04 May 2005

Boomerang Bronchitis And A Saturday Celebration

I am finding more and more that good things can come from potentially unpleasant situations. Last week, I had the unhappy prospect of visiting the doctor. I am never happy to go to the doctor and it's not because I don't like the guy. He's seems like a wonderful person. It's just that the last place you feel like going when you're sick is, well, to the doctor! Who wants to be around a lot of sick people when you're a sick person? Oh wait, that sounded a little tinged with hypocrisy, didn't it? :-)

I am one of those people that by simply being lead to an examination room, my pulse and BP can leap at least 20 - 30 points. It's nearly reflex. I always preface any attempt to record my vitals with the fact that I have serious "White Coat Syndrome", but being the paranoid person I can be in what I perceive to be threatening situations, I'm sure that whoever is getting ready to slap a blood pressure cuff on my arm has already decided that I should be in a psychiatrists office, rather than taking up the valuable time of an internist dedicated to treating ill people who can actually be fixed, cured, whatever.

Last week, however, was a totally different ballgame. When my number came up...err, my name was called and I was lead back through the medical maze of exam rooms, offices, labs and a few rooms I don't even want to think about what might be going on in there, I was the charge of such a kind and wonderful nurse. I had never seen her at my doctor's office before. She exuded calm, understanding and emitted this foreign feeling that everything really WAS going to be just fine and that maybe, just maybe, I wasn't sporting the early signs of some deadly form of a rare and impossible to treat pneumonia, the likes of which has never been seen by anyone working at the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta. For as much as I dread any contact with medical types, I had to admit that I already liked this woman, even if she was about to stick a thermometer in my mouth and that darn BP cuff on my arm.

She engaged me in conversation and not the benign kind where the person feigns interest, but couldn't care less about the response. This lady really seemed to listen and she even went so far as to actually make eye contact with me as I was talking. She asked me questions, not exclusively of the medical variety, and seemed to listen to my responses. Listening can be a very powerful act, particularly when it's exercised with care and concern.

As she checked to see if I was febrile and evaluated my pulse to see if it was charging off the charts, I made my perfunctory disclaimer that, though it was nothing against her, I would probably be elevated more than a few points. Pulse included. She smiled and invited me to relax. What was this new approach to healthcare I was in the presence of and where had this woman been all my life as I had historically been handled by careless interrogators, asking a litany of questions, nearly making me feel guilty for succumbing to whatever bug brought me to the doctor in the first place? Exactly what planet was I on???

I really became suspicious when she didn't scowl upon loosening the cuff and gently releasing my wrist, rather than shaking her head, as so many have done before, and annoyingly informing me we would need to try this again, because the reading ascertained couldn't possibly be right. Because of her gentle manner and kind countenance, it would seem that my BP was well within normal limits and my pulse was under 90. I got so excited I bet my BP shot up and my pulse quickened at the mere pronouncement of being in the strange range of normal! Thank God it was after she had penned in her findings on my chart.

What you are about to read, could be labeled "Confessions of a dangerous mind", but I don't think my mind is so much dangerous as it is just plain tinged with a bit too much misplaced imagination and looking for signs that simply don't exist. I used to do the same thing when I was flying and would hear something like the wing flaps being repositioned. A perfectly normal occurance, but back when I used to be terrifed of flying, I was pretty sure we were about to crash and burn. Now don't get me wrong, I think it's a fine thing to have an active imagination and I really wouldn't trade mine in, even if it does fire off a few miscues now and again, but here's a tiny peek into where my mind can go when I am sick and feel a little more vulnerable than usual. They say confession is good for the soul, so my soul will surely feel even better after publishing the following few paragraphs.

Along with some of that gray matter I am purported to have, I think there must be some silly putty mixed in.

So there I am, finally alone with my thoughts in the examination room. Not a safe place for me to be - alone with my thoughts! And I start thinking, "oh wait, I "get it". They could probably tell instantly, as I walked in the waiting room, that I was about to be diagnosed with some horrible tropical illness found only in the African Congo* and that I wasn't long for this world. That had to be it. That was the reason for the "special treatment" and why they left Nurse Ratchet with the folks who had a prayer of recovering. I was obviously paired with the nurse that gently buffered the speech delivered by my kindly doctor that begins with, "Well, I have bad news and I have bad news. Which do you want first?". That would be the cue for my newfound Florence Nightingale, who would squeeze my clammy hand as I learned that I had, at most, another six hours to live and that I had better get my affairs in order and update the will that I have never made. I've always meant to have a will made, it's just hard to decide which debts to assign to which kid.

But back to the point: My 18 year old son and 21 year old daughter were about to become, ORPHANS! OH NO!!!!!! I would never live to see them finally straighten out their lives, graduate from Ivy League Universities (of course, complete with full academic scholarships!) with several advanced degrees, invent several mind-boggling creations and acquire a plethora of patents, marry highly successful, independently wealthy, old money, social registry recognized heirs to some kind of American Dynasty, moving into a homes complete with mother-in-law quarters where I would be taken care of for the rest of my very long life, reaching at least until I was in my mid-100's. Of course I'd have all my faculties when my time finally came, that's not to say that I have them now at the tender age of 45.

