Not my week: increasing compassion for patients

I've been sick for going on 2 weeks and sick enough to be mostly in bed since Saturday. I've read all I care too, exhausted my Netflix queue, and listened to all my podcasts. There's nothing left but to wait for my antibiotics to work and...blog.

Before I start: I know I get sick a lot. Being sick is not a personal failure. I do not choose to be sick. I take vitamins, eat well, wash my hands, and exercise. Even if I didn't, I don't see how the disapproving "you get sick a lot" would be helpful. I'm aware. This time I'm much sicker than my usual cough, cold, and sniffles, though. I actually went to the ER this weekend 5 hours after I got home from work because I thought there was a good chance I had meningitis.

No nurse voluntarily goes to the ER unless there's reasonable suspicion of death or horrible pain, particularly when an LP looms as a probable intervention, so y'all KNOW I felt bad. I don't get headaches. Never have. My dad and I frequently talked about how weird it was that neither of us ever got headaches; he had high blood pressure, and everyone constantly assumed his head hurt. It must be a weird "no headache" gene.

Until now. My head hurt so bad I cried, although I tried not to because the pressure of crying hurt worse. I could feel my heartbeat in my ear. My neck and shoulders were on fire. The cough I'd had for a week suddenly made the top of my head feel like it might just explode off (don't worry; I held on each time I coughed, to help out). I had a temp of 102 when I got home from work, so I'd taken 1 g Tylenol and 800 mg Motrin, because, you know, usually that fixes everything. But it didn't help and I couldn't sleep, and then I realized I had blurry vision.

So I figured that was all Bad and everything was getting worse at a constantly increasing speed, so, yeah, my nurse-to-patient turnaround time was 5 hours. (My last few hours at work were pitiful. Patients were dubious. "Are you sick?") I forgot to include that I'd had a pretty decent sore throat for a week before this along with an alarming laryngitis. I woulnd't have wanted to be my patient either. I sounded miserable.

When I got to the ER my heart rate was high, but for me that's an everyday thing; my blood pressure, though, was 140s/100s. It's usually 90s/60s. I was like, "great, now I'm having a stroke." I pretty quickly went from "I'm tired and this is a big pain" to "holy crap I might actually be seriously sick," and I started to freak out for serious.

THEN I became a hard stick. Normally I have huge lovely veins. You could stand at the doorway and with just a little luck hit one by throwing the needle like a dart. That morning? No veins. I guess fever and freaking out clamped them down. But again: I developed even more sympathy for patients in this situation. Between a couple IV sticks and a couple lab sticks for blood cultures, I was black and blue and frustrated. I get annoyed with patients who whine about IV sticks, because it doesn't hurt that dang bad, and it doesn't; however, I realized with this experience that this isn't the point. When you're that sick you feel like you just can't take EVEN ONE MORE THING GOING WRONG. You slide into an alternate reality where you don't care what happens to you, as long as the pain stops.

A CT scan and a 2-view chest x-ray later and my physician bustled excitedly in: "we have enough answers to explain everything without an LP!" Then I was excited too. I felt so bad because I had a lot of -itises. Bronchitis, otitis, laryngitis, and sinusitis. I had to read up on sinusitis subsequently because I had no clue I might have it: I've never had sinus problems, don't even get allergies except my eyes itch, and my nose wasn't stuffy or runny. Yet I had severe BOTH maxillary and sphenoid sinusitis. I definitely had no clue that spenoid sinusitis could cause blurry vision! My right eardrum was pulled inward and covered with blisters (bullous myringitis). And I had a hilar infiltrate in my lung. So many -itises.

I'm thankful that I DON'T have the -itis I was afraid of (meningitis). We've had a weird number of cases lately at work so it was, pardon the pun, on my mind. Even if we hadn't, I would have been appropriately concerned at that horrifying headache with no history of headache.

Clearly I would fail at being a migraine patient. I can't take the pain. I understand how pain can make people nuts. I have chronic pain, which is bad enough, but it's actually been getting gradually better or I've gotten more used to it or both. It has never kept me from functioning. This has pretty much kept me in bed with a hot pack on my head.

Today I hear crackling noises behind my ear, so I'm hopeful that fluids are moving around and will soon drain. I'd been taking Flonase and Mucinex-DM until I saw my NP yesterday for follow-up, and she said Afrin sinus would help my ears drain faster. Good to know. Also, she said to stop taking Mucinex because I take an SSRI and the combo can cause serotonin syndrome. What? I feel like this is something I should have known. That HAS to be a common combo.

Enough being upright. My nugget of wisdom for people with this type of pain (good to suggest to patients, with physician approval): a hot rice pack is the thing. I have one in a long tube a friend made for me. You just heat them in the microwave, and the moist heat is a godsend. Mine is long enough to lie across my forehead and tuck down around my ears. Fantastic stuff.