Wednesday, May 6, 2009

It all started with a cough. Then my stomach just wasn't right. Then my nose was stuffy. I was immediately angry - I knew this had to be my 157th cold of the year. I don't know what it is about this school year that has made me turn into a feeble old lady, but it's starting to get annoying.

After three or four days of this yuckiness, Monday morning arrived and I just couldn't get up. It seemed like an unbearable amount of work to dry my hair, so I bit the bullet and requested a sub, then crashed on the couch. About an hour later, I received a phone call requesting sub plans. I guess I fell asleep before I thought that far.

At about 9:30, Trey called to tell me that two of my nieces were ill - one had strep and the other was at the doctor right then. They said there was no line at Urgent Care, so I brushed my teeth, put on a hat and some clothes, and went off to the doc. I figured if I was sick enough to skip school I was sick enough to seek medical attention.

Now, I hate going to the doctor, and I especially hate filling out the symptoms form. At my favorite doc's office (Dr. Don), they have a little checklist with a million possibilities:
Nose: pain? running? what color? congested?
Head: pain? congested?
Throat: dull pain? achy pain? dry?
Cough: dry/hacking? productive? color of the phlegm?
etc. etc. etc.

I hate this form because by the time I actually go to the doctor I want to check every single box. Yes, my nose is running and congested. Yes, my cough is dry/hacking and sometimes productive. Does my throat hurt? In every way possible! That's why I'm here. Don't even get me started on the color of my phlegm. The phlegm and I are not exactly friends, and I certainly haven't been studying it so that I can mark the appropriate hue on your little form. I'm sick, and I'm here because all of the over-the-counter drugs in the world aren't fixing my runny/ congested/ coughing/ phlegmy problems.

The other reason I hate going to the doctor is because I have this irrational fear that the doctor will laugh at me, call me a wimp, and tell me there's absolutely nothing wrong with me. Then as I leave the office with my tail between my legs all of the nurses will shake their heads disapprovingly at people who go to the doctor at the slightest hint of sniffle. I very strongly do not want to be that person.

But on Monday I visited Urgent Care, and their form consisted of a single question with several blank lines: "What are your symptoms?" So I listed the vast array of respiratory and gastro-intestinal maladies I'd been enduring, and then I took my seat.

The receptionist promptly brought me a white surgical mask. She apologized, saying, "I'm sorry, but we have to make everyone with your symptoms wear a mask."

Really? A mask? So I can scare all of the people in the waiting room by making them think I have the dreaded swine flu, even though the swine flu is just like the regular flu only somehow scarier because it has a pig reference in its title? Perfect.

A mother and her three small children watched with fear as I tied the little paper mask around most of my face. I think I heard her tell them not to breathe.

One thing is for sure, if you are a suspected case of the plague, you do not wait in the waiting room for very long. A nurse whisked me back to an exam room and began taking my vitals amidst rapid-fire questioning. Of course, the question I dread most came first.

Nurse: Have you had fever?
Me: I haven't checked it.
Nurse: You haven't checked it at all?
Me: No. See I know it's weird, and as a medical professional you may not think it's possible, but I don't run fever.
Nurse (suspiciously): So you haven't checked your temperature because you don't run fever? (with an implied "yeah, right")
Me: That's right. I don't think I've had fever since I was a very young child.
Nurse: hmmm....

Then the doctor came in. He asked many questions - we covered my freakish no-fever thing again - and he began to examine me. He looked in my nose and my mouth and my ears, all with that creepy doctor skill of saying something unknown while saying nothing at all. Did he find something? Does everything look perfectly fine and the nurses are getting ready to boo at my hypochondria? What is it?

After listening to my breathing, he announced, "Everything sounds pretty good. Have you been achy?"

At this point, I kind of feel like I've been hit by a truck and I'm certain I have absolutely no medical reason to feel this way, so I just shrug. Finally I tell him, "I don't know. I just don't feel well. That's all."