The handwriting was on the wall of the place where they give you that special plastic cup and request that you "go" when you've already "gone", never mind that you've had ten supersize iced teas (with lemon) and about a half gallon of very caffeinated coffee and maybe a couple of double expressos tossed in for good measure. I could see it all so clearly. The doctor was about to tell me that my lab results from 2 years ago had just been rechecked and when the person they had mistakenly informed outlived the two months s/he was told s/he had left, they got busy and rechecked the charts, only to find out that it was ME that should have been given the "we've got some bad news" speech. The fact that I just happened to make an appointment that morning because I had a cold that seemed to be evolving into a light, hardly worth mentioning, tiny case of bronchitis, was mere coincidence because they were, at the very moment I called in requesting an appointment, poised to dial my number and invite me in for "the talk".

It only took a nice nurse and about five minutes of sitting alone in an exam room to figure all of this out. I'm clever, I tell you, even though I never saw any of this coming...

True to form, I'm always the last to know.

My doctor finally walked in after a few minutes, well practiced in looking cheerful and promising even though the news was not good. He went through the motions of writing down my symptoms, asking me to sit on the examination table and pointlessly checking my ears, throat and listening to my soon-to-be stilled heart, just for old times sake. He even made it all look so routine by asking me to lay back so he could palpate my tummy and tossed in a few reflex checks, probably to keep his skills sharp for the people left out in the waiting room who still had a life to resume after they wrote a check for the co-payment demanded by their particular insurance company.

Sweet man that he was, he told me that I had "a little bronchitis" going on, nothing a nice antibiotic and maybe a few full nights of rest wouldn't take care of. How sweet he was. He even went to the trouble of renewing the prescriptions I take, for a whole year, probably to help me keep my chin up and let me pretend I was going to be just fine.

He disappeared for a few minutes, probably to collect himself and dab the inevitable tears that must have threatened to take over as he treated me like a "normal" person with a pedestrian case of garden-variety bronchitis, no doubt spawned by the thick pollen so prevalent in Eastern North Carolina this time of year. But wait! He returned with a brown paper sac which, at first, I thought might be to control the hyperventilation I was probably going to suffer in just a few minutes, but it turned out to be filled with samples of stuff like Omnicef and Allegra-D.

"Here you go, Susie. Take these, try and get some rest and I bet you'll be feeling better in just a few days.", he cheerfully offered.

Huh? That's it? Was he actually telling me I was going to live to see another day, brimming with more chances to annoy and disappoint friends and family, and that I would be coming back? Those really WERE antibiotics and antihistimines in that little paper bag of his, which was now mine? It WAS just bronchitis? I was, not about to buy the proverbial farm?

GET OUT OF TOWN! OH MY GOSH! All that coughing and hacking and congestion was merely allergy induced and not some harbinger of really bad things to come? Home Health wasn't about to deliver an O2 tank? Am I to understand that I wasn't DYING? Because I gotta tell you, when I lost sleep the previous few nights from coughing every time I tried to lay down, rather than my normal losing sleep over way too much caffeine, I started to think I just might have something seriously horrific and quite possibly fatal.

I trudged into that waiting room at 3:00, but I was skipping out with a brown sac of magic pills just 45 minutes later. So that nice nurse really was, well, just plain nice for no other reason than she's obviously a very special person who makes the people she takes care of feel very wonderful long before any prescriptions are written. Even the ones who are a bit on the melodramatic and highly imaginative hypochondriacal types.

I left there loving life. Had the sky always been that particular shade of "Carolina Blue" (a UNC-Reference for all of you strange and misguided "Duke" or "NC State" fans. Ok, so I have a special fondness for Chapel Hill and yes, the fact that James Taylor's father, Isaac Taylor, used to be Dean of the Med School at the prestigious University of North Carolina - Chapel Hill, has EVERYTHING to do with it. That, and the fact that Chapel Hill is one of the best places to sit on any given afternoon and people watch. It's a great show and you can see just about every facet of humanity represented in one form or another. Sometimes several forms combined in the body of one person. Those CH folks are a bit "out there".

But back to my health update and really, it's all about me, isn't it? I came home and immediately went to Google and looked up the meds my doctor had so graciously given me samples of because I needed to find out what side effects I could pick and choose from by researching every piece of information available. This is where the Internet becomes a particularly dangerous tool. Oh sure, when I wandered into my favorite CVS and casually asked the pharmacist to tell me everything she knew about Omnicef, she couldn't possibly think I'd buy that spiel about it being a fairly side-effect free drug, could she? Stomach upset? Not usually. Seizures? Nope. Possible coma? Unheard of. Obviously she didn't understand the finer points of Google and my proclivity for creating symptoms out of thin air. Sure, I know, if just ONE person reports an out of the ordinary side-effect, it has to be documented, but let's face it, I AM terminally unique. Right?

