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Friends, Lend Me Your Eardrums

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“True is it that we have seen better days…” ~William Shakespeare (As You Like It, II, vii)

Things I hate:  Spiders.  Moths.  All bugs.  Slow drivers.  When women wear too much perfume.  Cedar trees.  Cigarettes.  And being sick.  I hate being sick.

It’s been 5 weeks since my last post.  I came down with a minor flu on Valentine’s Day, which couldn’t just be the flu for flu’s sake, but had to lead me down a germy path to strep-induced tonsillitis as well as secondary infections of both the sinus and ear.  My right ear was clogged for two weeks and I got so fed up with it that I voluntarily elected to have my eardrum cut open and all the gunk inside vacuumed out by the ENT who now knows me on a first-name basis (due to 3 visits in as many weeks).  At one point my tonsils resembled some weird avant-garde modern art painting of random squiggly bacterial white lines and patches.  An intense coughing cacophony each night for three weeks left me with aching ribs and muscles and a permanent neck crick from trying to sleep at a 90-degree upright.  And then after almost a month, when I was just starting to get better, the strep/tonsillitis decided to play a very unwelcome encore performance last week, so back on the antibiotics I went for a second round.

None of it was really that serious, just more annoying and tiring than anything.  And certainly many people are dealing with much, much worse than me.  I do seem to have pretty bad health luck around this time of the year though; if you missed my post from what happened last March when I called for an ambulance in the middle of the night, you can read it here.  I get my flu shot religiously each year as soon as it’s available, so I was pretty angry it got me this year; luckily I didn’t have one of the serious strains that the flu shot protects against, but the flu is never nice no matter what form it comes in.

And that ear procedure was pretty squidgy.  It’s called a myringotomy and it’s actually very common; my ENT said he’s done 3 or 4 a week, every week, for years now.  Mostly on kids who need tubes in their ears, but also sometimes on adults like me who have mutant sinuses that won’t let us live normal lives (I didn’t get tubes).  I’d never gotten to the point where I needed it before now, and I hope I won’t need it again.  Let’s just say that if you’re afraid of needles or shots, you’re going to have a hard time if you need this procedure.  Because they have to numb up your eardrum before they cut it open, and that means multiple SHOTS, with tiny but still-real needles, right INTO and THROUGH your eardrum.  That’s what hurt like a heckamabob.  I didn’t feel the cutting at all, but it was very weird to be able to hear (in extreme Dolby stereo) the slicing sound of the scalpel on the eardrum, and then the loudest vacuum sucking sound you’ve ever heard.  Some pain about an hour later when the anesthetic wore off, but not much after that. 

ear infection

I pretty much don’t feel like doing anything when I’m sick, even if it’s just with “regular” illnesses like I just described.  It’s why I haven’t written any posts for 5 weeks or really done much at all past just getting through the days and nights and trying to get well again.  “Give people high-fives just for getting out of bed. Being a person is hard sometimes.” Words of wisdom from Kid President (if you haven’t watched his videos on SoulPancake, you’re missing out!).  It is hard being a person sometimes, especially a contaminated and contagious one.

Our bodies do an amazing job of trying to take care of themselves, but when those tiny insidious virus and bacteria warriors attack, it’s incredible how much physical and mental energy they can zap out of us.  Going to the grocery store and back feels like you’ve run a marathon and necessitates a long nap immediately afterwards.  Laundry becomes the equivalent of a hard gym workout.  I lost 8 pounds in the first week of being sick this time; I had absolutely no appetite and the only things I ate that week (the same thing every day) were minimal amounts of scrambled eggs, toast, and soup.  (When the tonsillitis hit, I felt justified in buying frozen double fudge pops and ice cream to sooth my throat, thereby negating my flu-fueled weight loss…but very much worth it.)  A pharmacist friend of mine said “bacteria will outlast humans” and I do believe she’s right.

I really wish I knew the secret behind those people who seem to have constitutions of steel and rarely if ever get sick.  What are they doing?  Or is it all just in the genes?  My family genes seem to be riddled with susceptibility to allergies, acid reflux and thinning hair – we’re a very phlegm-y family.  I’ve given serious thought to buying stock in Kleenex.  We are allergic to everything.  And on the GERD front, I’m pretty sure that just a handful of my family members could provide enough stomach acid (in a very short amount of time) to fill the vat that created the Joker. 

