My CO-1686: Surprise! No Free Lunch for Feisty Heifer

September 2, 2015 Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)  Celebration of scan results and 81st birthday propelled Celpeggy and Octo – short for Octogenarian – respectively, wife and husband, patient and caregiver, on board China Eastern Airline bound for Tokyo via Shanghai. CheapoAir’s $550 roundtrip airfare per person from LAX sent two aging hearts a-racing, forgetting about susceptibility to airborne diseases.

We had a blast doing Ginza and old Tokyo, Edo, which I had frequented only in crossword puzzles. I loaded up on my sushi while Octo conquered his noodles with spoon and fork. Creeping deep into the eighth decade of his life, he was not about to surrender to chopsticks. But this post is not about a vacay. It’s about what happened after 17 hours in Shanghai and 5 days in Tokyo.

First, a little background.

Octo and I are diametrical opposites on healthcare issues. He was raised in good white American hygiene. I grew up in the filth of Manila squalor. He sees a doctor at the first sign of anything that might ail him. I loll at Google University searching for home remedies as I ride out the symptoms. Octo gets all the shots – flu, pneumonia, shingles. I don’t. He has no qualms about ingesting prescribed or store drugs. I do and I have a thing about cutting pills to get them past my throat.

Back to the story. So on September 9th the 14-hour flight back from Shanghai ended and we set foot at LAX. Octo was not feeling so hot. He had picked up a virus that gave him a hacking cough, stuffy head, and red swollen watery eyes. At the first opportunity the following day, he saw his doctor and amassed eye drops, pills, gargles, cough syrup, codeine. As I attended to the poor sick puppy, I thought, Here I am with cancer, no shots, and I’m fine. I secretly congratulated my immune system, “Attagirl!”

Not so fast, Feisty Heifer.

Three days later, my throat itched and I broke occasionally into unproductive cough.

“You gave it to me!” I accused Octo.

“You got yours from Shanghai, too,” he countered.

The itchy throat and occasional cough continued through the night. The following morning I woke up literally drenched in sweat. I bragged to Octo that when I was little, my mother did the happy dance when I broke into a sweat because it meant my immune system broke a fever.

“Go to Urgent Care,” Octo admonished.

“No!” I resisted.

That night I had a low-grade fever, took Ibuprofen, went to bed, and woke up at crack of dawn under sweat-soaked sheets again.

“Go to Urgent Care.”

“If it happens again tonight, I’ll go tomorrow.”

“What’s the difference between today and tomorrow?”

“Tomorrow I’ll have more data.” Scientific reason prevailed.

The malady happened again that night. In the morning, off to Urgent Care we shuffled.

September 19, 2015 At the Saddleback Memorial Medical Center Urgent Care

Why are young Southern Orange County doctors so damned handsome like football quarterbacks? Dr Goodlooking (GL) glowed in acid green gymsuit for casual day Saturday.

“What’s the problem?” Dr GL asked me, smiling.

That’s my problem with doctors. They ask me first about my problem before they can tell me my problem. They should know my problem already, but I went ahead and told him.

“You don’t have a virus infection. I’m afraid it’s your cancer,” he said, shaking his head.

“Cancer doesn’t get infected!” I protested adamantly. Then light dawned! I remembered the Three Little Fellas and the too-many-to-count nodules that I’ve insisted are bird caca infection, not cancer. What if they’re re-infected? Suddenly I had visions of my lung occupiers all fattened up and bullying one another for space. The mental images converted me instantly to a compliant patient.

With nary a question, I took Dr GL’s prescribed Azithromycin Zpak, a five-day bacterial antibiotic. On the third day, the drug eliminated the fever, sweats, and dry cough. I felt awesome. What a powerful drug, with zero side effects to boot! On the fifth and last day of the regimen, I felt total liberation from the infection. I congratulated my immune system, “Attababe!”

Not so fast, Feisty Heifer.

