Monday, August 9, 2010

Chapter 3: Appropriating the Couch

After getting out of the hospital, there was not much more I could think of to do in the way of recuperating. What do you do when the hospital tells you there’s nothing seriously wrong with you and that you’ll be fine with some mild painkillers? Ignore them and take the Rokacet (the codeine painkillers) that the other doctor at Maccabi had prescribed me. They seemed to be the only things that had any effect whatsoever on the headache. My second course of action was to call a friend of my mother who also happens to be a reflexologist. I’m usually the last person in the world who would subscribe to something as unorthodox as reflexology but I was desperate. A mysterious illness calls for an unusual treatment.

She came over and did the limited amount that she could with me stuck with my back to the couch. At this point that was pretty much the only position I could manage. In fact, I pretty much remained that way for the next two weeks. It’s going to be a while until the Natania shaped imprint fades from the couch. So she did whatever it was that she did. I don’t know if it helped or not; maybe I’d never have gotten off that couch at all if not for her. Who knows?

The rest of the week was pretty much spent with me sleeping on the couch, waking up every few hours to nibble something and take some Rokacet. I still couldn’t eat anything more substantial than a cracker every few hours or drink almost anything at all. My parents kept bringing food and water to the couch and reminding me to eat. All I could do was lie there with the shades drawn and pray that it would be better tomorrow.

It took me until Thursday to finally get back to my doctor, not with any hope that he’d actually know anything but I figured I could at least get some more pain killers before I ran out. He checked me out, told me he couldn’t find anything but that I should see the neurologist again (oh, how I’d missed Boris, my slightly caustic Russian neurologist from the hospital who coincidentally works at the Maccabi clinic in Ma’ale Adumim on Wednesdays). Frankly I couldn’t think of any reason in the world to see him again, considering there was NOTHING to be found in my C.T. scan and if there’s something else he could have done in the hospital, I like to think he’d already have thought of it and done it. Plus I just didn’t like him very much. My doctor also wanted me to do those tests that I’d never gotten around to.

I went to the lab down the hall where they do the tests and sat down in front of one of the nurses. At this point I was barely able to stay upright and she kept having to repeat herself because everything was kind of hazy. When she started taking blood she realized that I didn’t look so good. She had me lie down before I toppled off the chair onto the floor. She asked me if I usually reacted this way to having blood drawn and I told her that I hadn’t been feeling well beforehand- hence the tests. I’ve only ever fainted once (in an incident quite a few people will never forget) during a blood drive in our shul in Teaneck. This led to a short stint in the hospital and a torn ligament in my right foot which took about 6 months to heal. Luckily, I did not pass out this time. I did however pass my limit on how long I could stay upright for and when they sent me to do the urine test, I ended up using the toilet not in the way they expected. I threw up twice and unfortunately the only thing I’d consumed that morning had been two homeopathic concoctions (recommended by the reflexologist) that had not been particularly unpleasant going down but were a repulsive color green and even more revolting taste the second time around. I will unfortunately never be able to get any more use out of them; I can’t even look at the bottles without seeing that awful green mess in the toilet.

When I was done with all the lab tests, my mother helped me weakly hobble over to the nurse’s station where I was supposed to be getting a few more tests and hopefully some fluids via my veins to fend off dehydration from the vomiting and lack of drinking. I slumped into an armchair while she got everything ready but when she had me stand up to check my blood pressure I had to resort to the code I’d had the necessity of forming with my mother. If I suddenly yell, “Can! Can! Can!” it does not mean to break into a chorus line dance. It means you have about 5 seconds to find me a garbage can or you’re going to regret it. Well, mostly your shoes are going to regret it. If I just scream, “Can!” it means you don’t even have 5 seconds. The nurse quickly pushed over a garbage can (after my mom translated my message) and I threw up for the third time that morning. It was quite amazing really since I hadn’t actually eaten yet. We did manage to get that test done but it was decided that the doctor would come in and give me some intravenous fluids. After quite a bit of fumbling around, the doctor gave up after two attempts at getting the needle into a vein. Apparently my veins were “jumping around trying to get away.” Amazing considering the nurses at both the hospital and at the clinic had all been successful at getting the needle into the right place. This was about the time I realized I need a new doctor. Instead he decided that they should give me a suppository for the nausea. I asked him if he couldn’t maybe try again on the other side but he said I wasn’t a pincushion and that the only option left was a suppository. At least he let the nurse do it. I can’t even imagine where it would have ended up if he’d missed the intended destination.

