You may remember a particularly nasty virus I experienced in December. The bad news is that it never really went away. The good news is that it makes for an interesting blog. Look at me, glass half full!
My belief is that the December virus became dormant without being fully defeated. Every month or so I’d seem to pick up a cold from somewhere, but I bet it was that virus stirring briefly into life. There was always an underlying cough that never cleared up; I never felt 100%.
I hoped that a week in the sunshine of Spain would sort it out. But it didn’t; I was still coughing.
Ten days ago I went back to my parents’ for the day, to celebrate my Dad’s birthday. It was a hot and sunny Sunday. But I was tired, and people noticed. I hadn’t slept much the night before – even worse than usual. After the meal I sat in the garden soaking up the rays, then hid in the shade. You know how you sometimes feel unaccountably chilly when you do that? I felt it, thought nothing of it.
Later that evening I drove home as the sun started to drift toward the horizon. I still felt that chill. Hmm. Back home I parked and opened the driver’s door. The temperature difference hit me: warm car vs now much cooler outside. I shivered, feeling that ominous indescribable bodily reaction that screams: incoming!
I went inside. Something was definitely up. I tweeted:
HILARIOUSLY, I think I’m coming down with something. Probably another manifestation of the lurgi lurking for weeks within. Quack time. Oink?
The usual scenario was a week of coughing and spluttering. But it was time to deal with the true cause, that December virus or whatever it was. Naturally the next day was a Bank Holiday and I’d be unable to see my GP. But Tuesday would be OK; I’d go in late to work or something, depending on the appointment.
Sunday night did not portend well. Sayeth the tweet:
had a feverish and sweaty night, not pleasant, little sleep, much dozing. Just got up and had lunch. Will drift into town in a bit for air.
I didn’t feel well at all. It got worse:
is shivering like that dog in that advert. Makes it very hard to drink tea, let me tell you.
I had another bad night. At precisely 8.30am (you have to know the trick) I rang my surgery and got an appointment for 9.40. Feeling pretty awful and very tired indeed, I wandered down in what was now cold and windy weather.
The doc heard my story and quickly diagnosed acute sinusitis, spawned from underlying chronic sinusitis. This made sense. The chronic was making me feel generally not-up-to-par, with a constant cough; it would regularly bloom into the acute form and give me grief for a week. My temperature was up. Prescription: Amoxicillin (one week) for the acute, Beconase aqueous nasal spray (three months!) for the chronic.
I was too tired to work and called in sick.
By the end of the week something new was happening. My glands were up, my throat was sore, my ears were bunged up. What fresh hell was this? I was supposed to be getting better by now, not worse! The sore throat was making it hard to eat anything other than soup, and was keeping me awake at night since every time I swallowed, my whole body tensed in pain. And when your sinuses are playing up, you swallow often.
Looking through the leaflets I noticed that a possible side-effect of the Beconase spray was a “dry or painful throat”. Aha. That seemed likely. It immediately invoked CYA by telling me to see my doctor (does anyone do that?) but I could go and see a pharmacist.
After yet another poor night on Friday night I met up with Andrew on Saturday mid-morning. He told me I looked pale and unwell. Absolutely. I chatted to a pharmacist who said it was unlikely the Beconase was causing what I was experiencing, but it wouldn’t be a bad idea to stop using it just until I’d finished the Amoxicillin course. I had lunch with Andrew and managed to eat a salad.
The feverish, sweaty nights were not quite so feverish or sweaty by now. But on Saturday night a new ritual began: I call this the “not sleeping at all” ritual. My throat was so bad I just couldn’t sleep at all. I guess I might have got half an hour just from plain exhaustion at about 7am. No more than that.
On Sunday, laughably, I went through the usual ritual of buying food in town. Food that I probably wouldn’t be able to eat as my throat wouldn’t let me. And my appetite had gone in any case, so one bowl of soup – perhaps with a couple of slices of bread, suitably dunked into mushiness – was my daily intake of calories.
Sunday night was marginally better than Saturday night, in that I slept an hour and for the first time there was no sweaty part. But still, only an hour.
At 8.30am on Monday morning I rang the surgery and got the same 9.40 appointment from the previous Tuesday, with the same doctor.
