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Glasgow Daily Record

Samantha Booth

Apr 26 2002

Helen goes to court after her ‘demon’ nightmare

WHEN Helen Ruddie was prescribed the latest treatment to help her stop smoking, she thought her prayers had been answered.
After trying everything from patches to costly acupuncture sessions, she hoped this would finally help her quit the habit.
But 10 days after starting on a course of Zyban, the loving mother-of-two claims she became a demon.
Helen, 41, says: “I can’t remember a thing, but I am told I was like something out of The Exorcist – so much so that my mum kept sprinkling me with holy water to try and bless me.”
In a hysterical fit, Helen threw boiling tea over her husband Michael, tried to jump out of a window and raved wildly about seeing her dad, who had died almost 30 years earlier.
She was so wound up that doctors were on the point of having her committed to a mental ward.
Even now, she’s highly-strung – and, to cap it all off, she’s smoking more than ever before.
Helen says: “I’ve never been the same since I took Zyban.
“I used to smoke about 15 cigarettes a day – now I’m up to 40. I am scared to go to the shops on my own and I get so hysterical I can’t sleep – but I don’t even know what I’m scared of.”
Zyban was the first aid to stop smoking that was not nicotine-based and it was hailed as a breakthrough when the Scottish Executive announced two years ago that it would be available on the NHS.
Helen, who took three inhalers a day to stave off bronchitis and was also facing surgery for a hysterectomy, knew she would be healthier if she could give up smoking.
She’d tried willpower, nicotine gum, patches and ?65 acupuncture sessions – all to no avail – before her doctor finally prescribed Zyban.
Helen, of the Lanarkshire village of Plains, recalls: “I took it for nine days before stopping the cigarettes, but by night-time on the ninth day, I had begun to shake. I started crying and was really uptight.
“Eventually, Michael gave me one draw of a cigarette and sent me to bed.”
The next day, Helen woke feeling anxious, but went to chapel to hear her youngest son Danny, now eight, give a reading. She says: “I began to shake again in the chapel and by three o’clock in the afternoon, I was hysterical and having panic attacks.
“I phoned my doctor and was told to go straight to the surgery, but once I was there I screamed abuse at him, demanding to know why he had given me these things. My doctor is the nicest man in the world and I’d never normally do anything like that.”
Helen was prescribed tranquillisers and was sent home, but the next 24 hours were sheer hell.
She explains: “As soon as I left the surgery, I stepped out on to the road in front of all the traffic and it wasn’t until the horns started blaring that I knew where I was.
“I was just hysterical – and I must have looked it because taxis wouldn’t pick me up.”
Once she got home, Helen took two more tranquillisers and slept for a few hours – but when she woke, she was a different person.
She says: “I don’t remember a thing, but my husband, sons and mother have told me it was like something out of The Exorcist.
“I kept shouting and screaming about going to see my ‘daddy’. My dad died when I was 12, but I thought he was outside and when Michael stopped me going out the door, I tried to jump out of the window.”
She adds: “I demanded a cup of tea, but as soon as my husband gave it to me, I threw it all over him.
“Two minutes later, I demanded another cup – and I did the same again.
“I also threw a bottle of ketchup at Michael when he brought me something to eat.
“He was a bit battered and bruised the next day, but it is only luck that he wasn’t seriously hurt.”
Helen adds: “Michael said I looked as if I was on another planet. I demanded to go to Safeway at 3am.
“When he told me it didn’t open till eight, I sat down, totally cool and calm with my chin in my hands, and watched the clock until it was time to go.
“Then once we were there, I did nothing except glare and growl at people, but Michael said they knew just by looking at me something was wrong.”
When Michael tried to give her tranquillisers, she refused to take them and accused him of keeping her drugged so that he could visit another woman.
Doctors were so concerned about her mental state, they were on the verge of sending an ambulance to commit her when she finally feel asleep.
She says: “I can’t remember anything for a week. I lost a week of my life and I lost a week of my kids’ lives because I was dosed up to the eyeballs with tranquillisers until the Zyban was out of my system.
“It was horrible – one day I was fine, then I took Zyban and now my life is ruined.”
The entire episode has also changed the lives of Helen’s family. Her husband Michael – who works as a delivery driver – has to phone home every couple of hours to make sure she is all right.
And her eldest son Liam, 15, can’t stop worrying about his mum – even though he should be concentrating on his forthcoming Standard Grade exams.
Helen says: “Michael has been a huge support – anybody else would have either left or strangled me by now.
“And Liam has told me that ever since I took Zyban, living with me has been like walking on eggshells because he never knows when I might explode.
“He phones me every day from school to see if I’m okay – and I don’t think a boy of 15 should have to do that.”
A few weeks after she started taking Zyban, Helen responded to a Daily Record article about the effects of the drug.
We’d told how Glasgow dad-of-four Thomas McNicol almost died after an allergic reaction to the drug – and we were flooded with phone calls from readers who claimed they had suffered serious side-effects after using it.
The drug was also linked to several deaths, a teenager tried to commit suicide and at least two drivers crashed after blacking out at the wheel after taking it.
Helen was put in touch with a lawyer and now she is going to be the first person in the UK to bring a case against its makers, GlaxoSmithKline.
HELEN says: “It is just terrible that the drug is still widely available when so many people have died and others have had bad side-effects.
“There should have been far more research done before it was handed out to make sure it was safe, instead of treating us like guinea pigs.
“All I want is for them to stop giving it to people.”
Helen’s test case will pave the way for hundreds of other smokers if it succeeds, but she is not looking forward to having her day in court.
She says: “The thought of it just fills me with dread. Being cross-examined by lawyers is bad enough for ordinary people – it will be hell for me.”
More than anything, though, Helen wants her life back.
She says: “We used to go on holiday to Blackpool or Whitby, but now it’s impossible – I can’t even go to Ayr because it would be too much for me.
“But I really hope one day I will feel better and we will be able to go away again.
“After all, without hope there is nothing.”
Last night, GlaxoSmithKline was standing by its product. A company spokesman said: “The data connecting irrational actions and Zyban has been looked at in great detail and there is no relationship between Zyban and these types of events.
“It has to be remembered that when people stop smoking, they can get nicotine withdrawal, which can cause depression, which could have these symptoms.”