Friday, March 19, 2010

Sick Again

I can't believe how much I've been sick since Christmas. Near as we can tell, I came down with the swine flu shortly before Christmas. Never confirmed because I never saw a doctor, but all the symptoms were there. Sheryl quite amazingly held off getting sick for the longest time. She seems fearless about this kind if thing, whereas I hate being around contagiously sick people. I've had bouts with pneumonia and bronchitis before, and this was pretty bad-- I ended up sick for all of January. Again, never saw a doctor; partly because I kept thinking I was on the mend, telling myself "OK, well if I'm not much better by Monday--- then I'll go." Monday would come around, I'd feel better, but then find myself feeling punk a few days later. On and on it went.

Around my birthday, Feb 7th, I still wasn't feeling so hot. Lingering respiratory symptoms, tightness and wheezing, and just not feeling up to mustering the energy to watch and enjoy a whole movie in a theater. Not really sure now when it lifted, but somewhere in there I managed to sit through "Avatar" and enjoy it, and gradually felt more and more like I could take long walks in the desert with Sheryl again. And yet. . .

Here came March, and the Juniper pollen started blowing. Last year I discovered I had an acute allergy to Juniper pollen. We are absolutely surrounded by Juniper trees for miles, and not much else. This year the symptoms started in again, though not as badly. And I was determined to make friends with the pollen. It's been a confusing time-- as I did manage, mostly through mental attitude, to slow the response down to just a few sneezes here and there. But then the chest constriction, the wheezing started in again, a deep pain in my chest and a really, really deep cough. In the middle of this we had a house guest who suffers from severe allergies. We assumed I was having a sort of allergic asthma, and when I got desperate I borrowed his inhaler. Suddenly I could breath again. But the following day-- noises in my chest, a headache lasting the entire day, and to make a long story short, within a few days we realized that allergic symptoms weren't really adding up to this, I had chills and a bad cough. . . again.

Enough is enough, I went to a local doctor. Good man, he prescribed me some of the usual stuff: an antibiotic called Cipro, Albuterol in a nebulizer for the wheezing and constriction, a very small does of prednisone (basically an immune supressant for allergic type symptoms). I looked up everything on the net, and have been dealing with all that ever since. Pretty much skipped taking the prednisone, and am good with that decision. I figure when I've got an infection, I'll handle discomfort to some extent in favor of keeping my immune system un-supressed.

Took the Cipro religiously like a good boy, twice a day. I appear to be on a medium dosage. Good news there is that it doesn't give me terrible stomach aches like some anti-biotics have (In case you wondered why I avoided the Doc for so long-- there it is.)

Good news bad news: I can't determine for certain why the Doc chose Cipro, and can't tell if it's actually doing anything good. In the past when an antibiotic "hit the mark" meaning it was eradicating the particular bugs I was infected with, I've generally felt a hell of a lot better within about three or four days. Besides that, there were always obvious changes in the nasty mucous; from nasty thick yellow/grey to a less noxious clear and watery. Not so this time. In fact as of Thursday (four days on the Cipro) I was having so many new noises in my chest it sounded like a haunted house. It seriously scared me, and Sheryl and I determined to call the doc back the next day.

We did, got another clinician, and in my opinion, a pretty weird response: "The Cipro is working" she said, "It gets worse before it gets better."

I though about that, and either she's right, and I just need to give it more time, or she's wrong--- and the Cipro isn't hitting my particular bacterial infection. We can research these things now, and it turns out that Cipro works well on gram negative bacteria, but not gram positive (whatever that means). No antibiotic is perfect, and I wouldn't want anybody to get the wrong idea either, that I'm critical of medical personnel, or think I know better than they do etc. Further, I'm allergic to Penicillin or anything pretending to be it. And, without a lab culture telling the Doc specifically which type of bacterial bug you may have, the actual drug you get prescribed is just a broad-spectrum killer which will hopefully knock back your particular brand of little, hungry, invading critter.

