September 24, 2003

Life Suddenly Changes

So. About six or seven weeks ago, I'm showering and I notice that the lymph nodes in my groin are a bit swollen. Muttering to myself about the US tendency to wildly overprescribe antibiotics, I decide I'm in pretty good shape and can fight off what's obviously just a minor infection, no problem.

And I do. A couple of days later, no swollen lymph nodes.

A week or so after that, however, up pop little nodes behind my ears and around the back of my neck. I don't honestly give it much thought -- I'm not running a fever of any significance, and I feel fine. Decide I'll fight it off with no problem, and all I really need to do is just keep an eye on it.

And I'm fine. I'm working happily with patients and on custody evaluations, walking a neighbour's dog three times a week because my own dog is just too old to want to go far, and I miss the exercise. And I'm gardening and cooking and spending time with friends, and just generally having a fine tail-end of summer.

A couple of weeks go by. I notice that I seem to be developing some sort of slight asthma -- just a bit of shortness of breath. Couple more days, and the shortness of breath is more pronounced. Couple more days after that, and it's getting serious: streets in my neighbourhood that I had always thought were perfectly flat suddenly feel like steep hills, and I stop and gasp for breath after I struggle up them. Going up the steps to my house has me leaning on the porch column puffing away like a steam train, totally winded.

Meanwhile, I'm getting pale. Seriously pale. And since I have very sallow skin, my version of pale is a rather nasty shade of dingy yellow. My face is this colour and I suddenly look horribly and disconcertingly like my father after his death -- waxen and yellowy. And not just my face is pale: my hands are white. So are my feet.

I'm still trying to believe this is something I can just shake off, given enough self discipline, righteous food and fresh air. But it's hard to hear for the pounding in my ears, and I'm dizzy, and I've begun to bruise all over. If you so much as brush up against me, I bruise.

At this point, I've just started a new part-time job -- one I've been anticipating with great excitement, working with great colleagues and interesting patients. But all the same, third day on the job I decide I really need to go to the doctor, even though it means missing work.

Off I go. The Chinese medical student who examines me first keeps on and on about how yellow I am, and persists in poking my liver with horrid vigour. I keep trying to explain that this isn't yellow as in jaundice, it's sallow as in complexion. The truth of it is, though, I'm markedly more yellow than he is and he begins to talk to me in hushed tones about Hep B and I sit there thinking guiltily about every glass of wine I've ever drunk.

Finally he looks at the whites of my eyes -- not yellow. But the inner lids are a nasty white colour. And my hands -- white. And my feet -- white. He and the doctor consult, do one of those drain-one-arm blood tests and put me on antibiotics, because I've now developed the theory that I'm suffering from cat scratch fever. I wish.

The doctor says he's off on Tuesday, but if the results look interesting, we can talk on Wednesday.

I know it's not good news when he calls me next day. His day off. Tuesday. My blood counts, he says, are radically low and he wants to put me in hospital for a transfusion and "a couple of tests". Lying hound.

I'm still not taking this seriously, and really don't want to miss more work. So I suggest we do the transfusion on an outpatient basis on Thursday morning, before I see afternoon patients, and then I can maybe drop by hospital on Friday and have these two little tests. He very gravely says he'll contact the hospital and see what he can arrange. Lying hound.

Wednesday I struggle into work. There's a ten minute walk from the station to the college where my office is. It takes me twenty minutes and leaves me exhausted. I see a couple of patients. The doctor calls. He's sooo sorry, but the hospital doesn't think the outpatient transfusion is "advisable" and would like me to come in.

"When?", I ask.

"Now would be good", he says.

And with that, my old life melts away and a whole new one begins.

Posted by maddy at September 24, 2003 06:28 AM
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