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Tonsil Tales

Back in the good ole days, or so I remember being told, tonsils were removed as often as wisdom teeth, as a matter of course, as an extraneous appendage we no longer needed. I don’t know if that’s true or not but I was scheduled to have my tonsils out at age six. However, my family, always running on the dysfunction track, was derailed the day I was supposed to go in for surgery. My parents were fighting and I never did get my tonsils out for a very very long time.

Creative Commons--Knol

I spent my childhood and teen years getting colds like every other child but I as often got tonsilitis, involving very painful and swollen throat and bouts of antibiotics. By my teen years I averaged four colds/tonsilitis episodes a year. Some of the symptoms can be headache, fever, cough, trouble swallowing, sore throat and chills.  I think I was 18 or 19 when I started to noticed it felt odd when I swallowed, like something was stuck in my throat. When I opened my mouth wide, I could see small lumps of white at the back of my throat that sometimes I could remove with a finger. Basically food was getting caught in the holes in my tonsils. This did nothing for my breath either.

Finally, in art college the tonsillitis got so bad that even my tongue was swollen. I had cankers all over my gums and I couldn’t really eat a thing. Of course I’d let it get too bad, being a student, trying to finish projects and not getting enough sleep. So eventually I went in to the school clinic, telling them I had tonsillitis. They told me, you don’t know that. We’ll take a look. And they took a look and said, you have tonsillitis; why did you take so long?

More antibiotics but that finally decided it for me. I made an appointment to see my family doctor, the one I had had since I was about ten, who had seen me go through bouts of this over the years. I mentioned the holes and the food sticking in them. My doctor didn’t even look in my throat but told me it was nerves. I said it absolutely was not. I’m not a nervous person. Then he told me that lots of people got this. I said, they do? It was this incident of incompetence, plus the one where my doctor told me I didn’t clean myself properly when I went to him about a bladder infection, that I tossed him by the wayside and went to a new doctor. That doctor couldn’t see much in my throat but he sent me to a specialist. The specialist took less than a minute to look at my tonsils and say, “You have holes in your tonsils. When do you want them out?”

And so, at the tender age of 22 I had my tonsils out. And something I realized once I healed from the surgery was that I had never ever been able to swallow correctly. My throat had always been swollen. If I’d had my tonsils out at six, like I was supposed to, I would have missed a lot less school as a kid and not been subjected to so many antibiotics. Luckily I didn’t take the incompetent advice of a doctor who should have retired, and I sought out another opinion. I don’t  miss those tonsils at all.

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Swine Flu? When Pigs Fly

Okay, that’s a little joke but I think we need to keep a few things in perspective when it comes to the spreading fear of swine flu. Fear is spreading faster than the flu and though it is a serious enough illness, it should be treated with level headedness, not paranoia. Panic can be a demon that brings on an epidemic of hysteria.

If the media had existed in its current form in the 14th century when the Black Plague first reared its deadly head, probably more people would have died from fear, from fear mongering, from ostracization than those already-high numbers. The Black Death killed an estimated 30-60% of Europe’s population, decimating society and economy for many years to come. Some 75 million people are believed to have died from the bubonic plague.

These days, we may not get to those numbers because medical care is better. Yet we might get to higher numbers because there are far more people than Europe in the Middle Ages. And many cities are overcrowded, not to mention that many nations still have poor levels of sanitation and health. An estimated 500,000 people die yearly from seasonal flus. Mexico City has 22 million people but the flu has shown in a few other areas of Mexico as well as in Texas. Still, there are only 7 confirmed deaths by the WHO as of yesterday.

That’s not many yet. In fact, 150 people out of a population of 110 million is a pretty small percentage. However, every death is a rent, a loss of life and grief for loved ones; that should matter. We do have to be cautious but not crazed. People aren’t getting these from pigs, no matter what the name indicates. Eating pork won’t make a difference. However, one thing that humans learned over the centuries that cut down on the spread of disease and infection was that cleanliness makes a difference.