Suspiciously, her opening line was “What can I do for you this week?” With a voice muffled by clogged sinuses part-mangled by steroids (the spray) and the desert that was my throat I described the situation. She quickly decided I had an additional, random virus. This made sense. But there were to be no antibiotics, unless the swab she performed identified something worthy of them. Fair enough, but it meant the only treatment was time, the only assistance my glamorous friends Senor Paracetamol and Senora Ibuprofen, doses maxed out. She signed me off work for the week, but said I was free to return earlier if I felt up to it.
I bought a few more bits of food, food that I might actually use: bananas, soup.
Monday night was slightly better; perhaps a couple of hours’ sleep. Now the fever had gone I just had to watch for my overall temperature, since the weather was hot and my flat a furnace. Didn’t seem too bad. A corner turned?
On Tuesday morning I showered and then admired my gradually thinning frame in the mirror. Oh. Is that some kind of rash?
There was definitely some red blotchiness on my forehead. Hmm. Perhaps it was a heat rash, I thought; the shower was hot, the flat was hot. I’d keep an eye on it.
By Tuesday evening it was obviously not a heat rash. My head was red all over, with swathes of blotchy redness over the top half of my body. Another poor night followed.
On Wednesday morning I thought. Shingles? Measles? Surely not. I rang home to find out whether I’d had the measles or the vaccine when I was a kid. My Dad thought I’d had the vaccine (Mum was shopping, she’d know). It was unlikely to be measles, surely? But the symptoms on the NHS web site were scarily accurate. And the photos I’d seen were representative.
I rang the surgery. They were supposed to tell me the results of Monday’s swab anyway: you never know, that might magically reveal whatever it is. Naturally they didn’t have the results. But I asked the receptionist to get a doctor to ring me ASAP as there was a chance that I had measles and I’d been in the surgery just a few days before. (Measles is one of those notifiable diseases.)
I dozed waiting for the call back, which arrived after nearly two hours. After hearing the now lengthening medical history this new doctor thought it best that I come in to the surgery that afternoon. Amazingly there was a slot free at 4.30.
I dozed some more. At 4 I walked down, my Big Fat Red Head covered in a hat and sunglasses to avoid being gunned down in the street as some kind of ET. On arrival at the surgery I was asked to wait in a side room – isolation – just in case.
The doctor I saw this time – Dr Linehan – took one look at me and said “Oh, you poor man”. Not precisely what you want to hear from your GP, but it was fair comment I thought. “I look that bad, do I? I’ve not even shown you my chest.” (Here’s a portion of skin by my left shoulder.)
She’d looked at my notes and had a good idea what had happened. It seems you’re not supposed to take Amoxicillin if you have a sore throat, as it brings you out in a bad rash. Of course when I started taking it, I didn’t have one. But I certainly had one later in the week, and on Monday when I’d seen a different doctor at the surgery. So there was a feeling on her part, I thought, that they’d messed up a bit.
She was also pretty convinced that the virus sitting on top of the chronic and acute sinusitis was glandular fever. I’m not sure why, thinking about it now – perhaps it was related to the rash. The good news was that I seemed to be over the worst of it – no fever. But I’d just have to manage what remained using the lovely Senor and Senora. With a bumper bonus of some antihistamine for the rash. (Oh, and the spray for the chronic sinusitis, when I decide to restart using it.) Most importantly I need to rest, she said, while signing me off work for another week.
The proof of the glandular fever diagnosis will be via a blood test. Normally you can find my veins easily enough. But now they were camouflaged by hideous red spots. The doctor tried and failed to take blood. She palmed me off onto the nurse, a nice Old School lady who quickly ripped off her standard-issue plastic gloves saying “I can’t do anything with these on” and then spent 30 minutes hunting for a vein, asking me to look left as “I don’t want to catch what you’ve got”. She finally extracted some blood, but after removing the needle realised she needed more. So we had another ten minutes of hunting before she gave up and wrote a little note on the NHS packet asking them nicely to spread the blood around a bit as she couldn’t extract enough of it.
She then made me a lovely sugary tea.
And you are now up-to-date. I have glandular fever with a side-order of severe rash, having hopefully vanquished acute sinusitis but with chronic sinusitis still to tackle. I haven’t been to work for a week and a half, and probably won’t be going for the next week and a half. I’ve slept no more than a dozen hours in the last week and need to wear sunglasses in public to avoid drivers mistaking the dark circles round my eyes for mini-roundabouts.
It’s nearly 1.30am now. I shall turn off the light and try to surprise myself to sleep.