Sunday, August 25, 2013

Medical Advice, Stat!

Last Sunday, my right ear canal was completely swollen up and was painful to the touch.  This Sunday, my forearms, ankles, chest, back and I believe the top of my head where I can't see but feel them, are covered with tiny red welts that itch so bad I'm about to peel my skin from my muscles with a kitchen knife for some relief.  
You might say I'm having some medical issues this week.
Before I go further, I need to advise you that I am something of a hypochondriac.  I'm one of those people that go to WebMD when I get funny feeling and come away convinced that I have the early stages of dengue fever.  It is good that I'm aware of my hypochondriasis (the real term, I looked it up), and can often...  Sometimes...  Every so often use this knowledge to calm myself down.  
When the fact that something is going wrong becomes undeniable though, my thoughts can go off the deep end.  
It was clear Sunday morning that I had woken up with an ear infection.  When I touched the ear, there was pain and discomfort.  A cotton swab on a stick could barely be inserted into the opening before it was stopped by the swelling inside and the pain that accompanied it.  This wasn't normal.  
My first thought after reaching that conclusion was to worry if my head was about to explode.  This came from my recollection of the X-Files episode, "Drive," which aired in its sixth season.  It's the episode where a navy installation broadcasting ELF (Extremely Low Frequency) waves is causing pressure to build up in the inner ears of the people living nearby.  They only way they can get relief is to drive west as fast as they can.  The relief is temporary, though, and eventually their heads explode from the pressure building up inside their inner ear.  
This is where I started trying to use my iPhone to take a picture of the inside of my ear.  I never got a clear picture.  They should make an app for that.  Some sort of bluetooth mini-camera you can still in your ear and see what there is to see on your phone's screen.  
Write after writing that I checked online.  They have them.  Little bluetooth cameras that you can wear hooked to your ear and the picture will show up on your phone's screen.  For about $30 bucks I can have my own, ad hoc, otoscope.  
I didn't have one at the time, though, so, trying to forget the images of my head popping like a balloon, I swabbed the ear out with hydrogen peroxide and tried to wait until I could call the doctor the next day.  
I left work early after making an appointment.  My doctor shared my opinion that my ear ear was infected.  That is always a good feeling, you know?  When your doctor tells you that what you think is wrong is really wrong.  He prescribed two antibiotics for me.  One was a tablet, the other in ear drop form.  He said he couldn't tell if the infection was internal or topical, since my ear canal was so swollen he couldn't see eardrum, so he decided to cover both bases.  
It took him a bit of consideration to choose the antibiotic to prescribe to me.  I have had very strong reactions to both penicillin and erythromycin, which are, I understand, are the two largest and most often used families of antibiotics.  He finally decided to have me take something called sulfamethoxazole.  
I'm going to remember that name.  Sulfamethoxazole.  
For the next three days things seemed to go well.  The swelling in my ear went down.  The pain went away.  The medication seemed to be doing its job.  
Have you ever read the inserts that come with the drugs you get from the doctor?  I don't recommend it.  The ear drops, for instance, had a warning that it could cause "permanent deafness."  The antibiotic in those drops can kill the little hairs that grow in the cochlea of the ear, making it impossible for you to hear anything.  And this is what they decide to use for ear drops?  
Maybe it was reading that insert that made me a bit lax with the ear drops.  It was supposed to be used three times a day, but I would leave it at home or forget to take it and so I was only using it one or two times a day.  
The first clue I got that the medication was doing more than it should was Friday morning.  I woke up with this itchy feeling around my neck.  I kept scratching it and finally took a look in the mirror.  There was a red patch along the collar bone.  I thought I had done that from scratching too much.  I shrugged it off and got ready for work.  
It was in the afternoon, while scratching my wrist that I noticed I had these tiny welts on my skin.  They looked like blisters, only really, really small.  I went to the restroom and open my shirt and saw that the redness had spread from my collar bone to a patch about the same size as my open hand, fingers spread wide, would cover.  
