If you rarely use drugs and make an exception, brace yourself for side effects

Snow bird

I couldn’t believe it when my friend called and asked if I wanted to adopt a bird…his bird.

At first, I thought he was trying to kill me or make a very bad joke. But then I realized I never gave him all the brutal details of the last time I looked after his bird.

The bird was actually a mild problem.

Coping with my reaction to the bird turned out to be dangerous…

What I did on my stay-cation

A little more than a year ago, just before the holidays, I agreed to house-sit for a friend. Other than looking after his bird (fairly low-maintenance, as animals go), my only real responsibility was to settle in and stay warm. He has a nice apartment, so I figured I’d make a “stay-cation” out of it.

Things got off to a roaring start with a pre-Christmas blizzard. You may remember they were calling it a “blanket of snow over most of the East Coast.” In our case the “blanket” was more than 20 inches.

Well, no problem, really. I had nowhere to go so I watched other people shovel their cars out while I cozied up in front of his TV and caught up on some movies.

Inside. For hours. With the bird.

And then it hit me — hard. Sneezing, watery eyes, terrible headache, coughing…

UGH…I was allergic to the bird. That’s right: the bird I had agreed to be cooped up with for 10 days. Fantastic! (If sarcasm were medicine I would have been feeling just fine at this point.)

I was desperate. So I picked up some Alavert–a non-drowsy OTC allergy medicine. I glanced at the side effects and didn’t see any notes about “rare” cases of cancer or heart attack. So I took a dose. And you know what? It worked. My allergy symptoms disappeared.

But by the next day I was wishing I’d just suffered through them.

I realized something was wrong when I woke up at 2 a.m. and couldn’t get back to sleep. Then, when I finally got out of bed to get ready for work, I felt a little dizzy and my stomach was bothering me. My first thought was “No problem. Just not enough food, not enough sleep.”

But I’ve been doing this too long to believe that was all that was going on. So I grabbed the Alavert box and read the side effects a little more closely. Among the six most common side effects, I had four: mild stomach upset, loss of appetite, dizziness, trouble sleeping.

Well there you go.

The Alavert prescribing information suggests that side effects will drop off with continued use. Right. Well, I wasn’t going to take that chance. So I got another friend to finish the house-sitting, and I was finished with Alavert AND the bird.

Then it occurred to me that if I were someone who was used to taking OTC and prescription drugs on a regular basis I might not have had such pronounced side effects. Maybe it’s like alcohol. If you drink daily, it takes a lot more to get you drunk and hungover.

And that’s why I decided to warn you about my Alavert saga. I’ve got a hunch that you might also avoid using drugs whenever you can. So if that that’s true, please keep this in mind. Because those seemingly benign side effects can hit you pretty hard, especially if they all hit you at once.

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