Tag Archives: Medicine

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to My Grave

It was 2004 and calamity struck. In stages. It started the previous Christmas Eve. My doctor called me. Doctors don’t call you on Christmas Eve just to say hello. My daughter needed a biopsy, ASAP, he said. She was subsequently diagnosed with invasive thyroid cancer. Something we didn’t know until the second pathology report, and that necessitated two surgeries. Two weeks apart. The surgeon had tried to leave a smidgen of thyroid, so she wouldn’t be dependent on medication for the rest of her life. She was nineteen.

By April, we’d made it through radiation treatments, and then came May. I severed the tip of one finger trying to pry the stopper off the drainage hole of a large plastic planter, with a knife. My plants always bring me a sense of peace, working with them, or just communing with them. I felt the knife go through my finger as blood spurted. I grabbed a paper towel and jammed the finger end back on. It had already gone as white as the paper towel. The ER attending had been a plastic surgeon back in India. My finger survived intact, though for many years it was excruciatingly sensitive to touch. Nerves have a long memory.

Meanwhile, I was feeling weak, having generalized pain, along with localized pain to my joints. My stamina was decreasing rapidly, making me glad for my office job. I knew that my ICU days were a thing of the past; my body could no longer sustain the hectic pace. The rheumatologist treated me for arthritis, and though he did mention the possibility of RA, he did nothing to diagnose it or treat it. In July, while leaving his office after my final visit to him, my sister called. My father, who’d been in the hospital, had died.

I dreaded the three-hour trip back home. The necessity to change flights in Houston. The need to run from one terminal to another, carrying heavy luggage along with my heavy heart. I felt I was short-changing my father, thinking about myself instead of him. But, oh the pain! In my body, and in my soul.

Upon my return, I had my PCP refer me to another rheumatologist. “This man is going to kill me,” I said. The soonest I could get an appointment was for mid-October. I hoped to make it till then.

October 3rd found me lying on an ER bed, in a scene straight from TV. I watched it all from above. Or maybe I only imagined seeing it, as I had been on the other side of that bed countless times.

It turned out not to be anything as obvious as the hammer-fall of a heart attack. No, it was something more insidious. Something that slithers toward you, with its own intrinsic ebb and flow. Something that can be innocuous or deadly. The bane of RA sufferers. Fluid.

With the passage of time, fluid had been collecting not only in my joints, but also around my heart and lungs. Till one day, I could no longer stand for the few minutes it took to shower, nor could I speak well enough to make myself understood.

The new rheumatologist’s first words, after hearing my history, made my eyes fill with even more fluid. “Don’t worry,” he said, placing his hand on my arm, “We’re going to find out what it is.”

“IT” turned out to be RA, and though he started to attack it aggressively, I continued to worsen. It had been allowed to grab a stranglehold on me, and it didn’t seem to want to let go.

I resigned my management position of the busy telephone triage department; I couldn’t keep up with all its intricacies. I remained part-time, but that did not help matters. Being tied to a desk made my hips ache so. Holding the phone to my ear while typing on a computer keyboard made my wrists and elbows scream with pain by the time my six-hour evening shift ended.

At night, I longed for the pain to subside just enough to let me sleep a little. And fearing that death was on the horizon, I retired. I had to conserve my dwindling physical and mental energies for my youngest child. It would be two more years before she went away to college. She needed me, and I needed to give her my last days.

But then, a funny thing happened on the way to my grave.

I began to get better.

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Inner Peace and Invisible Pain

I have survived over a week with shingles and I have to say it was not easy. After having four kids, and RA, I should have a high tolerance for pain, I would think. Apparently, I do not.

But then again, the above mentioned wasn’t nerve pain. That falls into a category all by its unique self. I call it the invisible pain.

The rash has subsided, gone to pink again, but the swelling persists. I have a lopsided belly and my hip area is exquisitely tender, yet hard to the touch. I had no idea there was so much swelling involved with shingles. And since it’s the right side of my belly that’s inflamed, I feared for my liver. After nine years of methotrexate, I should fear for my liver!

But, my doctor palpated and said it was fine, just inflammation. A word I’m all too familiar with. And because of its immunosuppression side effects, he took me off the mtx until further notice. Today, I should contact my rheumatologist and tell him about it. Maybe he wants to start something else.