So I read the pharmacology-speak and I even understood a few of the really long words, after consulting 3 or 4 medical reference dictionaries. Finally, it was time. I held that first capsule of Omnicef and I rolled it around in my hand as if it were a dose of pure cyanide. What if it makes me sick? Wait! I AM sick! Dr. B gave me 14 of them so I must need them, right? But just a darn minute. What if my bronchitis is viral in origin? This stuff won't touch it and I'd be risking, well, according to my pharmacist and the stuff I read on Google, very little. I mean, the drug had a pretty clean rap sheet. But gosh darn it, what if I have a reaction that mimics anaphylactic shock and I can't get my hands on the benadryl in time? Huh? What then, Mister Doctor?

I screwed on my courage and somehow, after holding the capsule for about 15 minutes and realizing it was starting to melt in my sweaty hands, I managed to swallow it. And then I waited, constantly assessing my respiration, my heart rate, checking my skin for signs of hives or worse! Eventually I got bored with the whole thing and forgot about waiting to see if it would kill me. It's not always a bad thing to have a short attention span. I like to think of it as one of the many perks of being blond.

After taking about 3 of those Omnicef capsules, I started to feel like a new woman. Cured I was! Besides, wouldn't it be better to save the rest for when I'm REALLY sick, you know, too too sick to go to the doctor, rather than waste them on something silly like this little bronchitis episode that seemed to respond almost instantly to my brilliant physician's choice of drug? If anyone else told me they were going to stop taking the prescribed course of medication, I would tell them they were nuts. Crazy. I mean, why bother going to the doctor if you're not going to follow their orders? How impossibly stupid is that? Besides, everyone knows that if you stop taking the meds, and if the infection isn't truly arrested, the relapse is always worse than the initial infection. Of course I KNEW that. I'm a Mom for goodness sakes!

Just because I've delivered the "take all of your medicine" speech many times, doesn't mean I listened to myself. I stopped taking the pills. Yes, I am THAT blond. Plus, I had my roots redone a few days ago so it's only made things that much more dumb, and it may well have nothing to do with the fact that I'm originally from West Virginia. (My mother is going to hate that remark...because she still sticks to the story that she and my father aren't truly cousins...WhatEVER!)

But about stopping that medicine - I felt so GREAT...for a few more days and then, well, I started to feel not so great. I had a small soiree in honor of a very special person's very special tenth anniversary - celebrating something that a few people said could never be done. But did it he did and he's stayed the course, so this unexpected accomplishment demanded a party!

Saturday Afternoon, my good friend and personal caterer Mitch, came over with his knife kit, his special utensil set, cooler full of ice and turned right around and went back home for his wooden cutting board, after he discovered that mine was too small and too plastic. He worked culinary magic and the house was soon brimming with warm, spicy aromas that I would love to have taken credit for, but since I'm supposed to be working a program of rigorous honesty, I just couldn't do it. Besides, too many people would have choked on all that great food laughing at the idea that I could make anything look and taste as scrumptious as Mitch could without even trying.

The guests arrived, the guest of honor was shining and looking his usual handsome self, and one friend even brought his 12 string guitar while two other friends used my two acoustic six-strings and we had instant, melodic entertainment as we sat out by the pool, enjoyed the music and prayed for no rain, because it wasn't invited. The chicken was cooking on the grill, the conversation was nice and I surveyed the scene and felt myself lucky to know every single person in attendance. No, not lucky. Incredibly blessed. That's what I felt.

After the party was over, the guests had gone home and the left-overs had been put away, I chatted with my buddy Mitch while the guest of honor snoozed in the living room, one of my cats curled up in his lap - I guess neither one of them are party animals any more. Mitch truly out did himself and without his contribution, we might have celebrated and had plenty of coffee and iced tea, but our stomachs would have been either empty or unsettled, should I have been forced to fill them. Thank you Mitch, on behalf of the honoree, our company and the staff of New Hanover Regional Medical Center. :-)

Unfortunately, the next day I started feeling a lot like I did when I went to see my doctor a few days previously. My chest started feeling tight and my cough was back with a vengeance. Hmmmm...I wonder why? Could it be due to the fact I stupidly stopped taking my antibiotics? I got back on track the next day and today I am happy to report that my head no longer feels as if it's in the grip of a vice and it would seem that I can breathe again! I wonder what made me think I knew more than my doctor? I have a lot of things framed and hanging on the walls of my office, but a medical degree is not one of them. I need to remember that.

I promised new photos of the Waxbills and I intend to follow through on it. We're going to take some new pics tonight because the waxbills are getting much more acclimated to their new digs and I do believe they are becoming a little more fond of each other. Check back tomorrow for up-to-the minute photos of Julianna Banana and Nicholas Picklus. I would even venture to say they might have sprouted a few new feathers. Can eggs be far behind?

One more thing...Congratulations on ten whole, darn years. I'm very proud of you and yes, you KNOW who you are.

*The reference to African Congo should not be confused with Congo African Grey Parrots. While I would not welcome some viral disease that originated from the Congo, I have owned two African Grey Parrots. Sadly, I moved and had to leave them behind. Someday, I want another African Grey Parrot and if you know where I can find one at a fairly reasonable price, by all means let me know! Feel free to E-mail me at SusieWrites@ec.rr.com. I'll even name it after you! :-)