I spent another hour or so lying in a bed in the nurses’ office and then it was time for my acupuncture appointment. Something else I’d never have thought of doing if I hadn’t been desperate. Now I’ve gotten over my fear of needles after a hysterical childhood phobia of having anything sharp and pointy poked into me (which prompted my mother to sit on me during several doctor’s visits in order to keep me still- that is after they finally caught me), but that does not make it a pleasant experience. I was in such bad shape when I got there that they had to practically scrape me off the couch in the waiting room when it was time for the treatment. After about 5 minutes of inserting needles, they had to scrape me off the ceiling. After all the needles were in it wasn’t so bad. He let me lie there for half an hour (in which I took a short nap) and then came back to take them out. I think it may have actually helped. I was able to get up and walk out of there without collapsing on the sidewalk. I still had a headache but at least it was something. I got home and passed out on the couch where I pretty much spent the next week too.

Shabbat was pretty much spent on the couch. All I could think about was how much I wanted to eat my dad’s Shabbat meal. I’d started a list of foods I would eat when I was better. It was something like this: ice coffee, cappuccino, baguette with tuna and tomatoes, Doritos, falafel, sushi, popcorn, pretzels, Chinese food, chocolate, Indian food, hamburger, and the list goes on. I now added chicken and fried vegetables to the list. I’d had the list hanging on the refrigerator but had to move it when my mother kept confusing it with the shopping list and adding things like white napkins to it. I did not want to eat any color napkins. I was not that desperate yet.

There were more doctor’s visits and lab tests the next week. The doctor wanted me to come back in (not because he knew anything new, I think it was mostly to check that I was still alive so my parents couldn’t sue him for negligence). He wanted me to get an ultrasound of my stomach and do a helicobacter-pylori test because of the nausea. Helicobacter-pylori is a bacteria that inhabits the stomach and can cause nausea. My sister had it a while back and was sick for months before they found it. I thought it was a bit ridiculous to do these tests because my stomach was definitely not the cause of the headache, which came first, and it seemed like the doctor was treating every symptom as its own disease. But I agreed to do them anyway. I actually had no intention whatsoever of doing either but my mother convinced me to do the helicobacter test since we were there anyway. He’d told me it was a breath test, so I figured it was kind of like a breathalyzer where you just breathe in and out comes a reading. I was wrong. As usual. You have to drink a cupful of water mixed with awful tasting chemicals. I would normally just suck it up and drink it, but I hadn’t been able to drink more than a few sips at a time for weeks. I was like, you want to find out why I can’t eat or drink by having me drink a cup of water and then breathing into a tube? I tried, but I couldn’t get down more than a few sips. So I gave up. Then I had to take another urine test because the first time they had “technical problems.” At least they didn’t call me up like they did my father to tell me that I failed my urine test and that I have to come back in to redo it. He’ll never live that one down.

I also went back to the acupuncturist that week. My sister even visited me that day because she was worried. I still wasn’t eating much but I was eating and drinking slightly more than the previous week. I was even able to sit upright for a few minutes at a time. The most important thing however, was that I hadn’t thrown up since Thursday at the doctor’s office. She was the one who shamed me into doing the ultrasound, which I did that Thursday (and which came back totally normal).

Shabbat was again spent mostly on the couch, with me staring wistfully into the dining room during meals. And that was about it for that week.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Chapter Two: The Hospital Visit(s)

Friday morning brought no solace. The pain in my head was excruciating and the very thought of food or drink made my guts churn. I was dehydrated and by the seventh day of pain, there was no hope of redemption in sight. At that point I was pretty sure there was something seriously wrong with my head, like an aneurysm or a tumor or something (G-d forbid) and I was convinced that if I didn’t get to the hospital pronto, my head was going to explode. I calmly informed my mother that we were going to the hospital. She just looked at me and started getting her shoes on.

The emergency room was pretty empty, not surprisingly considering it was about 6:00 pm on a Friday. Too close to Shabbat for trivial matters, too early in the evening for bar fights. They admitted me right away, took some blood and gave me a bed. I napped for a few hours until it was time for a C.T. scan. They directed me to the waiting room of the C.T. lab, which was around the corner, down the hall, make a right, turn left at the pediatric section, go through the glass doors, turn right, then left, then right again and go to the end of the hall. Of course, the directions they gave us were something like, “Go around the corner and turn right.” Thank G-d my mother was with me, because in my pain-induced half delusional state, I’d probably have ended up in the parking lot. But together we found it, she reading the signs and directing us on and me moaning loudly, scaring off any would-be muggers.

