I am officially done with coffee. It was fun while it lasted, but I will never drink another cup of the stuff for the rest of my life. In fact, I may try hard to avoid caffeine altogether, if it is, in fact, the caffeine that’s the problem.
I only started drinking coffee in my early 20s after I had transferred from my first college, Bard, and landed at Hunter College in NYC. So I got through about 2 1/2 years of college without it. I once smelled the coffee from a can in order to wake myself up before my audition for the Fame school, and it worked, but I didn’t start drinking it until what I consider to be late (I am a late bloomer).
I started in order to keep myself from falling asleep in a large lecture class on economics. It kept me up, but that’s about it. I did all right in the class, I think I got an A, but that’s not cause I was listening. At least I wasn’t embarrassing myself by smacking my head on the desk.
At that time I developed a fondness for hazelnut flavored coffee, the smell of it still reminds of the Hunter food court. It’s always been the only flavored coffee I like. Mostly I prefer my coffee simple and strong, with cream and no sugar (or even black).
I like it because it’s a drug, and drugs can be likable. But it has never helped me to focus. And in recent years I have struggled from time to time to do without it because of that. Like many drugs, it just isn’t productive.
Unlike sugar, which I have been relatively successful at eliminating from my normal diet, I have been off and on with coffee, and more often on.
But I have always maintained that I would quit, just as I would quit alcohol, if there was a medical reason to do it. And now there is.
The first time I noticed any heart palpitations, skipped beats really, though technically they are premature beats that sound like skipped beats, because the premature beat has no blood to pump, otherwise known as Premature Ventricular Contractions, PVCs or PACs (let’s call them PVCs for simplicity sake, though there has not been a need to find out whether mine are ventricular or atrial), was probably a decade ago, and I more or less got them to go away by resolving never to drink coffee on an empty stomach. So it was always the coffee, but still, I didn’t believe that for sure until last week.
What happened over this past Thanksgiving was this. We traveled. We traveled to Alaska to see my cousin Mark and his family. We left Friday night and got there Friday night, though it would have been early Saturday morning by our body clocks. We went right to sleep and spent the next 4 days there. I had not been drinking coffee, was on one of my coffee fasts, though when I’m on vacation I don’t generally mind the lack of focus. I didn’t necessarily want to get back in the habit, but on Tuesday, with nothing much to do in November in Alaska, we walked the town, and found ourselves at a coffee shop and I decided to have a cup. We left that night on a 9:50PM flight to NYC (with a connection in Minneapolis) and arrived in the morning with very little sleep. And then they started.
Wednesday I was having so many PVCs I could verify it easily. I felt them in my chest and it was uncomfortable, so I checked my pulse and it was clear. My heart would beat beat beat, and then it wouldn’t beat, then it would beat again. It was inconsistent as to how many beats before a skip, but it often wasn’t many. I attributed it to many things, lack of sleep, possible over medication of my thyroid meds, and coffee.
I obsessed on the internet for a bit and satisfied myself that it was reasonably likely that I would not die, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t worry. I didn’t tell anyone about it because I didn’t want people freaking out and telling me to go to the hospital, but I also didn’t want to drop dead. I napped a bit, and that didn’t really help, and that night I spoke to my sister in law about it who is a nurse practitioner in geriatrics at the VA. She didn’t want to tell me definitively not to go to the hospital if I really was concerned, but she was confident these were benign and brought on by my overnight flight and that all a doctor would do would be to put me on a halter monitor and observe, without acting on any imminent concern. She also chastised me for taking my thyroid meds on an irregular schedule, so the next morning I took it at the normal time, and only after thought that these things might in fact be from the medicine. All day I had them, all through Thanksgiving dinner, and it distracted the hell out of me. It happened most, or was most obvious when I sat, and we were sitting a lot. I didn’t drink coffee or alcohol, took some magnesium supplements because I had done that in the past and thought that would help. But it didn’t help quickly enough.
I had just had a physical, but the doctor’s office had not communicated the results of my thyroid tests which kind of pissed me off. Why don’t they routinely communicate the results of your tests? Why do you need to ask for that?
Anyway I was convinced. Because I had often, when I would periodically imagine that I had felt one or two of these things, though couldn’t necessarily verify it by the time I was checking my pulse, theorized that it was the meds, cause it was often accompanied by muscle twitches or feelings of irritability and sleeplessness, and that was typical of an overactive thyroid (or overmedication for an underactive thyroid), and I would skip a pill, so why didn’t I remember that and skip it Thanksgiving morning? Well I didn’t, but I stopped taking them Friday and bought some more magnesium. We drove out to my sisters and by evening they had begun to subside. I had some beer and whiskey and that actually seemed to help. The drive back Saturday was better.
By Tuesday the next week, back in Atlanta, I was feeling fine and took a half dose of thyroid meds to start easing back into taking it and called the doctor for an appointment. Then I decided to have a cup of coffee. I figured I had been on the magnesium and off the thyroid meds long enough that I could handle it. Immediately they started up again. And I felt bad in other ways too, skin was irritated, muscles were tight. I just didn’t feel good. IT WAS THE COFFEE.
At the doctor’s office I tested fine. He did an EKG, but found nothing. He said no one ever has palpitations in the doctor’s office. Results of the thyroid test actually did not indicate I was over medicated. I already knew that I felt better off coffee, and now I had a real medical reason not to drink it (though they are supposedly benign, skipped heartbeats can’t be good).
So I’m done, been there, done that, and hopefully these troublesome things will not find some other reason to return.
I’ll miss it, the coffee, but not so much.