After I had experienced four miscarriages, my new doctor put me on a high dose of steroids, a medication that suppressed my immune system so my body wouldn't reject my fifth pregnancy like it had the previous ones.
Some White House staffers wonder whether Trump’s recent behavior has been 'spurred by a cocktail of drugs he has been taking.'
"I feel like I want to kill my husband once a day," I told the doctor about my reaction to the drugs, which also left me unable to sleep, lying in bed ruminating about all the ways I could change the world and believing I could lift a car just like Superman had.
"Only once a day?" my doctor responded. "That's GREAT!"
Steroids have been getting a lot more attention since President Donald Trump went on them last weekend to treat his Covid-19. The World Health Organization has pointed to steroids as "a potentially effective treatment" for the coronavirus, noting that they may prevent death in patients with "critical" Covid-19 by helping to prevent the body's overactive response to the virus. But they can also cause something informally known as "roid rage," or aggressive and angry behavior. (The term is most commonly applied to the anabolic steroids that athletes have been known to abuse.)
After Trump's frequent bursts of all-caps tweets and about-faces on major legislation, some White House staffers wonder whether his recent behavior has been "spurred by a cocktail of drugs he has been taking to treat the coronavirus, including dexamethasone, a steroid that can cause mood swings and can give a false level of energy and a sense of euphoria," according to The New York Times.
There are a lot of details about Trump's treatment that we don't know, such as whether his course is following the National Institutes of Health guideline that dexamethasone be given to hospitalized Covid-19 patients in doses of 6 mg per day for up to 10 days. We also don't know what his schedule is for tapering off the drug to reduce withdrawal symptoms, as well as side effects.
And of course we also can't know what precise effect the steroids have had on him or what his direct experience of them is. But as someone who's been through it, I can share my own — and it wasn't pretty.
My steroid consumption started gradually, in the middle of my four years of fertility treatments. After a couple of miscarriages, one of my IVF doctors prescribed a low dose of 5 mg of prednisone. I didn't feel any side effects, but I also kept on miscarrying. By the time I reached Braverman IVF & Reproductive Immunology, which specialized in recurrent pregnancy loss, I was ready to do almost anything to have a successful pregnancy.
"We'll start you off on 20 milligrams and then see how that goes," Dr. Braverman told me six years ago. "There might be some side effects," he warned me.
Over the years, I had been on so, so many drugs — birth control to regulate my menstrual cycles, hormones to increase my egg count, gonadotropin to release said eggs, blood thinners to combat miscarriage — medications that made me sleepy, dizzy and thirsty and even caused nightmares. So I simply thought, "What's one more side effect for me?"
Wow, was I naive. After we'd gotten a positive pregnancy test, the doctor ratcheted up the steroids to 30 mg a day. (For the record, many of my IVF doctors opposed this controversial treatment. But then, none of them had kept me pregnant.) I felt the effects of the steroids like no medicine I had been on before.
I was sweating all the time from the corticosteroids, substances that mimic the effects of hormones your body produces naturally in your adrenal glands to suppress inflammation and your immune system, according to the Mayo Clinic. (Trump is also taking a corticosteroid, but one six times more potent than mine.)
My heart would pump so fast I felt like I could run three marathons (in reality, I was pregnant, so I couldn't run at all). My mind would race: I felt like I could write three books, read the entire Bible, redo my master's thesis and then — who knows? — learn the stock market and make a killing. My body was so amped up I couldn't sleep.
Insomnia is only one of the effects of short-term use of corticosteroids, according to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. According to the agency, other side effects include an increase in appetite, weight gain, fluid retention and bloating. Yes, I had what's called "moon face" — though no one said it to my face, lucky for them, or who knows what I might have done.
The side effects list concluded with "mood changes like irritability and anxiety." I guess what I had could be called "irritability and anxiety," but I would have called it IRRITABILITY AND ANXIETY.
I'm lucky I wasn't on Twitter then, because I'm sure I would have tweeted off a firestorm. I remember one night I stayed up till dawn, writing what I was sure was a brilliant treatise on marriage — on mine in particular. Today, I am so grateful that in my haste I lost the gargantuan document. I fear it would have revealed the workings of a madwoman.
I wasn't kidding when I told my doctor at our 12-week checkup that I felt like I did want to kill my husband at least once a day.
Even in normal times, I'm not what you would call a shrinking violet: I was born in Brooklyn, New York, and spent a lot of my time in Israel, a country known for its aggressiveness. I might not have realized what the steroids were doing to me had my husband not pointed it out — how we were fighting an awful lot even though I wasn't getting my period, with its bellicose PMS precursor. I wasn't kidding when I told my doctor at our 12-week checkup that I felt like I did want to kill my husband at least once a day.
No matter. He upped my dosage to 40 mg of steroids and kept me on the regimen until I was halfway through the pregnancy. I remember once when we were in the middle of an outlet mall, I cried into the phone, almost screaming, begging the doctor to reduce the dosage, even a little. Thankfully, he did reduce the medication soon after and then tapered me off slowly, and I got to feel like a normal person again — a normal pregnant person, who gave birth to a beautiful baby girl.
Sometimes when I'm tired from parenting, from the pandemic, from parenting during the pandemic, though, I miss the energy of the steroids, when I was feeling invulnerable and flying high.