We sat down to wait. The C.T. technician who finally admitted me was a middle aged Israeli man wearing jeans and a t-shirt who looked like he’d left his cab running outside and dashed in to quickly scan my brain before returning to cruise the streets outside for fares. I calmly lied down on the table while calmly ignoring his fifteen minute lecture about my nose ring and today’s youth in general. My mother led the way back to my bed and then went off to find the Shabbat meal they were hosting somewhere in the hospital. I stared forlornly at the two pieces of bread I may or may not eat and at the small container of cottage cheese I was pretty sure I didn’t want to eat. When she came back, it was lumbar puncture time. For those of you picturing a happy lumber jack whistling and dancing away, you may now banish that image from your mind. It’s nothing quite so innocent. You may if you’d like picture an insane lumber jack swinging his axe around and felling everything in his path. It’s nothing really like that either but at least now we’re in the right mindset. The doctor asked me if I could roll into a ball on my side. I told him that I thought I could probably manage a fetal position in these circumstances. I stared at my knees as he pulled out what my imagination is filling in for me was a humongous needle and plunged it into my spine, extracting whatever fluids a person has in their spinal cord. This is the point where we noticed that my mother was now sitting on the floor trying to stop it from spinning. I invited her to come share my bed but there wasn’t really enough room until they could pry my knees away from my chin. Finally they gave me some fluids with pain killers and anti-nausea meds through an IV and I went to sleep sort of happy-ish.

They woke me up around 7:00 in the morning to tell me that all my tests were fine and that I was free to go whenever I was ready. I asked the doctor what he thought it was and he said that, according to the blood tests it could be a virus. I was pretty skeptical, however I was very relieved that my brain wasn’t going to explode anytime soon. Still, it didn’t really explain ANYTHING and as soon as the drugs wore off I was going to be as bad off as before. The doctor at least gave me some prescriptions, one for pain and one for nausea. We were able to get a cab driver to take us to the closest open pharmacy (which was across the way in Sheikh Jarakh) and then home to Ma’ale Adumim.

We got home in time for the sorriest Shabbat meal ever (at least for me). I’d taken the anti-nausea pills an hour before lunch as directed but a few hours later I was forced to revisit the sorriest Shabbat meal ever, made even sorrier the second time around by the presence of my head in the toilet. Plus the Tramadex they’d given me for the headache wasn’t doing anything much except visiting the inside of the toilet bowl. By evening, the options were a.) go back to the hospital or b.) go to sleep in my own bed and see how I was feeling the next morning. I chose my bed.

The next morning I woke up early and was still feeling pretty awful. I debated waking my mother up and going to the hospital but the internal debate was pretty much decided for me when I started throwing up the remainder of my stomach contents (which were water). We called a cab and returned to the hospital. They put me in a nice dark corner which was even quiet for a few hours. They reacquainted me with Jorge (my IV) and let me sleep for a little while. Then it was off to the neurologist in a wheelchair with a hook for my IV bag. A nurse wheeled me up and left me outside in the waiting room. I ran into a bit of trouble when the doctor finally opened the door and called my name. Everyone just stared at me waiting for me to go in. Finally I said, “What, am I supposed to push myself in?” I was not really in the mood to pull the needles out of my arm by catching them in the wheels trying to roll myself into the doctor’s office. My mom finally went, “oh” and jumped up to push me in. Turns out that the neurologist was actually the same neurologist who moonlights at the Maccabi clinic in Ma’ale Adumim whom I had an appointment with that Wednesday. Anyway, he did lots of tests, looked at my C.T. scan and declared me perfectly fine.

Next they wheeled me off to an eye doctor. Turns out bad vision was not the cause of my now 9 day headache and nausea. I did get a nice tour of the hospital, getting wheeled around all over the place, but I’m not sure I had enough painkillers in me at that moment to fully appreciate it. Not much else happened the rest of the day. I let my mother go home for the night while I tried to sleep in my corner with some old woman screaming like a banshee all night. That almost wasn’t so bad but every time she screamed, the other patients would scream “shut up!” At some time around 2:00 in the morning the nurse woke me up to move me to a bed on the other side of the ER. I don’t know why; she said it would be more comfortable there and I was not awake enough to argue. She put me in a well-lit area with lots of noise and possibly the most uncomfortable bed ever. She then promptly forgot about me. I was going to ask her for some more medication but I don’t think anyone even came back to check on me until the morning (except for a curious nurse who was wondering where the heck I’d just come from). I spent most of the rest of the night fighting with my sheets which for some reason kept popping off the bed and covering my face. By the time my parents came back in the morning I was ready to go home (and I’m not at all convinced that that wasn’t the purpose of sticking me in that bed and then leaving me there). I was pretty annoyed at this point and it didn’t help that the doctor on call was insisting that my headache was a tension headache. She told me I should go to the pharmacy and buy an over-the-counter medication containing Acamol and caffeine. That’s about the equivalent of taking a Tylenol with a cup of coffee, which after the Percocet they’d given me, made me think that maybe she’d gotten her M.D. from a mail order catalog. She’d been not very subtly hinting to me that I could leave whenever I was ready but when I told her I wanted to go home she made me go up and see the neurologist again just in case the doctor and head doctor from my previous hospitalization, the neurologist and the neurologist’s boss had all missed something in the C.T. the first and second times around (this is obviously how they prevent lawsuits in Israel). After waiting outside his office for what seemed like forever, he let me in and cleared me for discharge. He told me that if I wanted, he could recommend that they hospitalize me but since I didn’t see any real point (they were already convinced it was just a totally normal 10 day headache), I declined the offer. So I went home and took a nap on the couch.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Chapter One of "The Case of the Mysterious Illness"

