Medicine side effects nearly broke me, but I overcame them

Special treatments caused memory woes, weakness, sweating, and fever

William Ryan avatar

by William Ryan |

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I sat at the head of the table in my workplace conference room and looked out the window, trying to grasp what I needed to do during my break. The problem was, I couldn’t remember.

Instead, I just kept looking out the window as Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” played in my head. Unlike the final scene of “Fight Club,” the only thing collapsing around me was my memory.

My medications were affecting me in ways I couldn’t control.

My struggle with side effects

Side effects can be hell for anyone. For me, an adult with cystic fibrosis (CF), adding a new medication can feel like getting forced behind the wheel of a car that’s driving itself with no sensible sense of direction. Will it drive me to safety or off a cliff?

I recently took one oral and one intravenous (IV) antibiotic to treat lung infections, as well as an allergy and asthma medication shortly afterward, and the side effects threw my life for a few loops.

As I’m writing this, I’ve returned to my regular, baseline health. The journey back wasn’t easy.

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Side Effects Leave Me Salvaging Social Shards

For a week while hospitalized, I was given the oral and IV antibiotics, then I had to continue both for another week to complete the antibiotics’ course. Maybe I hadn’t noticed because I was in the hospital and wasn’t asked to do much of anything, but I realized when I got home that my previous few days had become a blur.

Not in the sense that my vision was failing or that my equilibrium was off, but I could not remember anything. Without fail, at least once a day, I came scarily close to administering the IV wrong, on top of forgetting to pack things in my lunchbox for work and making the bed incorrectly.

Turns out, both antibiotics can confuse, and the oral medication can also make me feel tired and weak.

Of course, I was weary of the symptoms I was experiencing, but I knew I had to finish out the medicine to rid my body of the lung infections. In most normal cases, I would’ve asked my doctor if I could stop taking the medicine early because of how I felt. I couldn’t, however, go back to the hospital. There’s always a strong possibility that I could suffer another setback and that my health could get even worse. Plus, I was mentally exhausted from being in the hospital for the second time in three months.

The week ended, and the next day I had my PICC line removed. For a few days after, though, I still struggled to restore my memory as well as regain stamina to overcome my fatigue.

On top of that, I felt my allergies and asthma starting to act up again, just as they did this time last year. (If the weather could only decide what season to stay in! The imbalance of high and low temperatures has been knocking my body out of equilibrium.) I asked my doctor if it was OK to take an asthma medication again this year, as I did last year, and she gave me the go-ahead. I took this particular medication growing up and even last year, and I responded well to it.

This time? Not so much.

During the first night I took it, I sweated in my sleep as if I were Patrick Ewing in a big-time Knicks game at Madison Square Garden. I love Ewing, but it wasn’t normal for me to sweat as I did. Before falling asleep, I was feeling superhot, so it maybe shouldn’t have been much of a surprise. The next night, I developed a small fever for an hour.

Fevers, unfortunately, are a common side effect of the asthma medication. Agitation is also a listed side effect, which could explain why I was easily annoyed at my wife, who was just trying to help me deal with the side effects. I don’t like admitting that, but I couldn’t figure out why I was getting so easily upset until I concluded that perhaps the medication was causing it. I felt awful, but we both knew under more normal circumstances that it wouldn’t have happened.

With the side effects gone, I’m looking to lead a more normal day-to-day existence (whatever that means with CF). In a short period, I’ll be on vacation and swimming in the Caribbean — thankfully, with my mind and memory intact.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


Helen Palmiero avatar

Helen Palmiero

Hi, Will! Could it be possible that there was a slip-up somewhere along the line in someone not realizing your new medications did not agree with the ones you were already taking? I certainly hope that was not the case. I know your medical team is top notch. I had my first - and very serious - sinus infection a few years back. I had to see a local, very well-known ENT for it. I gave this doctor a list of my current meds I take for my lung issues but I have no idea if he even read it. So after his assistant examined me, I was prescribed a very strong antibiotic. I asked the doctor if it would agree with all my other meds and he waved me off saying "Sure, sure". So, 4 days into this antibiotic, I was walking a short distance home from a store when I just (without any forewarning) fell on my face on the concrete and laid in a pool of my blood until 2 kind gentlemen came by to help me. After that I also suffered from high agitation for about 2 weeks. Needless to say, I stopped taking this antibiotic and so advised the doctor who sort of insisted I stay on it but then agreed I could stop taking it (!). I don't know what to make of all this for the both of us nor do I have any solution, but I'm sure glad we're alive! 😊 Much love, Helen


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