Digging deep

The last week has been rather trying.

Ok, it’s pretty much sucked out loud.

This time last week I was puking like a freshman pledge at a fraternity party, and the fun didn’t stop until I dosed myself with Phenergan and Zofran and conked out for the night. Little did I know that that was a harbinger of what was to come.

The preventative course of antibiotics has quite simply kicked my ass. I’ve never been one to run from a fight, until now. I’m done. I’m out. Let the countdown begin so someone can drag my sorry carcass out of the ring.

I’ve spent the vast majority of this week in my bed. The entire week. This is rather unusual for a busybody like me, but there was no way around it. My body said, enough. I got up for the necessities: sustenance, teeth-brushing, and potty breaks. Oh, and to drive carpool. Gotta go get the kiddies! Yesterday I picked up the kids in my pajamas — a first for me. I know some moms who do that on a regular basis, but I had never once done it, and today may well be a repeat performance. One of the teachers in the pick-up line, an adorable & energetic kindergarten teacher, stuck her head in my car to say hi and giggled at me in my jammies. She said,”Oooh, I want your life.” I looked her straight in the eye and said, “No, you don’t.”

Trust me on that.

Never have I been laid so low by the workings of modern medicine. Not when I had chicken pox in grade school and had to miss the school carnival (a belated thank you to Rick Dodd for bringing me cotton candy from the event). Not when I had mono in middle school and thought I was near death. Not when I got my tonsils out in high school and would have slipped quietly out of this world if someone had just pulled the sheet over my head.

I have never felt this sick.

I seriously considered calling my dear, delightful doctor yesterday to say that I highly suspect the antibiotics are poisoning me.

My whole body hurts. My bones ache. My lower back feels like it’s being pulled in all directions. My eye sockets feel too big. My tummy is in serious turmoil. The back of my mouth feels like something died in it. My tongue feels fuzzy. My brain is switched off yet my head is spinning, and the idea of making a simple decision is overwhelming. Nothing sounds good, nothing tastes good, yet I’m convinced that there’s something out there that will make this all better. Fresh-squeezed orange juice? No. A grilled cheese sandwich with spicy mustard? Sorry. An angel food smoothie with extra antioxidants? Good try, but no. Macaroni & cheese? Hah. Yogurt with lots of blueberries? Puh-leeze.

The only thing that’s gonna help me in this dire case is time. As the sage Boy George once said, “Time, oh give me time.”

Time to heal. Time for the drugs to run their course. Time to patch up my desiccated digestive system. Time to get past this latest round of shittiness.

(I really hope it happens fast, too, because my favorite girl & I have tickets to see Taylor Swift tomorrow.)

It’s time to dig deep, to look to wiser women than myself, and to seek comfort from whatever source in which it may reside. Today it’s Harriet Beecher Stowe who speaks to me, whose words assure me that I can get through this:

“When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up then, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”

I’m waiting.


Extra! Extra!

The front page of the Houston Chronicle today has an article entitled “Infections Top Safety Issues for Hospitals.”

For hospitals?? What about for patients??

I admit, before I became a statistic and contracted a nosocomial infection, I didn’t think much about it, and I would have to say that infections were not the top safety issue for me. Now, of course, I am a statistic, and I’m not very happy about it. Well, I learned a new word (nosocomial,) which usually makes me happy, but this time, not so much. In fact, not at all. I could have happily lived the rest of my life never hearing that word, much less learning about it so intimately.

The article in today’s paper got my attention, for sure, and I half expected to read a story similar to my own, but instead it’s about systemic vascular infections among Medicare patients. The article itself didn’t enlighten me much, and it never said specifically what kind of infections we’re talking about. Not a single mention of staph or mycobacterium to be found.

Sadly, I’m quite well-versed in those two topics.

The article did say that out of 46 hospitals in a 50-mile radius of Houston, half of them reported that Medicare patients under their care contracted infections. Some 472 “hospital-acquired conditions” were reported among 234,000 Medicare patients from October 2008 to June 2010.

I love how the infections are downgraded to “conditions” in print. I can tell you with 100 percent clarity that my hospital-acquired infection was not a condition. It was hell, and it became all-out war.

the-leaky-cauldron.org

Even though I eventually emerged the victor, like most warriors, I will live in the shadow of that victory forever. I don’t know that I will ever feel completely at ease about the infection. I suspect the fear of infection will always be in the back of my mind. Like Harry Potter looking over his shoulder for “He Who Shall Not Be Named,” I will carry this monkey on my back for all of time.

It’s been a while since I have had the recurring dream in which my chest splits open and fluid is pouring out. Maybe that means I’m healing, mentally. In January I wrote about Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and how it’s not just for people in the military.

At that time, I was 5 months out from my last hospitalization for the post-mastectomy infection, and it was still alarmingly fresh in my mind. Today, I’m even farther out from that last hospital stay, and hope to continue putting distance between myself and that date. 8 months and counting….

I don’t freak out on a daily basis anymore, and having a reconstructed chest instead of a battle-scarred sunken stretch of mangled skin helps. A lot. To the untrained eye, I look like a normal suburbanite going about her daily business. I’m pretty much recovered from The Big Dig, other than some lingering soreness in my belly incision and the annoying fatigue that I can’t seem to shake. The reconstruction, like the cancer, was a piece of cake compared to fighting the hospital-acquired “condition.”

That “condition” and I go round and round, and even though I was the winner in our balls-out battle this past summer, it will always have a hold on me. The 256 days of oral antibiotics are case in point.

256 days.

Twice a day.

Every day.

256 days. With no end in sight.

The other day, I did something I haven’t done in all that time: I missed a dose.

This is huge for me. I’m a bit OCD when it comes to taking my meds, and I’ve been ridiculoulsy proud of the fact that after all this time, I’ve stayed on course and haven’t had to take a break, to nurse an upset stomach or to quell a GI disturbance. I’ve only barfed a couple of times, and it was because I didn’t eat enough to lay down a good base for those antibiotics.

But lately it hasn’t mattered what I eat, I always feel barfy. Once the simple carbs like crackers & pretzels failed to rid me of the ever-present nausea, I gave in and took the Zofran. The nausea was gone, but I couldn’t keep my eyes open. Clearly this would not be a daytime solution. Once I’d exhausted the simple carbs and Zofran plan, I resorted to alcohol. And lots of it. I figured, if I was gonna feel that bad, I might as well have a good buzz.

Not such a good plan.

I’m really glad I never read the 2001 study on vascular infections authored by Dr CA Mestress of Barcelona. In it he says that vascular infections are “dreadful surgical entities that are usually accompanied by a high morbidity and mortality.” Yikes. I’m really glad I didn’t know that until now. Dr Mestress goes on to say that these infections “require immediate diagnosis and aggressive treatment.”

The recent study on Medicare patients found in the Chronicle today quotes Donald McLeod, spokesperson for the US Department of Health & Human Services as saying, “We wanted to bring transparency to the fact that patients are exposed to potentially unsafe occurrences at America’s hospitals.” He goes on to say he hopes that the recent study will “spur hospitals to work with care providers to reduce or eliminate these hospital-acquired conditions from happening again to even a single patient.”

There’s that word again: condition.  That’s gonna bug me.

It seems the recent study focused on vascular infections contracted via catheters, so who knows how many other hospital-acquired “conditions” are unclassified. Instead of giving me the details I want, the article devoted itself to discussing other hospital-acquired “conditions” such as bed sores, falls, mismatched blood types, and surgical objects accidentally left in the body after surgery.

Ok, so none of those things happened to me, and for that, I am grateful. Wonder if Harry Potter can whip me up a cure for the all-day nausea?