The more I read about antibiotics, the more impressed I am by the cleverness of the people creating them, but also the more horrified I am about how quickly new bacteria strains evolve, the kind which resist being killed by all the wonderful antibiotics which came before. Doctors have to keep up on what the latest and greatest antibiotics are, because they are the only ones which work, for now, until the new bugs kick their collective asses too. Furthermore, this is mostly the fault of patients who take three or four doses and then quit the rest of the bottle--- no matter how many times they've been told that this is precisely how to build antibiotic-resistant superbugs. There are also many good reasons to avoid antibiotics altogether, if you can. And I usually do avoid them, but comes a time when you say, hey, I ain't livin' in medieval times here, gimme some of them good drugs.

Cipro is a pretty good drug, after several tries, we determined a lot of good reasons why this Doc prescribed it, as opposed to say, Clarithromycin. So for now, I'm good with that, good with the idea that considering how incredibly differently this drug works compared to others, that my past subjective impressions may not apply anymore.

These things can get confusing though: for example, the abluterol inhaler that I borrowed about a week ago was a sudden and amazing godsend. Suddenly I could breath. The next day: I was truly sick. All day. Chalked it up to side effects, but what if it wasn't that?

Here's the thing: my bronchial tubes get inflamed and close up for a reason, they're fighting infection. If I force them to open up chemically, then what? Have I interfered with a natural and important part of my own immune system? Same goes for the prednisone; I'll say this, if you've ever needed a steroid to keep your own immune system from killing you, these drugs are like miracles. You get to not die. And that feels pretty good. Same goes for lesser versions like OTC allergy meds; your quality of life compared to gasping for breath, hiding in the house next to a hospital air filter running full blast on a gorgeous Spring day, is just an amazing difference. Suddenly you're normal. Better yet you can train your body to say "hello, I love you" to perfectly harmless pollen, but we haven't all mastered that yet. Wait and see. We will.

But getting back to some of my other meds: I'm not doing the prednisone. I did do the albuterol, twice I think, on Thursday. I also tended to get real "aggressive" in trying to cough up the stuff in my lungs. Why: because I hate being sick. I hate having stuff in my lungs. I want it out, right now. But around the time I started seeing a little bit of blood coming up along with what little I actually was coughing up, I had to rethink the strategy. By late that same night (yesterday) I seemed worse than ever. My chest hurt, my throat hurt, I was wheezing and rattling like you wouldn't believe, and starting to get panicky.

This is the kind of thing I remember from way back when, had several bouts with similar symptoms in 1998. It's not so simple as "coughing it all up". You can injure your lungs doing that, coughing too hard and too often. You can irritate your lungs inhaling medicine too, no matter what it's supposed to fix: your lungs only want to see clean air, and are built to reject anything else. The response to rejecting what you put it in them are a form of pneumonia right there. Sinuses too: they're delicate. You can't just go nuking them with any old home remedy and expect good results. Anyway it's a balance. There are ways you can assist your body to get you well, and ways which you can shoot yourself in the foot. I'm dealing with that this week. I think I could have a had a much better year, so far, had I seen doctors sooner. I don't think I'd even be sick right now. I'd be done with it. And yet, now that I've got a few chemicals in the house, designed to have some pretty powerful effects, I have to be cautious and careful. You can't employ a scorched earth policy against "germs" when you're the earth.



Jane Ross said...

Hi Paul

Sorry to hear you have been feeling very ill. Would you consider trying a homeopathic consultation to assist your immune system build itself up? Homeopathy (as you probably know) helps restore the balance in our bodies so we are better able to deal with dis-ease in this modern world.
Regards Jane Ross

Paul Hood said...

Thanks Jane,
Sheryl is doing flower essence therapy for me currently, a form of homeopathy. My issues regarding this type of illness go back quite a few years and we're working on unraveling that together.