On the sixth day, Azithromycin’s nasty side effects descended upon me like an avalanche: diarrhea, appetite loss, fatigue, nausea, and leg cramps. I did not know what hit me! I managed to escape for a moment from the deluge, rushed to Google University and researched the Azithromycin monstrosity.

Please note: The statements in Italics are my commentary. All others are from Google University.

Azithromycin is prescribed for anything from ear infection to sexually transmitted diseases. The drug does not kill bacteria; it stops the growth of bacteria. Whatever bacteria it stops on its tracks, the immune system kills. The patient must have good immune response to benefit from Azithromycin. It stays with the immune system’s soldiers or white blood corpuscles after stopping the initial bacteria attack. Azithromycin would be akin to the Swiss Guard mercenaries fighting alongside the French army in 1792 to save the French monarchy. In my case, the Azithromycin mercenary army and my immune system were fighting side by side to save the drama queen. The drug stays in the blood for at least 14 days until it is eliminated through the body’s digestive process. The doctor must determine that the benefit derived from Azitrhomycin outweighs the risks of its side effects. I would most certainly hope so!  

Back in Malaise City, a thought occurred to me: At least 14 days of nausea, zero appetite, and fatigue! This drug’s side effects – not cancer – will launch me to the Pearly Gates!

Octo: “Get anti-nausea medicine from Dr GL.”

Moi: “I’ve got this. This too shall pass.”

But Miss Nausea did not pass. Instead, the witch picked me up by the hair and dangled my face over the commode. After a couple more upchucks, even just the thought of putting food, fluid, or teeth in my mouth turned my stomach. My inner Mad Scientist folded.

“Let’s go to the emergency room (ER),” I said calmly, shocking Octo. “This is beyond my capabilities now. I need intravenous hydration.”

September 28, 2015 9:00p.m. At the Saddleback Memorial Medical Center ER

The slender fit doctor sported a striking yellow designer shirt and matching socks that showed under the opened white coat.

“So how long have you guys been married?” Dr Fashion Plate (FP) asked, perhaps expecting to hear 50 years.

I rested my head against the propped-up hospital bed, closed my eyes as if to do the math mentally: got married in 2008, it’s now 2015.

“Four years!” I blurted exuberantly as if I were a Family Feud contestant.

“Honey, 7 years!” the ultra-serious half exclaimed, studying my face worriedly, probably looking for signs of confusion. Confusion is an advanced sign of extreme dehydration. Imagine the parched lips of Lawrence of Arabia as he laid prostrate on the hot sands of the Sahara Desert.

“Of course! 7 years! What was I thinking?” I said, and cracked a flattening blast of a laugh that infected the ER. The doctor, nurse, and two hunks of male emergency medical technicians (EMTs) erupted in laughter.

“Time is short when you’re having fun,” Dr FP interjected.

Laughter is extremely rare in the ER where misery reigns supreme. The laughter set the mood for the rest of my three-hour stay. The blond nurse smiled broadly as she hooked me to the intravenous drip that included a dose of anti-nausea medicine. When I could already eat, one EMT snuck in extra cups of Jello. The other EMT showed me fun stuff on his handheld scanner. More laughter.

Plumped up with two bags of IV fluids, I left the ER armed with an anti-nausea prescription and a renewed strength to fight malaise, the price to pay for the Azithromycin mercenary army’s assistance. Even the human body has a protection racket!

October 13, 2015 8:40a.m. At UCI

I moseyed on to Club Med for my three-week blood tests. At the Onc consult, I dreaded knowing the results. Half a month of Azithromycin’s side effects must have adversely affected blood cell counts, neutrophils, bilirubin, creatinine, etc. Finally, I summoned the courage to ask.

“How are the numbers?” I asked Onc.

“Good,” replied Dr Brevity.

Yes! The fantastic news immediately activated the spring in my steps.

Happy dance, Feisty Heifer!