Until recently, my life had been almost free of family doctors, medical specialists, hospitals and prescription drugs. So I was surprised and rather frightened when I had a stroke in March 2011. I was immediately prescribed Lipitor by a neurologist at a hospital in Victoria, BC. He told me that if I didn’t take the drug every day I would probably have another stroke in a year or so. He said I would need the Lipitor for the rest of my life. He also told me that the stroke was so mild I would feel no symptoms in three months.
The neurologist also suggested that I consider making changes in my life: weight, diet, exercise and stress. I asked for further advice, but he offered only vague generalities. I sensed that he was only being politically correct in mentioning these changes, that he was committed to Lipitor as the only practical solution. I speculated that because doctors know that few patients actually begin to live a more healthy life when confronted by a disease threat, most of them prescribe drugs as a permanent solution, something that often creates a dependency. I sensed that I was on my own regarding my fitness as well as my health.
Six months after the stroke I was still experiencing symptoms. They were not dramatic, but disabling enough for me to be concerned that they were diminishing my life. I made an appointment with the neurologist, but he had no time for me; he claimed that he never had follow-up appointments with stroke patients. He was not interested in the positive changes I had made to my life. He told me that I should speak to my family doctor about any difficulties. He was not interested in my case. I already knew my family doctor would only repeat the same generalities. I sensed that once again I was on my own.
At this point in my self-education I mostly wanted to find a way to overcome my health and fitness challenges by natural means rather than through the use of drugs. This meant better food, more exercise, losing weight and learning to deal with stress. I hadn’t yet discovered that Lipitor was actually causing the adverse cognitive and physical difficulties that were plaguing me.
In the next two years I reduced my weight by about 9 kilograms (twenty pounds), to around 59 kilograms (130 pounds, my weight at age 20), through aerobics and other kinds of exercise. I broke my junk food habit. With the assistance of a naturopath I abandoned all processed and prepared food, all grain-based foods, everything with salt, sugar, artificial fats, preservatives and non-food ingredients. I began eating only natural food.
Throughout these two years of experimenting with diet and exercise I was fortunate to be encouraged by a friend who is a drug safety advocate in Victoria, someone who also advocates a healthy diet and regular exercise as an antidote to most health challenges.
In the summer of 2013 my friend introduced me to a medical doctor who is a clinical pharmacologist. She suggested that this doctor might be able to help me abandon Lipitor. Until then I had not considered that Lipitor might be causing the reactions that mimicked stroke symptoms. With his guidance, in October 2013 I stopped taking Lipitor for two weeks. A blood test several days earlier had indicated my LDL cholesterol level was 0.67, which he told me was good.
Both my friend and the doctor told me that Lipitor causes negative cognitive reactions, so I was interested to know how stopping the drug would feel. I was surprised to discover that in less than a week my thinking was clearer, stronger and more positive. I became more confident about my emotional, physical and professional life.
After the two weeks without Lipitor another test indicated that my LDL cholesterol had increased by less than one point, which was still good. So I abandoned the Lipitor. I told the doctor that whatever my cholesterol numbers, which I was determined to gain control over, my ability to think clearly and live independently was more important for my overall health. I also realized that between my friend and this doctor, I had gained important allies in my health and fitness goals.
The cognitive improvements resulting from dropping this drug continue. I have been able to complete projects I began before the stroke. I have been able to begin new projects I had been avoiding since the stroke. I exercise better because my attention, physical coordination and balance have improved. My conversations are clearer, my penmanship is neater and my ability to concentrate while reading has sharpened. I feel more like my real self, the self I had enjoyed most my life.
I am grateful for the opportunity to work with a patient advocate and a medical specialist who are willing to research the effectiveness of this prescription drug and work with me in a safe, open, supportive and encouraging manner. Without the assistance of these health mentors and this test on Lipitor I would never have discovered that the muddle-headedness I had experienced since the stroke was mostly the result of the drug, and only initially caused by the stroke. Perhaps the Lipitor was never even necessary.
About the Contributor
Brian Grison is an artist, art teacher, art writer and art historian living in Victoria, British Columbia.