I am a 57-year-old white American male infected with Hepatitis C. I am involved in a controlled medical research study by Roche Pharmaceuticals of an experimental Polymerase Inhibitor (RO5024048 also known as RG7128) drug therapy for the virus. This document is the story of my illness and the experience of treatment. My lovely and pretty damn wonderful wife will be contributing her take on the experience as well.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Coming In Off The Ledge

We finally had the conversation about antidepressants this week, 21 weeks into the trial.

It came about because I had been noticing that I was feeling an increase in impatience and tension during conversations with people. They were the sorts of conversations you have all the time with co-workers, your partner and your friends. It seems that when I would talk to my wife in the evening about how her day had gone, I could feel myself get tense if she talked for very long at all. The same thing happened with co-workers. I found myself thinking, “all right, I get it, you don’t have to keep going on about it, just leave me alone.” This did not happen all the time, but it was increasing in frequency. Just a note, I was not saying any of this stuff aloud, but I was thinking it, sometimes forcefully.

The study coordinator AVB called me to tell me that they needed to redraw blood because my neutrophil count was so low. They wanted to determine whether to adjust my next interferon dose to a smaller amount. I mentioned that I had been noticing a subtle change in my mental state the past few weeks and told her the nature of it. I told her that when I came in two days to do the blood draw, I would like to talk to someone about whether something needed to be done. She said that I should come in immediately. It took awhile, but I managed to convince her that it wasn’t so serious that I was going to start running people down in my truck or screaming at my wife and coworkers. She finally agreed that it could wait till Friday and we left it at that. Her main concern from years of experience was that these sorts of small changes could quickly escalate. Her example was a patient who suddenly started ramming people with her shopping cart at Costco because they weren’t moving fast enough. I promised I wouldn’t do any shopping before Friday.

When I came in for my appointment, they did the quick blood draws and then AVB quizzed me at length about my mental state. I repeated what I told her on Wednesday and then answered her questions about all my various side effects. She told me that even though I had been telling her that I was getting along okay over the past several weeks, she had been noticing some deterioration in my mood. She said that even though I was a tough guy who was intent on soldiering through the treatment, she had “seen it in my eyes” that I was having an increasingly difficult time. I had to tell her that she was about the only person I could remember who ever used the words tough guy to refer to me. Sure I have a generous helping of Slavic fatalism, midwestern quiet desperation, and general stubbornness, but actual toughness, not so much. Nonetheless, she paged the study doctor NB to come in and go over the situation.

When Doctor NB arrived, we went over the same material and discussion of mental state and symptoms. She concurred with AVB that I might be approaching a tipping point in my mental state. Her solution to the problem was to prescribe the antidepressant Paxil. She also prescribed Ativan as something to take when needed if I felt anxious. She said that Paxil can take 2 weeks or more to take effect and that the Ativan would be something to use as a bridge until the Paxil kicked in.

So now I will be starting antidepressants as soon as I fill the various prescriptions. I am not sure what to think about that or what to expect mentally when I start taking them. I have no real feelings about antidepressants, though they do defeat the concept of Slavic fatalism. My wife took Paxil about 15 years ago and it helped her a great deal. I have also found, through talking with other individuals who have gone through treatment, that I am one of the few people who started treatment without being given antidepressants right at the start of treatment.

When I told my wife that I was going to start taking Paxil, she reminded me that for the first few days she had taken it she felt “rubbery.” While we have no idea what my reaction will be to starting the drug, I am definitely expecting some sort of side effects at the beginning. I guess it’s time to hit the internet and start my research…

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