It’s the middle of the afternoon, and I’m pleading for help.
Wide-eyed, I have a hand pressed to my chest. I can feel my heart hammering through my ribs — fast enough to make the nurse and physician’s assistant spring into action.
“Blow into this,” one tells me, placing the barrel of a syringe between my lips. I do it. It takes a few tries, but the reflex eventually takes — my heart slows down fifteen beats or so per minute. They don’t want to give me medication to slow my heart, and I understand why. There are many situations where the cure can be worse than the disease, and, believe me, brute-forcing yourself into a slower heartbeat is one of them.
It doesn’t help that I have raging cardiophobia, either.
I stay in the hospital over night. They give me some Xanax, but, because I’m afraid of pills, the doctor and I compromise on the lowest dose possible. It does nothing. Two hours later, I allow myself to be talked into a shot of Ativan. I build a small, avant-garde sculpture out of pot roast, and text everyone I know demanding that we find a way to play a card game over Skype. I’m asleep an hour later.
The next day, I’m told my heart’s fine — the cardiologist didn’t see anything on my EKG that warranted concern, and overnight monitoring showed my heart never got above 70 bpm. Just in case, though, I’m given a prescription for propranolol and a referral to see another cardiologist.
It took me awhile to realize that Diamox was what was causing the problem for me. Every time I took it, I was guaranteed to be wracked with anxiety and have at least one episode of my heart racing. I wasn’t even afraid of Diamox anymore, since I’d been taking it for years. Just, out of the blue, it decided to start hitting me with this particular side effect out of all of the other Diamox side effects I’d already learned to deal with.
I had to make the choice between protecting my brain, and protecting my heart. I went with my heart.
That was about a year ago. Since then, I’ve managed to avoid needing beta blockers again. I re-filled my prescription for propranolol last January, and still have all of the pills. Even though I don’t take them, I keep them in my purse. Knowing they’re there is like a talisman — it keeps me calm when I feel anxiety malevolently stalking the edges of my perception like Black Shuck.
Since quitting Diamox, I’ve also been able to help re-gain some of the weight it made me lose (though that’s a subject for another post). I’ve become stronger, physically. I can climb stairs, lift things, and cook without having to sit down. I still have a long way to go before being fully functional (and, with the damage to my vision and memory, it’s doubtful I ever will be), I still drop things, I still have pain, I still get vertigo, but I’m getting better day by day.
I don’t recommend doing what I did the way I did it, but, if you’re having severe anxiety and a racing heartbeat on Diamox, the problem might not be all in your head. Nobody’s entirely sure how Diamox works for people with IIH — it’s definitely not a great treatment, just one of the best noninvasive options we’ve got. Talk to your doctor if you’re having Diamox side effects like this. They may be able to adjust your dosage, help you control your symptoms, or change your medication to one that’s better for you.