It doesn’t help at all that we live in the worst city in America for allergy-sufferers.  A day or week of bad allergies can be just as draining as the flu sometimes, and the resulting inflammation can make existing infections much worse.  Cedar fever season is over finally, but now we have the joy of days filled with oak pollen – and there are just as many, if not more, oak trees in this city than cedar trees.  As I write this, I had planned to be outside spraying weed and grass killer in my yard and pulling up the weeds that got a jumpstart on spring, but it’s so windy outside that I know I’d be suffering from oak pollen symptoms for days afterwards…and so once more I’m relegated to indoor confinement.

But again it’s all about perspective.  I know there are so many people out there dealing with so much worse, so I feel pretty grateful that I’m able to go through this crud but then recover.  There are some benefits to being stuck home sick.  The fudge pops, of course.  I’ve caught up on dozens of taped episodes of The Office that needed watching (and laughter is the best medicine sometimes).  And I’ve discovered a surprising fondness for classical music – while app-wandering one fever-filled day I found a wonderful British classical station (Classic FM) and the music they play is so beautiful and invoking (and goes perfectly with a cup of English Breakfast tea).  

But I’m looking forward to being well again.  In the next few weeks (well or not) I’ll be lobbying our City Council for a code and ordinance amendment that would allow me to get started on the primary outlet of my flower business venture.  It’s been a little slow going lately on the flower front, but I’m not losing hope.  It’s not a race, and I have been gradually implementing aspects that will help me move forward.  “Wisely and slow; they stumble that run fast” has been my  mantra of sorts lately (Shakespeare, Romeo & Juliet, II, iii).

I hope if you’re currently battling a bug that you feel better soon.  Lots of fluids and frozen fudge pops is my recommendation.

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

Wormhole Take Me Away…

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“Too well, too well I feel the different plague of each calamity….”  ~ William Shakespeare (King John)

Part of the reason that I quit my job a few weeks ago was that it made me sick – literally and figuratively – and I simply felt bad almost all the time.  The job required that I be in elementary schools all day, every day; after three days in one school, we’d move on to another.  From the very first week on the job, my immune system was overwhelmed with a constant barrage of viral and bacterial assaults launched by the in-your-face sneezing and coughing of all those adorable little germ warriors (kids).  I salute the teachers out there who have hardened immune systems of steel from years of battlefield exposure, I don’t know how you do it!

I would get over one cold and be well for about a week or two before the next one would start.  I started lugging around several liters of my own water from home each day after a coworker pointed out to me that the kids were putting their mouths directly on the water spouts of the water fountains I was using to refill my bottles.  (Why is this still happening and why hasn’t someone invented a water fountain that won’t allow this?  Scientists, get on that please.)   Another coworker told me she stopped tying kids’ shoelaces after she knew someone who got a nasty fungal infection from doing the same thing. 

We should be paying our teachers and school staff in bars of gold, by the way.

My close friends and family that really know me also know that I’m a bit of a germophobe, although I’ve gotten better about it in recent years (yes I have!).  Still, this was a pretty tough aspect of the job for me to handle.   When the flu started spreading like wildfire last fall I began reminding the kids to cover their coughs and sneezes vampire-style, but was told by my supervisor to stop doing this (it wasn’t part of our rote 45-minute memorized lesson, so epidemic prevention be damned).  Despite my best measures (I really need to buy stock in hand sanitizer companies), it always seemed to be a losing battle for me. 

I spent Christmas Day morning in Urgent Care with a bad case of bronchitis and strep.  I caught a nasty norovirus one time that sucker-punched me out of the ring for a while (intestinal woes that you do NOT want to hear about, trust me).  And then at the end of March, I came down with a particularly nasty bug that caused me to do something I’ve never done before:  I called 911 in the middle of the night because I’d woken up feeling as though my throat was closing up and I couldn’t get enough air.

The very nice and handsome EMT and ambulance workers who showed up at my house were there all of five minutes before they deemed me to simply have a bad case of – wait for it – laryngitis.  Caused by the upper respiratory infection I’d come down with, but still just plain ol’ laryngitis.  Was I embarrassed?  If I’d had a lever I could have pulled to open up a wormhole to another galaxy in my living room, I would have dived in all Greg Louganis-style.  Especially after the guy taking my pulse ox rate remarked “cute candy cane pajamas.”

