Let’s lay this out for you. It’s the time of year when people start getting sick, when the stress of getting ready for finals prevents people from actually getting ready for finals. I was prepared – I had my Echinacea and Zinc, my Emergen-C, all the preventatives my medicine cabinet could hold. I had the cold and cough medicines if I actually got something. And when I started feeling a little iffy last Thursday, I did all the right things. I got plenty of sleep, I bulked up on vitamins, and I ate some soup. Friday I still felt pretty good all day, but my throat was a little sore that evening. So when I was out with people that night, I had a hot toddy – honey and lemon are good for the throat. And I kept getting plenty of sleep. I thought I was golden. Saturday continued to fool me into complacency – I still had the sore throat, so I got some lozenges and drank plenty of tea. I took naps throughout the day to keep me healthy. I even felt good enough that evening to go out for Moroccan food. But Sunday was a different story.
Sunday I had the worst sore throat I’ve ever had in my life – including strep, ear infections, the works. It wasn’t just burning, it was aching pokers of fire in my throat, down my inner ear canal, and into my lower jaw – all just on the right side. The swelling on that side was intense, making swallowing virtually impossible and breathing a pain. I tried everything – salt water gargle, hot water with honey and lemon, regular doses of broth and tea, throat lozenges, Chloraseptic spray – nothing really worked. I was desperate enough to call the after-hours hotline at the school’s Health Clinic.
So imagine me, in raging pain, on the phone trying to keep my tongue down and look at the back of my throat with a flashlight. Keep in mind that my symptoms are minimal, other than my throat swelling half-shut. I don’t have tons of drainage – a little, but not much more than is typical for me. I don’t have a fever, or even a headache. I don’t have a cough or any bronchial or lung stuff. I’m not losing my voice and can still talk regularly. And after the phone call with the hotline, I don’t have any white dots or splotches on the redness of my throat. I was told it might still be strep, even without a fever, and that I should check the next day. Of course, I’ve never heard of strep staying solely on one side of the mouth.
I went in the next day and the entire process was part one of why I love our health services system. First off, my primary care person there called me in the morning to check in – since the hotline had left her a note from the night before. Once I arrived for walk in hours, they took one look at my throat and gave me antibiotics. I had the option of waiting for a blood test to determine exactly what I had, but given the circumstances, my lack of other symptoms, and my ongoing self-treatment, the RN on duty felt it was tonsillitis for sure and that antibiotics were the best way to really nip in in the bud (provided, of course, that it was caused by bacteria). SO then we went through the no-penecillin, no-sulfa dance to see what I could actually take that they had in stock. All in all, a quick and satisfying experience.
With my newfound expectation of future health, and considering my continuing contagion status for the next 24 hours, I slept instead of going to my 2 classes that day. Everyone was happy, and Tuesday I woke with a smile on my face and a spring in my step. I went to all my classes, did all my reading, and even went to knitting group after class, all the while keeping my throat lubricated to keep the swelling down. Unfortunately, that and antibiotics weren’t enough. My throat flared up again so that I could barely breathe, I choked either on my own spittle or on my elephant tonsils whenever I tried to go to sleep, and I was so miserable I wanted to cry. Early the next morning, I was back at the school’s health center.
When I got there, I was having trouble breathing, I couldn’t really talk, and my throat and jaw were so swollen that I couldn’t get my mouth open enough for a throat culture swab. As a result, they stuffed me full of steroids to get the swelling down. This made me heppier than a monkey on a volcano. This particular medication can also make you crazy. My doc took one look at me, pronounced me just as sane as ever, and I looked at her funny. I’m not sure normal me is a good objective test for the potential onset of the crazies. Still, I wasn’t hearing voices or anything, so I figured I was safe.
Part two of why I love our health services is their thoroughness when the situation calls for it. After I was de-swelled enough to get that super-long Q-tip down my throat, they swabbed me twice and took a blood test. Of course, this involved me, a heating pad, a blood pressure cuff, and one of those upside-down flippy chairs – I have hidden veins and I get woozy with the testing. Although I was about to miss the same set of two classes I’d missed Monday, I decided it was more important to really get full treatment based on the results of my tests. So I dozed in the waiting area while the results from all the tests came back. The verdict: No mono, no strep, and it’s definitely a bacterium. The final lab result will be three days in coming to determine exactly what kind. Meanwhile, we’re switching me to another antibiotic that I can take but might be a little stronger.
I must also say that this was one of the busiest days of the season for the clinic, and I was just a walk-in. Still, they fit every step of the process in. I had lab techs and RNs pulling me aside to check on swelling or to make sure I was watered and fed or to take another test. I met with my doctor at least three times on various issues including medications, test results, and best methods for dealing with the situation going forward. When someone wasn’t sure how to read my symptoms, they pulled in others to consult. Everyone went out of their way to make sure I was taken care of, even though they were all doing five things at once.
Finally, there’s a few things I’ve learned from my experience. First, cold liquids are what you really need to bring down the swelling. So even if that tea feels so good on your throat, a little icy lemonade is way better for you. Second, no matter how prepared you are, sickness can always surprise you. Third and finally, if you still feel bad after seeing the doctor, go back even a couple days later. There’s always something more they can do to treat symptoms, even if it’s viral. And at that point, side effects really don’t seem all that bad. However many purple cheetahs it takes, I’d rather be able to breathe.