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Thursday, August 30, 2012

Return from the Edge

Haliburton, Ontario Fairgrounds

I have been ill.

My doctor looked at me and asked me to which pharmacy to send the prescriptions. I shook my head and said that I had no pharmacy of choice; I do not take medications. I take aspirins, but I do not take meds. I felt strange and alone, this strange state of being without a pharmacy, without a congery of white-coated professionals hovering behind pharmacy counters.

A couple weeks before, I had gotten a staph infection in a highly visible place. Since I had never, ever had such a thing before, I thought it was something that would disappear in a week or so. It did not. We had made plans to go the Haliburton, Ontario with my wife's sister, my own doctor was on vacation back then, so I went to a CVS minute clinic, and I got a scrip for a minor antibiotic before we left.

During the week, my scrip seemed to keeps things status quo, but when it was done, I became apprehensive. I went to a walk-in clinic in Haliburton, and I received a stronger antibiotic, but my dosage stayed at two tabs a day.
I had only been to the CVS clinic before, so my experience with clinics was not extensive beyond getting a flu shot. Just to be on the safe side, I brought along my lap-top with pretty much my entire medical history for the past 30 years, just in case the clinic doctor wanted to go into some detail.
Of course, since I had never been ill, I had not visited doctors all that much, and 30 years of history is not nearly as much as you might think at first.
Nothing was getting better, however. Maybe not worse, but not better.

I had managed to get a sun burn, which caused scabbing over the area, which combined with the swelling from infection, was a sight from a horror film. I thought of that scene in Ben-Hur where Charlton Heston locates his sister and mother in the leper colony...

Getting in to see my own doctor at last, she prescribed a stronger anti-b at a much higher dose, intending to show the microbes we meant business.

During all this time, however, there was something else. About 10 days before we left for Ontario, a woman who lived about 30 miles away died from necrotizing fasciitis, or a flesh-eating bacteria infection.
I was a bit stunned, because I thought that that microbe stayed in (1) the South in dirty rivers, or (2) Hospitals.
I frequent neither.
The woman in question had been to a clinic to have a boil lanced. I considered that she had walked into forcing-garden hot house of infection... hospital, indeed! What is one to do anymore?

So, we return from Haliburton, I go to my doctor, she prescribes Bactrim, and lots of it, along with a topical. They send the scrip to Wal-Mart, and I make many calls back and forth trying to co-ordinate pharmacy and doctor's office: the topical was no longer available, and the pharmacy was to have called the doctor's office the next morning to tell them that, and to please pull a new choice out of a hat. I call after lunch and discover that the pharmacy had done no such thing - although they cover by saying the doctor's office had not responded. So the calls begin.
The first call to the doctor uncovers the fact they had never heard from the pharmacy.
I do not criticize Wal-Mart pharmacy; that's the way things are today: follow-through is your baby.

Finally, I take new meds. 
The infection had shown signs of spreading, and within a day that plan had been dashed, and the tide began to turn in my favor.
I did not eat for 3 days, however.
I withdrew from human contact, like some great animal headed for the legendary burial grounds, alone on his last fateful pilgrimage.
I was quite sure that my use of triclosan anti-biotic soap had engendered a mutant, anti-biotic-resistant strain of staph, and parts of my face would be cut off in a futile attempt to stem the infection. I had reflections on going around wearing a bag over my head, sort of like Erik in The Phantom of the Opera, only I would not have any operatic expertise to soothe my soul. (During all this time, my wife had taken off to visit our daughter, so everyone thought I was on my own and partying every night. Woo-hoo!)
I had devised a short scenario where skin from my buttocks would be grafted onto my face to make me presentable. There would be skin of a sort, no lips or anything, but there would be skin. I guess I could live with it.
I finally broke this fast with IKEA meatballs in putanesca sauce.

After 7 days, my doctor said that I did not have to come in to see her if the infection had gone away.
Perfectly sensible, except for the fact that everything was covered by a scab, and I was not sufficiently expert to make such a judgement under those conditions. If the skin had been clear and pink and free of any sign of ... well, anything... no problem. But there was the problem that I could not actually see anything of the skin.
It took me 6 1/2 hours back and forth with the doctor office to get the message across:
"I myself am not a doctor and cannot make a judgement. Therefore, either let me come in immediately or extend the prescription for another 7 days."
They decided to go with the extra 7 days, which I thought was just as good, since if I had gone into the office, that's what they would have done anyway; they can't see through scabs any better than I can.
(I seem to remember that back, long ago, doctors and medical professionals used to clean wounds, but no one had the slightest interest in such a procedure anymore.)

Then I got better.
I wash my hands very often nowadays, and am careful about touching various objects in public places.
The fulness of the harvest from what we have done in the past is sort of overwhelming: things like anti-biotic-resistant bacteria and a Sargasso Sea of plastic in the middle of the Pacific Ocean and Mega-Droughts due to climate change.
I have learned a couple of things:
(1) getting sick is not the end of the world,
(2) cleanliness is next to godliness in any list of things to do,
(3) do not starve yourself... until it is the proper time to do so.


Ruth said...

Good night! What a story. So glad you are better. Thanks for sharing, and for the 3 things.

Montag said...

Well, I discovered that starvation seems to have its place.

I'm going over my parents long-term care policy, and it seems to me they would have been better off to have saved the premiums and just put it in a mattress.

When things get really bad, a dignified and clean starvation seems reasonable.