We’ve moved out of the polite era, when everyone was taught manners, coughed and sneezed into handkerchiefs, washed behind their ears and washed their hands because parents instilled it into their kids. We’ve become lackadaisical in this modern, free age, but what you can’t see can indeed hurt you. When it comes to hygiene we must still be diligent.

Here’s the best thing to do to avoid swine flu, any flu or illness in general: wash your hands well, often, and with soap and water. Cover your mouth with your arm or a tissue if you cough. Use tissues for your nose. Wipe down surfaces with disinfectant. If you cough or sneeze, don’t do it on others. Wash your hands often. Don’t kiss pigs.

Usually influenzas hit the very young and the very old. So far, this flu has killed men in the 25-40 (or 50) age range for some reason. Tomorrow I fly to LA. I’m not worried. After all, I’m healthy. I don’t have a compromised immune system or any illness that weakens me. My lungs (the area to worry about most) are very strong. I’m not flying to Mexico. Even all the people that the flu infects each year do not die from it. Planes are very good incubators of infections/colds in general. A closed space with a lot of people. It’s best to be vigilant about hygiene whenever flying.

There have been questions why the mortality rate would be higher in Mexico than elsewhere. If it’s Mexico City, well, there are 22 million people, as I said. When I was in Mexico in the late 80s, the smog was so bad that birds were dropping out of the air and you could taste it. Add that on top of other respiratory problems and a flu that attacks the same area and it’s not surprising that more people may die in Mexico City (and any other overpopulated, polluted city center) than in other cities.

Flu shots have been given for quite a few years now, optional but encouraged for the young and old. I predict we’ll see more people getting flu shots this year in general. However, a viable vaccine for this current flu would take a few months to work out and perfect. If this doesn’t turn pandemic, then it will have abated by then.

Symptoms are similar to other flu symptoms, fever, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, nausea, possible vomiting and diarrhea, lack of energy and appetite. (More severe cases may deal with respiratory problems and death.) Don’t jump to conclusions if you develop some of these. If you have been to Mexico or in contact with someone who has, watch your symptoms, call  your doctor’s office if you’re worried, or if it is a child or elderly person who is ill. If the fever goes beyond a few degrees or you have trouble breathing, then you will probably want to get checked out. Children and the elderly are always at risk. Eating healthily, drinking plenty of water and getting adequate sleep will keep your immune system strong.

Becoming crazed with fear is a more likely way to get sick than just taking sensible precautions. And when the latest scare is over, continue following good hygenic habits. After all, in many ways we don’t want to go back to, or repeat the Middle Ages.

Update as of 10/15/09: There is an awful lot of hype about this flu and to this date there are fewer people who have died from it than from other flus. However, the high-risk group does seem to be 20-year-olds and early 30s. Each person will have to decide if they need a flu shot or not but as a healthy female, who isn’t pregnant nor in that age group, I’ll forego the shot and take my chances.

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Amoxycillin and Me

About ten years ago I had a sore throat that wouldn’t go away after a month and a half. So I went to the doctor and she prescribed amoxycillin. It’s a particular form of the cillins, like penicillin. Before that I never had had a problem with penicillin but also hadn’t had any in years.

I proceeded to take the medication and a few days later when friends were visiting I was feeling feverish and having trouble breathing. That eventually passed a day later but I started to break out in a rash. The rash proceeded to hives, which proceeded to cover my entire body.

I went to the doctor and for whatever reason she thought I had the Australian flu, a particular virulent version going around that year. I continued to take the medication. I now was itching head to foot, slathering myself in calamine and welting up. I couldn’t brush my teeth or hair, wash my face, touch any part of my body without giant welts forming. I was a mess and scared.

The Thursday night (everything had started the previous Saturday/Sunday) I could feel welts in my throat and on my gums. I asked a friend to call me in the morning because I was afraid I wouldn’t wake up. In the morning, luckily I did, but things were not getting better. I called my doctor’s and burst into tears. I went in (the third visit that week) and she gave me an epinephrine shot. Unfortunately I overreact to epinephrine with racing heart, numbness and tunnel vision so she could only give me half a shot.

