Itchy and crazy

When I was about six I had my tonsils out. This was a good thing because until then I had spent a lot of time sick.

In fact, one of my earliest memories is waking up and not feeling well and having my mom scold me for not wanting to do morning stuff. As I sat sulking at the breakfast table, she offered me a banana. I took one bite and promptly threw up all over the kitchen floor. I remember my mom as being both disgusted and relieved, “Oh, that’s why you are so cranky.”

The rest of that day was spent feeling miserable, throwing up, having my temperature taken, and eventually going to the doctor.

So at about six (closer to seven?) I had my tonsils out. Frankly, I didn’t understand, but I was told that I would get unlimited ice cream. Sounds great, right?

No.

I didn’t like the hospital experience; strange people in masks told me to count things and then I woke up calling for my mom in a strange room. I couldn’t go to the bathroom without help. And when food finally arrived, I didn’t want to eat… not even the ice cream.

Once I got home I didn’t feel much better and ice cream still didn’t sound good.

Then it snowed. As I’ve previously stated, Oregon snow is pretty infrequent; that year we got a good, heavy cover. And I could only sit on the couch, sick, watching all my friends playing on the street in the lovely snow.

I remember sitting on that couch, so longing to play in the snow, feeling physically and spiritually miserable. My mom was about in tears too because she wanted to see me play too.  Eventually Mom and Dad bundled me up and took me outside for a few minutes. It was great… except it didn’t solve my problem of still feeling miserably bad. But I remember it making me feel better that my parents were trying.

All this is to say that when I get sick, I go immediately back to my six-year-old self, sitting on the couch feeling miserable and longing to go outside in the snow.

Fortunately, until I was in my thirties, I was pretty healthy. The occasional cold, a few shots, one really bad splinter in my… rump.  My doctor’s visits were minimal and usually centered around solving some immediate and easily-solved problem. In most cases I walked in, stated my problem, and walked out again in under 10 minutes.

Then in the late winter of 2006 (at 31) I developed a cough. A year later a pulmonologist diagnosed me with hypersensitivity pneumonitis (hives in my lungs) brought on by an allergy to my parrot. My blood oxygen was down to 60%, I couldn’t speak in full sentences, let alone walk and talk. The doctor wanted to put me in the hospital for two weeks; we settled on putting the bird (Joey) into boarding to see if I got any better. I did and eventually Joey got a new home. I’m still heartbroken about that.

During the period between December 2005 and March 2007, I had 7 colds and two cases of pneumonia. Toward “the end” I spent every day in some form of discomfort. I had scratch tests for allergies, an upper barium GI for stomach problems, and countless blood draws. There were points I really thought I would die, or at the least be diagnosed with cancer. In fact, some days I almost wished to be diagnosed with cancer just so the doctors would finally understand there was really something wrong with me.

This period remains the worst singular period in my life. While 2011 will always be my “Année terrible”, 2006 will remain as my “Année maladie”. I spent it in varying states of sulking, pouting, misery, and anger. While I had never exactly liked doctors, this period convinced me they were all evil. One doctor (one I eventually left and filed a complaint about) actually got up in the middle of a sentence to answer his cell phone and had a five minute conversation with the person at the other end (and it was a pretty personal phone call… if you catch my drift.) Never mind the suffering patient in his office. She was only an obvious hypochondriac who had been at his office once a week for the last month trying to solve the trifling problem of hacking up her lungs!

All this is to say that when any health problem troubles me, no matter how small, I have to wade through a morass of emotion and bad memories in order to get to the small amount of reasonableness, practicality, and sensibility that remain.

Any woman who had read an article about “talking to your doctor” in the last few years knows that you had to stand up for yourself when interacting with members of the medical community. Gone are the days of blithely putting yourself in a doctor’s care and allowing him to choose what’s best. Today it’s imperative to ask questions and be informed about medical care.

Last year, just as life seemed to be settling down, I developed pneumonia in my right lung. That re-started a four-month-long version of “the horror.” Even once I finally kicked the pneumonia I still haven’t been able to get my breathing completely back to where it was. I have had to add a daily inhaler to my medicine cabinet, and this week I tried a new pill for additional help.

It seems I am allergic to the pill as one week after starting to take it I broke out into full body hives. This, in addition to the patch of poison oak I wandered into two weeks ago, had made me a very itchy mess.

And so I’m right back on my mental sofa, looking outside and pouting.

This is not an especially productive state when it comes to health matters. Doctors in the overworked Kaiser system do not respond to pouting. They sometimes don’t even respond to direct requests. But I’m stumped as to what my next step should be.

The reason I started my new medication was that the inhaled asthma medicine wasn’t enough. I was still struggling constantly to feel as though I had enough air. I had begun avoiding walks with the dog and, frankly, I can’t afford that (let alone what Finn thinks).

One of the many frustrating things about getting to this kind of impasse with doctors is that inevitably I feel like they think I’m crazy. An excerpt from a recent conversation: “Hives is a pretty unusual side effect of this medication.” So what? I’m making it up? When I go to the website for Singulair, rash is the first listed side effect. What are they implying?

I suspect the answer is they are not implying anything. They are either just making conversation, an oblique apology, or trying to convince me not to sue them. I don’t want to sue anybody… I just want to breathe.

I’ll spend my weekend concentrating on surviving my hives and then re-examine my options next week. When, hopefully, I’m a little saner. And even more hopefully, less itchy.

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