Case of the Mysterious Illness

I know starting a blog with an illness is certainly not an auspicious way to begin. However, many people have been worried about me and in order to dispel these concerns (although I may inadvertently create new ones on the state of modern medicine in their place), I have decided to post all the goings-on of the past few weeks. Or maybe this blog is just to dispel my own boredom and to hell with everyone else’s concerns. No offense.

It started three weeks ago on Shabbat. It was just a headache that came and went for the next few days. By Tuesday it had turned into a constant pain in my head, the kind that left me clutching my head on my desk and groaning. I even made an emergency visit to the chiropractor for fear that my unnaturally bent neck had finally gotten hold of my brain and was doing its boa constrictor impression (always a favorite at parties) on my brain. My back felt great afterward, but my head… not so much. By Wednesday, it was the kind of pain that led me to flee work early for fear of being found dead in my chair by someone wanting to borrow a stapler. I figured that if I died on the bus, at least the person whose feet I fell on would notice right away and since the route goes right next to Bikur Cholim hospital they could just drop me off on the way. By the time I got home, I had a fever of 100.9 and at least felt justified in leaving work early.

Now, mind you, I’d been taking pain relievers all week long, Ibuprofen, Advil, Aleve, whatever I could get my hands on and nothing was helping. I’d have taken rodent pee mixed with dish detergent and raven feathers plucked during the full moon if someone had told me that it would work, but luckily I don’t know anyone that mean.

By Thursday it was time to visit the doctor. My head felt like it was going to explode and I could barely move for fear of jarring my brain. The doctor did all the regular tests, blood pressure, open your mouth, stare at the ducky while I shine a bright light into your eye, etc. Everything was normal. He had no idea what could be causing a 5 day headache so he told me to come back on Sunday to do some tests and maybe by then I’d be feeling better. He wasn’t even going to give me any kind of pain reliever until I broke down and started crying on his desk. I was like,”it’s been 5 days! It’s not going to get better. It’s only getting worse!” He looked a bit concerned then and asked me if my runny nose was another symptom. I assured him it was just because I was crying, so he relented and gave me a prescription for some pain relievers. He also gave me a referral for a neurologist and for whatever reason a referral for a psychiatrist. So, my father (and always faithful companion in these situations) and I trudged up to the pharmacy, bought the meds and returned home.

This is where we run into medication problems number one and two. One- the first medication seems to have the strength of wishful thinking, and two- the second medication needs to be taken after food. Which wouldn’t have been a problem had I not thrown up my rice cake with peanut butter, handful of chips and pain reliever 15 minutes or so after it all went down. Which leads to another two problems. One- new symptom, and two- I won’t be able to eat peanut butter (one of my all time favorite foods) for at least a year. This is serious. I still can’t eat hard-boiled eggs following an unpleasant bonfire incident that occurred almost four years ago. Peanut butter makes up at least a quarter of my diet. It’s got everything a person could want (besides maybe allergens) - protein, sugar and chunky/ creamy peanut goodness depending on your personal taste.

But back to the more immediate problem. I did not have any viable sources of pain relief. This does not make me a happy (or very likable) person. So my trusty assistant called back Maccabi (the health clinic) and made an appointment with the nurse who would hopefully then let me see another doctor. Luckily the nurse was sufficiently impressed with my tale of woe, or maybe it was the moaning, and made me an appointment for a (thankfully) different doctor later that afternoon.

The new doctor did some slightly more thorough tests of her own, listened to my medication problems, and gave me a prescription for an anti-nausea medication and a prescription for a pain reliever that does not have to be taken anywhere in the vicinity of food. She also gave me a referral for an eye doctor. I’m ending up with quite a goody bag here. Get a referral for every prescription you fill - what a promotion! I’d rather get a free cinnamon bun, but that’s just me.

Well, it was time to test out the meds. After throwing up my spaghetti and tomato sauce dinner I decided that the anti-nausea medication didn’t help and I couldn’t be sure about the other stuff because it never even had a chance. My problems had now expanded. My head was killing me, nothing was staying down including the anti-nausea meds and even water was making me nauseous. I did the only thing I could- I went to bed.