments of joy and ones of abject despair.

And on occasion there are terribly funny moments, like when a pharmacist is expecting to have an inspiring conversation with an extreme mountain climber and instead ends up talking to a writer with a wry sense of humour.

I suppose one could say I am climbing a different mountain, unique to my life and no less challenging to me than Everest – and now I have the prescription to prove it.

– Connect Weekly –