For those following my Twitter stream who wondered what the heck was going on with me this week, here’s an update in way more than 140 characters, to fill in all the missing bits.
In San Francisco last Friday (a week ago), my throat felt a little bit sore. I attributed it to some late-night carousing on Thursday night/Friday morning, and thought nothing of it. I flew back to Georgia. Saturday and Sunday I noticed that the throat weirdness hadn’t gone away, but it wasn’t a big deal.
Monday morning my tonsils were hugely swollen. Couldn’t, unfortunately, see them, as there were no batteries in the flashlights we had. I phoned my brother and managed to croak out a request for fresh juice of the Vitamin C variety, and some apple cider vinegar so I could gargle my way to health, happiness and a normal speaking voice. I felt exhausted and my whole body hurt, so I took a sick day and went back to sleep. Brother turned up within an hour with my supplies. Was dismayed to discover that the vinnie, which in the past had ALWAYS cured laryngitis for me immediately when due to tonsil action, was not having an effect.* Further, I was having trouble swallowing the juice. Brother offered to take me to doctor, but I wanted to give rest, C and vinnie a chance, so I said if it wasn’t better by next day, I’d go. The rest of the day, I slept. No eating, minimal drinking (trying to get the juice down) during 5-minutes wakeup breaks.
Tuesday morning, it was hard to breathe. Talking was a lost cause, with forced breaths of air shaped into sounds the best I could do (and which caused tears). Swallowing had become an excruciating ordeal that involved whole body motion, stabbing sensations, and an odd sound emitting from my mouth immediately after each attempt. We went to the urgent care clinic. They looked me over and said, “Yep, those are big swollen tonsils with junk all over them.” Also, the pressure was causing my eardrums to pull further into my ear canals, causing ear pain. They did a strep swab, which came back negative. Doctor asked me if I’d been with anyone with mono. I said not as as far as I knew, but I traveled by plane a lot so I was exposed to lots of different things regularly. She said since it wasn’t strep, she was assuming it was a viral tonsillitis, and that since you can’t treat viruses with antibiotics there wasn’t much that could be done. They gave me a shot of steroids in my ass, which they said would help reduce the swelling in my throat, some hydrocodone pills, which they said would help with the pain and allow me to eat again, and some lidocaine viscous to gargle on the actual tonsils to numb them up (to also make it easier to drink and swallow). They said I needed to drink more fluids, and that the painkillers would make it possible. Big brother went off to fill the scrips and I went back to bed. When he came later with the medications, I took them. The lidocaine did nothing. The steroids shot (which hurt, btw) did not appear to have shrunken anything. I took the hydrocodone (which hurt to swallow, stupid pill) and went back to bed, still unable to swallow without contortions. Day 2 with no food or much drink.
Wednesday dawned marginally brighter. When my brother came in very early before he left for work to check on me, I had a modicum of a voice, and I realized the full-body aches were not so bad. Go hydrocodone! Went back to sleep. Awoke later to discover voice had been a tease. Swallowing still hurt, etc. Doctor had said to give it 24 hours, so I took yet another sick day to try and sleep through as much of it as I could. Was woken up by a text message from Mark Jaquith that afternoon/early evening prompting me to join #wordpress-dev. I figured he knew I was sick from Twitter, and that something must have gone seriously wrong with the 2.8 release, which was scheduled for that day. Turned out they were just discussing whether or not to add some last tickets and wanted my UI opinion. Answered a few questions, then logged out and went back to sleep. That night I woke up in scary pain, and couldn’t breathe right away. Decided to try icing my neck area to reduce swelling (I mean, move blood away from the area, right?). Went to kitchen in search of bag of peas or some such. Brother found me leaning against freezer door, barely standing. Set me down with frozen corn, went to drugstore for ice packs. Came back and had flashlight with batteries so we could check out my throat. Shined a light in there, and my brother, who served several tours in the middle east wars and went through those anti-torture trainings that basically involve being tortured (not to mention surviving our own childhood), actually yelped and looked scared. I looked in mirror and dropped the flashlight while I gave off a yelp of my own. My tonsils had swollen and merged into a wall across the back of my throat, obscuring the uvula, resting on top of tongue, huge, red, and covered in white cysts and infectiony-looking crap. He said we should go to the hospital. I said it was late and only interns were on that late, forget it, we’d go in the morning. I think this came out in a hoarse air-push, “No, interns, morning.” Flooded with some nervous energy I started doing additional salt-water gargling, which caused me to start coughing out some of the white globs from my throat, a seriously unsettling experience. Was so wired/nervous I even went online and answered a couple of emails. I think my brother may have checked on me a few times during the night to see if I was still breathing. End day 3 with no food or much liquid.
