No, I’m not dead.
I’ve been touched by the comments and tweets that I’ve gotten, asking after me. You’re right, my blog has been very silent.
You see, I contracted a mysterious disease.
…Let me backtrack a bit.
So, in April I was extremely overworked. On top of the 35 hours I pull at the vet clinic, my dog training business was going through one of its booms again and I was out training almost every night during the week, and for 3-6 hours each weekend day as well. So I was working around 50 hours a week spread over all 7 days of the week.
But I had something to look forward to – vacation!
My 10 year Mount Allison University reunion was going to be in early May and a bunch of old friends from residence were attending. PH and I had planned a full 10 days home in the Maritimes, and the highlight was going to be the reunion. PH would drive me up to Sackville, New Brunswick and have dinner with my old friends, some of whom he knew from his own days at Mount Allison. Then he would go visit with his family and leave me to stay in residence with the girls, reminiscing and eating and dancing, for two whole days.
I don’t know when I’ve been so excited. I loved my university days. I loved the town. I loved the school. I loved the people. And I was going back, and it was going to be AWESOME.
So I dragged myself through day after exhausting day, counting the sleeps until vacation.
Then, the day before we were due to leave, I collapsed at work.
Like, literally collapsed.
I started feeling dizzy and weak, and had lower back pain. Then, as was standing at the computer during an exam, making an estimate for bloodwork, I just passed out. Gave the poor client a bit of a shock, although I heard her laugh when the vet offered to do a rectal exam on me.
My work called PH to come get me and he took me to E.R., where I spiked a fever. They did some bloodwork and told me I was probably starting the flu or some sort of virus like that.
“But I’m supposed to leave for Nova Scotia tomorrow!”
“Well, you won’t be the first person to fly with the flu,” said the doctor cheerfully. “We’ll give you some IV fluids and some tylenol. Go home and rest as much as you can. This will probably get worse before it gets better.”
I was so upset. What if I was too sick for the reunion? I couldn’t bear to think about it. I went home and went right to bed, and rested as much as possible before our flight home. The next day I had some abdominal pain, and I wasn’t very hungry, but I was relieved that no nausea or other flu symptoms had emerged. Maybe I could fight this thing off!
The flight was tough. At one point I began feeling faint again and nearly passed out. I ran to the bathroom and tried to get my feet up. You won’t believe the awkward position I had to get in so that my feet were actually over my head. It involved my head being in the sink, my lower back over the toilet bowl, and my feet braced up on the back of the door.
Anyway, I managed to narrowly avoid passing out on a crowded airplane, thus forcing an emergency landing somewhere in the middle of America.
By the time we got to Nova Scotia, I still didn’t have any obvious flu symptoms. Just the faintness, lower back pain and the strange pain in my abdomen. It wasn’t stomach pain. It more felt like my whole abdominal cavity ached. It was like I had been punched in the gut. If you ever hung on your stomach over a bar or swing as a kid until your belly ached, you might remember that feeling.
Meanwhile, my toes began to bother me. I’m prone to ingrown toenails, so I figured that was acting up again, although I considered it pretty bad luck that toes on both feet were bothering me at once.
When we got to my in-laws house in Nova Scotia, I went up gratefully to bed and pulled off my travel-worn clothes. Then I frowned and looked down at myself. My entire upper torso was covered with a speckled red rash.
“Uh… love? Can you come look at this?”
“Please don’t die and leave me a single father,” said PH, staring at the rash with horror.
“It’s probably just an allergic reaction to the sports bra,” I said. “Ask your parents if they have some Benadryl. And… can you ask if you have any polysporin for my toes?”
By the next day all ten toes were bright red, swollen, and I could barely walk. Liberal application of polysporin wasn’t helping.
So I ended up going to a walk-in clinic. The doctor there didn’t buy my flu + allergic reaction + 10 ingrown toenails theory.
“I think this is all related. You still have a fever, you know. Maybe it’s parvovirus.”
“Uh… is that as bad in people as it is in dogs?” I asked.
“What does it cause in dogs?”
“Unstoppable bloody diarrhea and vomiting until they dehydrate and die.”
She laughed. “Yeah, no. It’s different. In kids we call it Slapped Cheek. They get a rash for a day and it’s done. But it’s sort of like chicken pox – if you get it when you’re older it’s worse. It can cause joint swellings – that’s what I think is happening to your toes – rash, and various flu like symptoms. I’ll give you a prescription for some anti-inflammatories and send you for some bloodwork.”
So I hobbled next door to the pharmacy while PH tried very hard not to mock me. I was walking like a 19th century Chinese lady with bound feet.
The pain killers helped a bit – I wasn’t in constant torment from my toes, but I nearly cried when I tried to put my shoes on again later that day. My mother in law offered up her Crocs, which I accepted with both gratitude and shame in equal measure.
“The holes are so your dignity can leak out,” said my mother-in-law helpfully.
That night, PH tentatively suggested that I skip the first day of the reunion.
“You’re sick. You need to rest. If you can have another day to fight this off, maybe you’ll be able to enjoy the rest of the reunion more.”
I was upset. Not at him. He had a good point, and I hadn’t even told him yet that my urine had turned a dark brownish orange.