I’ve hesitated to call him because I’m afraid he’ll want to see me and a visit to him is a three-hour sitting around marathon. I can’t sit right now, not for three freaking hours! But, perhaps we can speak on the phone.

I never thought something could make RA take a back seat, medically speaking, but hats off to shingles. The pain is akin to having a flaming torch applied to your side, while a thousand knives hack away at you by turns.

After twelve days, the temperature on that torch is somewhat diminished and the number of knives has decreased to the hundreds. The area they now concentrate on is thankfully smaller. Maybe that’s why the effect feels lessened.

Yet strangely, amidst all this, I feel inner peace. I am being tenderly cared for, dare I say even pampered and catered to. I’m receiving the type of medicine one can’t buy, and has no price. One whose value can never be quantified, and best of all, comes with no side effects.

Unless, you count love.

“More Medicine, More Medicine, More Medicine . . . More Medicine”

She throws up her little hands before pronouncing the last “more medicine.” She is reclining on my bed, relaxing against a bunch of pillows. I am setting up her nebulizer for her 1 pm aerosol when she starts reeling off the “more medicines.” But, she is complaint to the nth degree. She knows the drill. Sadly, she knows the drill.

Her compliance breaks my heart. No three-year-old should be hogtied to a medical regimen. No toddler should be thinking about more medicine. They should be free to run and play and the only concern should be how to avoid naptime. Or how to delay bedtime.

But, here we are. And thankfully, here we are. We can employ the verb “to be.”

Amid all the hubbub of her illness and hospitalization, my “more medicines” became less medicines with my having forgotten my own drill. It hardly seemed important at the time. Vaguely I knew I was due to take something, sometime, and I managed to get around to it, sort of.

I missed some. I know that. My hand knows that. My ex-friend/lover, insidious little entity that he is, came calling. Wanted to renew the relationship. I said OK, for a little while. I kind of like having a flexible right hand. So I let him give me ten kisses today, I mean ten milligrams. Tomorrow I am cutting him down to five.

And I’m thinking I will allow him to hang around for a fleeting moment each day. 2.5 milligrams worth. For a while anyway. Prednisone, he is both enabler and disabler. Need to walk a fine line with this guy.

But in the end, I want the “more medicine” story to be mine, not hers.

 

Dream Foretold

I’ve been told I put too much stock in dreams. And perhaps I do. For a reason. A few nights ago I dreamt that a family gathering had been canceled because someone was in the hospital. It seemed a very strange dream and it bothered me. Made me feel as if the earth was unsteady under my feet.

I felt something akin to impending doom, but I tried to shake it off. It was silly; it was just a dream.

And then, out of the blue, a family gathering scheduled for next month was canceled. The reason given was time constraints and travel expenses, but when that happened it made chills run up and down my spine.

For you see, my granddaughter was being seen in the ER at that very moment. A follow-up from the previous afternoon’s visit to her pediatrician. Her cough was not improving and my daughter took her to be seen again.

When that trip-cancellation call came in, I knew she wasn’t going to be sent home with the regular medication regimen. She was admitted to the hospital with a respiratory virus known as RSV. It was so sudden and so overwhelming that her little lungs couldn’t handle it and there was talk of putting her in the ICU.

I knew what that talk meant. A vision of her surrounded by machinery and a myriad of lines tormented me. Immediately, I attempted to strike a bargain. Give me the biggest, baddest flare. Give me the pain and the suffering.  Let her get better. She’s so little. But a speck in that huge hospital bed. Let me lie there instead.

I sat at her side and prayed as she struggled to breathe through her constant chest-wracking cough. Watched helplessly while an aggressive treatment was implemented. Medicine to be breathed in, medicine pushed through her IV and medicine given through a needle into her little body.

Thoughts of all the people I knew who also knew her passed through my mind like a repeating slide show, and I mentally willed them all to think good thoughts for her. I silently read the faces of all who entered to attend to her. My daughter, her mother, accepted all she heard at face value. But, I heard the real story and it terrified me.

And then, after hours and hours of aggressive treatment, the doctor listened to her lungs for the umpteenth time and then smiled. She gave a thumbs up as she replaced the stethoscope around her neck. No ICU, she said.

No ICU.

Tomorrow my baby is due to come home. This evening she sat on my lap for hours, her monitor wires and IV lines tangled around us like so much spaghetti. She was tired of being in the bed and wanted to gaze out the window.

“I want to see the moon,” she said.