Thursday I got up, status quo, and wrote out on paper my symptom and treatment history, since talking was out of the question. Wanted brother to call the clinic and get their advice, but didn’t communicate very well and he went up there to ask them about it instead. He was back in 15 minutes and said, “We need to go to the ER.” I got dressed, off we went. When I got there, I was pretty much in tears, my nose had started running, and I’d started spitting into a cup to avoid swallowing because it hurt so much. I was a total mess, and hadn’t eaten for several days, so was weak to boot. He filled in my forms and the vitals person took me back and started asking me questions. I couldn’t talk, so I tried to gesture to my brother, who was holding my symptom summary. He brought it over, but the woman just kept asking me, which just made the tears worse, unfortunately. It was not a desired state to be in in public. He finally interrupted her, pointing out that I clearly couldn’t speak, it was all written down, and if she wasn’t going to read it, to ask him. After that, we went back to the waiting area until we were called. When called, the same thing happened re asking questions, etc., and there was a 16-year old volunteer hanging out in there. Eventually I was able to make myself understood that I didn’t want the volunteer in there, and the intake nurse had him leave. They brought me back to a room after a bit. No one had actually looked in my mouth yet, and we’d been there 40 minutes (only one other person waiting in ER). After being placed in a room, a male nurse came and started doing it again with the questions about symptoms, I tried to give him my sheet, but the same thing happened. Do people really not understand that when there’s a throat problem, speech is difficult, and writing can speed things along? Eventually he caught on, and recognized my brother, whom he used to fly with several years earlier. I hoped their rapport would get me better, faster care. The doctor finally came in and started on the symptom questions, but before I could even point to the sheet, he had a laryngoscope out and aimed at my throat, followed by him pulling back and exclaiming, “Whoa! That’s all I need to see!” before he started ordering me drugs and IV. I loved him immediately. First thing in was the general fluids IV so that I would be less of a zombie after my several days of fasting. Next up, he said they’d take blood samples, cultures, etc to check for mono, strep (sometimes the tests got it wrong, he said) and other common causes of such infections. Then he gave me what he called “the big guns” of steroids, which he promised would make my tonsils shrink, unlike the shot I’d gotten at the clinic. They did! enough that I could eke out a coarse whisper after a half-hour. He was also giving me the strongest antibiotics they had to clear up any infection. I said I thought antibiotics only worked on bacterial infections, not viral. He said, in a very Greg House way, “Well, we don’t know what it is yet, do we, so we’ll treat for what it could be, and one of them should be right. None of them will kill you, don’t worry. They’re strong, but not deadly. There’s no reason for this to go on longer than it already has, is there?” Have I mentioned that I loved him already? They also shot me up with some painkiller whose name I can’t remember, but it was only available in IV form, was strong and mixed with an anti-inflammatory. They left me to soak up the fluids and drugs while they waited for tests. My brother stayed with me, and we listened to music on my iPhone. They ruled out mono. They ruled out strep. The other cultures would take 2 days to come back, but they said it was enough to go on. Throat infection of unknown origin, treat aggressively until more information available. Discharged me with three prescriptions. 1. Lidocaine, the same stuff as before, for a gargle to numb things. I pointed out that I already had a bottle, which hadn’t done much. He said with general swelling and pain down, it would make more of a difference, and to give it a shot. 2. Antibiotics (strong) of the non-penicillin variety, since I’m allergic to that. 3. A big bottle of liquid hydrocodone. I pointed out that I had a bottle of pills at home from the clinic, and he said the liquid would work faster, better, and I wouldn’t have to swallow the pill. He said I should feel some relief within 6-8 hours and by the next day be able to eat and drink relatively comfortably. He said he wanted me to stay on bed rest and not work for another 3-4 days until we were sure we were killing off whatever it had been. Since the weekend was about to start, I didn’t protest, plus I figure if I use my laptop while sitting in bed, it’s not technically breaking a rule (guys at work have been very supportive, though, about letting me just rest up). If they get back anything from the cultures, they’ll tell me. If in 2 days I’m not significantly on the mend, I need to go back. We got home from the ER around 4pm. The IV had made me kind of alert and normal-feeling mentally, and though the throat stuff still hurt, their magic steroid really had started shrinking the tonsils. When I looked with the flashlight that night, they were half their former size (still twice normal size, but hey). I was able to take sips of water without crying for the first time in four days. And since my meds had to be taken with food, I made some vegetable broth, which sounds bland, but tasted *so* amazing after nothing all week. I took the meds. The liquid hydrocodone? Yes, stronger than the pills. I hopped online and had one of those conversations in IM you usually have when you are a little bit tipsy. You know, because I hadn’t talked to my boss in a while. 🙂
I am extremely grateful for all the well-wishes I received by Twitter, email and text messages while I was in rough shape. It’s really nice to know people have my back. And serious props to my brother, for basically giving up a week of his own job (Senior Industrial Engineer on some big military airplane project) to run around to stores for me, take me to doctors, constantly check on me, and sit with me through the emergency room stay. We’ve never actually been that close, despite my taking care of his kids when they were born in Japan and this past month since the divorce, so he really stepped up in a way that was wholly unexpected.
Anyway, I’ll be back on the clock soon, and jumping into planning for 2.9!
* Vinnie: In a rocks glass, pour about an inch of apple cider vinegar. No other vinegar will do. Fill the rest of the glass with hot water. Swirl. Gargle in mouthfuls and spit until the glass is empty. Repeat hourly until symptoms abate. I’ve never needed more than two.