But I didn’t want to give up my reunion. I messaged the girls and told them I was sick, possibly with parvovirus, to see how they felt about it. They obviously said they would understand if I couldn’t come, but said that they didn’t mind being near my virusy self.
So I went to my reunion in my Crocs.
And I had a good time. In Crocs.
I hung out with my friends, poking around town together noting all the things that had changed, and all the things that hadn’t. We laughed and took pictures and caught up on each other’s lives.
It was nice.
I was still peeing orange-brown. My toes were starting to ooze pus. I still couldn’t eat. I couldn’t take a bite of the garlic fingers at our favourite restaurant. I couldn’t eat my pre-paid meals at the cafeteria. I managed some mashed potatoes at the $50 pre-paid banquet.
Instead of spending my down time writing and eating junk food, as I had fantasized, I spent it alternately napping and trying to force down tiny sips of ginger ale.
I hated that this… this parvovirus or whatever was trying to ruin my reunion, and I was determined not to let it.
When it was time for the dance, even though I felt desperately tired, I got all gussied up with the girls in my pin-up dress… and Crocs.
Thank heavens my friends aren’t the easily-embarrassed type.
By the time we got there, though, I was beginning to regret coming. I was staggeringly exhausted. I couldn’t dance in my Crocs. I stood on the dance floor and jiggled a bit for a couple dances and then I admitted defeat, hugged my friends goodbye and limped back to the dorm to collapse.
I slept through breakfast – what was the point since I couldn’t eat it anyway? – and when I finally got up, I found a voice mail on my phone from the walk-in clinic asking me to call them.
“How are you feeling?” the weekend doctor asked.
“About the same,” I said.
“Well… your CRP – that’s a kind of protein that indicates infection – is really, really high. And you’re jaundiced. I think you should come back in for some more tests.”
PH came to get me that afternoon. We spent the night at his sister’s place, where I tried to force down some pizza and promptly vomited it back up.
The next day we drove back to the walk-in clinic near his parents’ place. I saw the same doctor who examined me before.
“I don’t think this is bacterial,” she said. “Your C-Reactive Protein is through the roof, but that just means inflammation, not necessarily infection. Your white blood cell count isn’t up very much. So I still think this is viral.”
I showed her my toes. My nails were leaking pus, they were starting to pull away, and the skin around them was paper-white.
“Okay, well, THAT needs antbiotics,” she said. “But the rest is probably viral. Some kind of hepatitis – not the scary kinds, like Hep A or Hep C or anything. Just some other virus attacking your liver.”
She ordered a liver test on me and gave me a script for my toes.
I spent the next few days resting at my parents’ place. There’s a special kind of torture in flying across the country to see your parents and then being unable to eat your mother’s cooking. I couldn’t eat the roast chicken dinner that my mother made for me my first night home, or my favourite lasagna the next.
My liver tests came back elevated, but I couldn’t face driving an hour back to the walk-in clinic for a follow up as they suggested.
“Then you should probably go to the E.R. to be screened for cholestasis,” said the doctor over the phone.
An afternoon spent in the E.R. speaking to an uncomfortably handsome doctor and his uncomfortably handsome resident resulted in my being told that it was not cholestasis, but probably some kind of viral hepatitis. I was negative for parvovirus, mononucleosis, and measles so they had no idea WHAT virus. They gave me fluids and sent me back home to lie around watching Doc Martin with my parents.
Then my left big toenail fell off.
It came RIGHT OFF.
And yes, it IS as gross as it sounds. My toe looked horribly and disgustingly abnormal without the nail, like a baby born without a face or something. PH, the same man who would have cleaned up my bloody mucus plug with equanimity, was so grossed out that he barely touched me for the next two days.
I could tell that at least one more nail was going to come off. When I pressed down on it, it lifted up at the nail bed like a see saw. This was not a comfortable feeling, nor did it look remotely normal. I still couldn’t put on proper shoes.
My mother in law said to keep the Crocs for as long as I needed them.
Meanwhile, I felt too sick to make the trips I had planned to visit all the people I wanted to see. Thankfully, one of my friends and my two cousins were able to drive down and visit me at my parents house, but there are a lot of people that I couldn’t see.
As our time in Nova Scotia drew to a close, I seemed to be improving. My urine was normal colour, my liver values were going down, and I was able to eat small meals, which meant that I was able to force down a Pita House pita, which I had been craving for over a year.
I tried not to be bitter about being sick over vacation.
Even though it meant a lot of money wasted at reunion, and some missed favourite meals, and even though it meant that I missed out on seeing a lot of people who I wouldn’t have another chance to see for probably a year or more… At least I had paid time off from work, got to be babied by my mother, and Owl had lots of adoring grandparents to entertain him and take care of him.
PH and I figured that a few more days rest once we got home, and I’d be able to go back to the grind.
Then, as we were waiting for the luggage carousel in Seattle to start moving, I made a comment to PH.
“The skin on my hands is starting to peel off. Look,” I held out my hands.
“Huh.” PH peered at my face closely. “Do your eyes hurt?”
“Because they are really red.”
Part two coming soon…