“I used to be strong, I wrestled the bull,” Sumner Ball said, “but now I can’t even wrestle the rooster.”
On the far side of eighty-years-old, he looked lively and trim, and his weathered face hinted at a smile as his blue eyes peered straight into mine.
“I think these cholesterol pills are hurting my muscles,” he declared. “I don’t think they’re good for me.”
“Is it your back?”
I scanned through his last few visits and saw he had mentioned some low back pain while gardening this summer.
“No, Dr. Tom took care of my back,” Sumner said, referring to our local chiropractor. “My arms and my legs hurt, even my shoulders hurt.”
Years ago, Sumner had developed polymyalgia rheumatica, and it took almost two years to get him through it with the help of gradually decreasing steroid doses.
“Let me get a blood test, and why don’t you stop the cholesterol pills for a while and see how you feel,” I offered. We agreed to have a follow-up visit in a few weeks.
Three weeks later, Sumner Ball was a changed man. His faint smile was now a big grin.
“I knew that medicine was not good for me. I feel better now, not so many muscle aches. And I stopped the other one too. It was making me dizzy.”
“What about the blood thinner?” I asked.
“No, that one I take. I know it can keep me from having a stroke. But I know my body, and I know what my body needs, just like when I had goats and horses — they knew what to eat and not to eat.”
“My goats don’t always know the difference,” I said. Sumner grinned as he continued, “and we didn’t have the vet come out all the time. We treated them with herbs, good feed and common sense.”
His blood pressure was still ok, but his pulse rate was just under 100, a little high for someone with atrial fibrillation.
“Your diltiazem was keeping your heart from going too fast,” I reminded him.
“I feel good now. I like to stay this way. Do you think I am making a mistake?” His penetrating, small blue eyes told me he didn’t want me to disagree with him.
“Your heart could start racing,” I warned him. “Let me see you in a few weeks to make sure you’re not going into heart failure.”
Two weeks later, Sumner had gained five pounds. His legs were swollen, he was short winded and his irregular pulse was 130.
“Your heart is missing the diltiazem,” I said.
“I can’t take it,” Sumner answered. I knew he had already tried a beta blocker a few years ago, and his pulse had dropped to 40 on the lowest dose.
“How about trying something natural?”
His eyebrows rose. I continued: “There is an old herbal remedy, made from foxglove, called digitalis. It may slow your heart down enough to get you out of trouble.”
A week later, Sumner looked like he’d take on something much bigger than the rooster again. His pulse was 80 and his weight was back to its baseline. Leaning back in his chair, he said: “The third day I took your medicine, I could feel my heart slow down. I knew that herb medicine would be good. You do all right by me.”
“I figured something more natural might work for you,” I answered. “Besides, it was the only other thing I could think of.”
“I like you. You have common sense,” he said as he offered me his large hand.
It was the firm handshake of a man who had worked hard all his life.
“A Country Doctor” is a family physician who blogs at A Country Doctor Writes:.