The shot worked for about a half and hour and then everything continued, so I went back in that afternoon. My doctor sent me over (rushed me in) to the dermatologist’s who asked me about five questions and said I was having a severe drug reaction. He put be on one drug to stop the itching and prednisone to stop the hives and welts.

The problem with the anti-itch drug was that it makes one eat and crave carbohydrates more. The problem with prednisone, a steroid, is that it puts weight on you. Because prednisone takes over for one’s adrenal glands a person cannot quit it right out. Doses must be tapered down so that the adrenal function comes back on. People can die from stopping prednisone cold turkey or screw their adrenaly systems permanently.

It took three weeks for my symptoms to go away. In the process of taking the prednisone I put on 40 pounds in a month, became very round and puffy and grew sideburns. My face was as round as the moon and I got something like zits but closer to cysts on my body. My nails grew longer and straighter than they ever had done and the stuff kept me out of the hospital. It gave me an appreciation for asthmatics who must use prednisone to breathe and the weight problems they must then deal with.

It took about 6 weeks to two months to be tapered off of the drugs. And once off I lost all the weight relatively fast. I also did a four-day juice fast as soon as the drugs were gone. Growing up with an eating disorder had left its mark and the way I was eating while on prednisone scared me. Luckily the eating disorder didn’t resurface.

Unfortunately I was left with some long term and permanent affects of prednisone and amoxycillin. I can no longer take any of the cillins for fear of an adverse reaction. I’ve run into other people who have had severe reactions from amoxycillin and I would caution against it. It contributed directly to the illness of my cat and subsequently his death months later. He had a persistent ear infection and the drug nearly killed him. I stopped it because he wasn’t eating or drinking and was vomiting. I forced water into him but his kidneys were damaged and six months later my very robust cat was dead from cancer. There is no proof that the cancer came from the amoxycillin but he never fully recovered from the amoxycillin.

Prednisone also permanently changed me. My hair had always been bone straight like the rest of my family’s. Now it has a medium wave throughout. I have spots on my body where there had been cysts from the prednisone and they will swell up from time to time. I had, before prednisone, been sensitive to dairy, couldn’t eat oats or lentils, and couldn’t drink grape juice. That was it.

Afterwards, I began to develop itchy red patches on my face, neck and arms. Eventually I had to go to my doctor about this and she sent me to an allergist who was a research doctor. This doctor told me that many food allergies cannot be tested with just the scratch test because if you’re affected by eating, surface areas do not accurately reflect this. I tried a few different diets and we found that I was reacting to foods that contained histamines. So those old cysts would swell up when I had too much and eczema would develop (which is now a chronic condition for me).

Some foods that contain natural histamines are: citrus fruits, all seafood, caffeine, dairy (cheeses, milk, cream, etc.) including whey, casein, milk solids and lactose, eggs, tomatoes, eggplant, pumpkin, spinach, vinegars and fermented foods, alcohols, preservatives such as sodium benzoate, sulphites, sulphates, tartrazine, prepared meats like bacon, salami, sausages, soy and red beans. There may be a few other categories but those are what I remember off the top of my head. And you can be sensitve to some but not all.

The elimination and testing period are long and tedious and I could never stay on it long enough to test everything. But some foods became self evident, such as when I eat vinegar or an orange and get itchy immediately, breaking out in a rash and possibly suffer from diarrhea. I may welt if the citrus touches my skin. I’ll get eczema as well. I’m not just sensitive to dairy now but will bloat, get stomach aches, bags and dark circles under my eyes, and break out–a full allergy.

And in the past year, my once hugely annoying eczema has progressed into rosacea but I’ll talk about that another day. Needless to say this is a cautionary tale about amoxycillin and prednisone and just some fo the things that can go wrong.

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