It was a rash.  I was having an allergic reaction to the antibiotic.  Sulfamethoxazole was going to join penicillin and erythromycin on my list of medications I wasn't going to take.  
I needed to be sure.  I wasn't going to keep taking it, but I wanted to know what else I could do?  The last dosage was taken before I left home,  hours ago.  Inducing vomiting wouldn't help.  I called my doctor.  He was seeing patients.  I left a message.  I didn't want to go to WebMD.  I might start bleeding myself and without the right implements that could end up bad.  
I remembered one of my co-workers was studying to be a nurse.  I went to speak to her.  Yes, she was studying to be a nurse, but she was still working on her "pre-reqs" and hadn't gotten into the medical stuff.  
"Oh.  Ok."  I started to turn away. 
"But I do know some stuff...!"  
I turned back.  "How?"  
"Just from knowing.  Tell me what's up."  
I did.  I opened the collar of my shirt to show her the rash, along with my wrists.  
"Yeah.  It's a reaction, all right."  She was nodding sagely.  "First thing, stop taking it."  
"Yeah, Ok."  That was easy.  I'd figured out that part on my own.  
"And take some benadryl."  
"Benadryl?"  Was that stuff for hayfever?  
"Yeah, for the symptoms.  You don't have to go anywhere if your throat isn't closing up.  Your throat' doesn't feel like it's closing up?"  
"It does now."  
I thanked her and went back to my desk.  I called my doctor twice more.  He was still unavailable.  I wondered if he was trying to reach me at home, since that was the number in my file.  I left another message, insisting that they give him my cell phone or office number.  Finally, I asked for the doctor on call.  
When she answered the phone, I went over everything.  The hypochondriac in me added the fact that my throat was scratchy and I had a congested feeling.  The rational part of me added that the throat thing could be from talking on the phone all day, but...  The doctor listened.  She "uh-huh'd" where appropriate.  When I got done with my explanation, this is what she told me.  
"Ok.  I don't know which antibiotic you are reacting to, so stop taking both of them..." 
"Got it.  And?"  
"And take some benadryl for the symptoms."  
There's a small movement of people out there that are using their smart phones to diagnosis themselves.  It's part of a growing group of people involved in a "DIY" movement, where "DIY" stands for Do It Yourself.  
I am a prime candidate for that movement, particularly when it comes to medical issues.  I'm going to buy the toilets that will run tests on what you deposit there (the ones with urinals built into them to save water).  I'll get the app to listen to my heartbeat and run and EKG on me.  When someone builds an affordable tricoder, I'll buy that, too.  There's an X-Prize being offered to do so.  A company called "Scandau" has announced they have a prototype in the works.  Hold the monitor to your forehead and all your vital signs will be projected to your smartphone.  
I want one.  If it makes the same noise Bones' did when he used his, I'll buy one right when they come on the market.  
The worst thing about medical issues is the not knowing for sure.  That's my opinion.  Not having someone you trust to answer your questions.  
My Mom, being in her 70's, has her share of issues.  The most recent one was with her right knee, which she had replaced in January.  She had the left one replaced a couple of years ago and was delighted with the results.  Walking around with no pain was wonderful.  
The second one hasn't gone so well.  It was bigger, she insisted, than the first one.  It was still stiff and painful.  She couldn't participate in her bowling league, where most of her friends were.  She was talking about suing the doctor, who she used because the doctor that did the first procedure retired.
This week, at her check-up, the doctor that had performed the second transplant agreed that her recovery wasn't going as well as plan.  He admitted that he used a larger implant than the first one because the bones on her right leg were bigger than those of her left.  He didn't want to cut away that much more bone to make a device as big as the first one fit, so he choose a larger device.  If she wanted, the doctor offered to introduce her to some other knee specialists to have them redo the job he'd done.  
After this conversation, my mom decided that the doctor had done his best.  She decided to stop talking about suing him.  She was going to work the knee and see if she could get it to work better for her, work the stiffness out.  This week, she went bowling again for the first time.  
But those physical therapists they sent her during rehab...?  Yeah, they're the ones that didn't do their job.  


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