"Well," he begins in his wise doctor voice, "I think you might have some bronchitis. We're testing everyone who comes in with your symptoms for the flu, but I don't think you have the flu. The test takes about fifteen minutes, then I'll give you something for your cough and you'll be free to go."

And one of my greatest fears came true. My eyelashes hurt and bronchitis was the best he could do. I immediately decided I should have gone to school instead of the couch at home and the doctor. I was a wimp, and I hate being a wimp.

A nurse came in, and I swear she took a swab of the back of my eyeballs through each nostril. She reminded me of the fifteen minutes the test would take and left me alone in my misery.

I think it was about two minutes. I heard muffled conversations in the hallway. Words like "health department" and "masks" made their way through the crack under my exam room door. As the doctor opened the door, I saw the mother and three kids run past, fully masked and staring into my room hoping to catch a glimpse of the monster.

"It's flu type A," the doctor announced. "It could be the H1N1, but we won't know for three or four days. We've made a call to the health department and they want us to take another swab. You're a teacher, do you have any Hispanic students?"

I almost laughed out loud. That's like saying, "Do you have students?" I guess people who don't know my school don't realize what a wonderfully diverse place it is. We probably have more racial, ethnic, and religious groups represented than most colleges.

Me: Yes.
Doctor: Have any of them been to Mexico recently?
Me: Last week I was giving the TAKS test. I spent most of the week with students I don't even know.
Doctor (concerned): Hmmmm...Do you have children?
Me: A three year old and a six year old.
Doctor: Are they sick?
Me: No.
Doctor: Hmmmm...Well, I'll give you something for the cough and the bronchitis. I think you've had this too long for the Tamiflu to help.The nurse will be in to get the other swab.

He asked a few more questions and gave some directions, and then left.

This time when the nurse came in to scrape the backs of my eyeballs, she wore a mask and gloves. Thirty seconds later another nurse came in wearing a mask. She gave me prescriptions, a better mask than the one I was wearing, some written instructions, and something to sign. It was the fastest doctor's office exit interview I'd ever experienced. When she tipped her pen towards me, I looked at her masked face and said, "Do you want me to use your pen?"

She thought for a second, then said, "Do you have your own pen you can use?"

I did. I asked how long I needed to be away from school, and she quickly responded "The rest of the week, and the doctor wrote a note."

As she handed me the stack of papers and muttered something about disinfecting the room, I began to cry. With the HAZMAT-like atmosphere the building had assumed, I felt like an AIDS patient in 1983. I thought of all of the important end-of -the-school-year activities I would miss this week. And on top of that I felt awful.

As I left the building I could feel the patients and employees (most of them now wearing masks) staring at me, and I thought of what it will be like to watch the news report about the teacher at the high school who got swine flu and made them close the building. Everyone would know it was me.

Thankfully, by Tuesday the CDC decided that H1N1 was no reason to close schools, and I've even heard that the swine flu is easier to have than the regular flu. Trey and the boys are on Tamiflu full force, so they shouldn't get sick. I still don't know what kind of flu I have, and I don't think it really matters.

It's Wednesday, and I feel well enough to write this novel of a post about the past few days, so I think I'm going to make it. It took me a little while to see the humor in the situation. I mean, it was funny the way I went from a crazy hypochondriac to Patient X. I suppose I will forever remember "The Year of the Swine Flu." Maybe I'll keep a mask as a souvenir.


Erin S said...

I was obsessively checking your blog for a post on this, and I'm so glad to see it! You are so darn funny! (and I hope you get to feeling better!!)

Unknown said...

I don't run fevers either and doctors and nurses always think I'm full of it. I'm sure they think I'm making it up when I tell them I've only run fever twice in my entire life... both of which I don't remember because I was so young!

StormyHickman said...

Thanks, Erin! I couldn't wait to write it but I wanted to wait until I really felt like I could do it justice.

Jack - I know exactly what you mean. Some scientist should do a study on our unusual ability to control our body temperatures. Maybe it's a superpower.

Jodi said...

I actually don't think any of the Barrett children run fevers?!? I know that I don't either.