Wait for me, Picard.

Wait for me, Picard.

My Dad – who had practiced his Indy 500 speed skills getting to my house after I’d called him to croak out in a weird froggy-sounding voice that I was calling an ambulance – then took me to a 24-hour clinic where another cute medical professional gave me a cortisone shot and a Rx for steroids and sent me on my merry groggy way.  Luckily it was nothing too serious, but it was one of the final straws in my decision to finally quit a job that was making me miserable in more ways than one.  It’s hard to be UNunhappy when you’re sick all the time.

By the way and a heads up:  I was told that most emergency services (ambulance, EMT) are almost always considered out-of-network for insurance purposes.  I don’t know if it’s true everywhere or not, but I didn’t know that before I picked up the phone and called that night.  I imagine it’s the last thing on people’s mind when they need true emergency help – as it should be.  But I was in shock many weeks later as I opened two bills totaling $725.00 – the portion my insurance would refuse to cover.  For 5 minutes of evaluation EMS provided at my home that night and no transport.  That my insurance wouldn’t cover because the responders were out-of-network.

But here’s the restore-your-faith-in-humanity part of the story:  When I called the EMS billing service to inquire about the bill breakdown and payment plans, a nice man named Bruce asked me if I had secondary insurance that could cover my part of the bill.  I said no, and told him that actually, I was about to be unemployed.  He then told me he was going to waive the remaining part of the EMS bill, because that was their policy if people didn’t have enough insurance coverage to pay the balance.  He said “We don’t ever want anyone to NOT pick up the phone and call 911 in the middle of the night when they feel they need it – like you did – because they’re worried they can’t pay for it.  We’re here to help you.”

I think my very intelligent-sounding response was along the lines of “Wha?!?”  I was incredulous, and told him so, and then thanked him profusely.  I actually asked him, was this an American company and policy, in the land of healthcare-induced bankruptcies that we hear so much about all the time (Yes it was.)  It was a very welcome glimmer of humanity and decency in the shadowy underground that is the U.S. healthcare industry, and I was extremely grateful for it.

Now that I quit my job, I’m having to wage another battle: not on germs this time (well, ok, that’s ongoing), but on convincing healthcare insurance companies that I’m worthy of being insured as an individual.  Companies that will increase your monthly premium by $64 per month if you went to the chiropractor one time for one episode of minor back muscle pain.  Companies that penalize you instead of rewarding you for wanting to improve your mental and physical health.  The mere act of applying for individual coverage suddenly launches you into a world of criminal-like suspicion, it’s crazy.

After I applied to several different health insurance vendors, many of them called me for underwriter investigations.  One company actually wanted to know the day of my last period and if it was a “normal” one…how did this ever become any of their damn business??  And Mr. Underwriter, when it comes to describing that painful part of every woman’s existence – you simply can’t handle the truth.  Evidence: this hilarious video by UK company BodyForm in response to a pseudo-frustrated boyfriend’s Facebook post (it’s well worth your time!):

Another underwriter suspiciously questioned the fact that I said I’d lowered my cholesterol by losing nearly 50 pounds, implying that they thought the only reason I could’ve lost that much weight was by being sick, not because of individual hard effort and just wanting to be healthier.  I was glad it wasn’t a Skype call so they couldn’t see the gesture I made to them during our conversation.

It’s all pretty discouraging and frustrating, but I’m not letting it get me too down.  I knew this would be one of the consequences of quitting my job, and short of moving to England or France’s land-of-socialized-medicine tomorrow, it’s just something I’m going to have to deal with.

I feel really lucky in my life that I’ve never had very serious health problems, knock on wood.  (Well, there was that one time I nearly died after a mugger pushed me over a bridge, but that’s a story for another post.)  I usually always made them out to be more serious in my mind than they were in real life, but I’m getting better at that too.  I’ve already survived some pretty tough times in my life, so I know I’m a strong person that is hopefully capable of handling whatever may come. 

With or without a wormhole.

pooh1

À la prochaine!

Ant Kristi

 

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