Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Why I'm a terrible patient...: Part 1

I used to be a pretty tough chick when it came to getting sick.  I hated (and still hate) going to the doctor, so whether it was a sprain or strep throat, anything that didn't require an ER visit, I just pretty much toughed out and got over.

But when I got to college, the strep throats got more frequent.  Then I got a really nasty case of tonsilitis, with my tonsils swollen so tightly I could hardly breathe, much less eat.  I subsisted on protein shakes and antibiotics, and even managed in my misery to accompany my mom to see a show of "Cats" a few hours away from home.  (I'd gotten her the tickets months earlier for Christmas.)

Eventually, not being able to swallow without agonizing pain wore me down, and I went to a real doctor.  (I'd been visiting the Student Health Center, who blood-tested me for mono and pregnancy eight times, those being the only two illnesses college girls get.)  The GP I saw took a quick look at my throat, vomited in her mouth a little, and sent me to a specialist.  The specialist asked about my symptoms, took a look, and gave me a diagnosis.

Now, any of you who have been chronically ill without a diagnosis knows how bad it is to wait for one.  Even if it turns out you have Super-AIDS with a side of cancer, you feel like anything would be better than not knowing what's wrong with you.

The ENT specialist's diagnosis was acute tonsilitis that had evolved into a chronic lymphatic infection.  (Your tonsils are a part of your lymph system.  The more you know...)  Every lymph node in my body was swollen, as was my spleen, and it had wrecked my immune system (which made sense, as it explained why I just couldn't get better).  He scheduled a tonsilectomy, and when he took them out, they were huge and black.  He was so impressed by their awful state, he dug the bag with them out of the biohazard garbage to show me while I was coming out from anesthesia.  It was gross.  Surgeons are weird.

As standard post-op care, I was prescribed antibiotics.  The antibiotics made me sick, and between the damage to my throat and the nerves in my tongue (where they clamp it during surgery), food didn't taste right and I couldn't keep anything down.  Not being able to keep my meds down led to infection, which about  later led to me spending my 21st birthday in the hospital fighting a dangerously high fever.

Recovering from that was miserable, and over the span of three months I lost over 40 pounds (not in a good way).  And it all could have been avoided.

I could have gone to a real doctor and insisted my tonsils be taken out before so much damage was done to my immune system.

I could have asked for antibiotics that wouldn't make me so sick, or for something to help me keep them down.

I could have gone to the hospital as soon as my temperature hit 101, instead of being rushed at the last minute after I collapsed with a temp of 104.


And you know the worst part?  I didn't learn my lesson from this experience.  Just three years later, I would go through something very similar during my pregnancy.  (Continued in Part 2.)

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