Adventures in Medical Care

I was hospitalized last week with a kidney infection that I initially mistook for a mild UTI that I could treat from home by staying better hydrated. Even when I woke up last Sunday with a fever and in so much pain that I couldn’t stand up straight, I figured that I would go to urgent care, get some antibiotics, and go home. Even when the nurse practitioner said they couldn’t rule out kidney stones or other infections, and mildly suggested I would probably be better off going to the ER, I said I thought I could tough out the pain at home for a day or two to wait and see. It was only when the nurse practitioner point blank told me, “I can’t force you, but you need to go to the ER,” that I finally acquiesced.

I’ve always had some mild hypochondriacal tendencies, for which I compensate by making a conscious effort not to overreact. This is necessary with a chronic illness, when I have to guess whether my left arm and shoulder pain is arthritis or a heart attack. I generally play the odds and assume that it’s arthritis, which is all well and good for now, but might be a problem if I ever actually do have a heart attack. It doesn’t help that I have a relatively high pain threshold. I totally could have toughed out the pain last Sunday until it killed me. Literally.

The ER doctor decided to admit me to administer IV antibiotics and monitor a spot they’d incidentally found on my liver during the CT scan to rule out kidney stones or appendicitis. They were concerned about the severity of the infection, and the possibility of an abscess on my liver, both of which had the potential to go septic, given my compromised immune system.

Because I have a compromised immune system.

When the hospital transport workers took me from the ER to my new room, I commented to my family that this would be the first time I’d stayed overnight in the hospital since I was 8 years old, when I’d had surgery on my Achilles tendons.

What I didn’t say, but was in the back of my head the whole time I was in that room, was that this probably wouldn’t be my last overnight hospitalization.

Up to that point, I had been able to delude myself into thinking that, aside from the chronic pain and being slightly more likely to catch whatever might be going around, I could lead a relatively normal life. Being hospitalized for what I’d believed, just a day earlier, only required some extra hydration threw me into a tailspin.

I had a follow up appointment with my primary care doctor on Friday, to make sure I was still recovering well with the antibiotics. With him, for the first time, I voiced my fears: “Is this just the beginning? What the rest of my life is going to be like?”

He started to reassure me, and I reminded him that I’d been a frequent flier in his office in the last few months, most recently for shingles. He paused, and smiled. “You recovered really well from the shingles,” he pointed out. Then he admitted, “The meds could have played a part in you getting shingles.”

He told me that he didn’t want to become a hypochondriac, but his threshold for treatment with me, even for something as simple as an upper respiratory infection, was going to be a lot lower than it would be for a normal person. That he would be more likely to prescribe me antibiotics while taking a wait-and-see approach with anyone else, because my body might not be able to fight it off on its own.

That I couldn’t wait before coming in for a mild UTI, because it was more likely to develop into a severe kidney infection.

Because I have a compromised immune system.

So maybe I can avoid being hospitalized again and again if I go to the doctor right away. But I need to go to the doctor right away. No more playing the odds.

And just because I could tough out the pain, it doesn’t mean that I should.

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4 thoughts on “Adventures in Medical Care

    1. I am so sorry I didn’t respond to this before! I thought I had when I approved your comment, and then I was looking through old posts tonight and realized I didn’t. Life is a little bit of a rollercoaster at the moment, but on the upside, I do have more time to rest now, which is helpful. Thank you for asking.

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