Saturday, September 15, 2018

Summertime Sickness

At the beginning of August, I went back to Indiana to celebrate my brother's engagement and my niece's first birthday. It was a wonderful weekend, but a couple days after I got back home, I started to feel sick. I thought I had a cold, so I put off going to the doctor, but after three days, I was miserable and went to an urgent care clinic. They did a strep test and it came back positive. I was mad at myself for not going to the doctor sooner, and the strep took longer than usual to get over.

While recovering from strep throat, I developed a horrible cough that would keep me (and sometimes my husband) up all night and would make me feel like I was going to throw up. I spent days sleeping on the couch, and even after I finished the antibiotics for the strep throat, I was still coughing. (Plus, my sore throat came back). I finally decided to go back to urgent care (although I went to a different clinic this time). The physician's assistant told me I definitely had bronchitis (which is completely unrelated to strep throat) and said I needed to get it under control before it developed into pneumonia. They did a strep test and it came back negative, so she said the sore throat was likely caused by the cough. She gave me a steroid injection in the office and sent me home with prescriptions for five days of antibiotics, five days of steroids, and cough syrup to help me sleep. 

I felt much better after a couple days, and although the cough was still there, I could breathe and sleep better. I even managed to go to campus during orientation week to shoot some photos of incoming undergraduate and graduate students (as part of my assistantship). I had been asked to teach a poetry class last-minute, and I was so excited to teach it that I didn't even mind planning the course while recovering from bronchitis. I was finally feeling better and was ready to welcome the new semester (and the last year of my PhD program).

I finished the round of antibiotics and steroids and school started Monday (August 27th). On Tuesday, the sore throat was back. On Wednesday, I got up to get ready and go to campus to teach. I looked in the mirror and my face, neck, and chest were covered in a terrible rash. I didn't know what to do except to try and get through teaching my class (it was only the second day and I didn't feel like I could cancel), so I got ready and drove to campus. On my way home, I was almost in tears because of how bad the rash was, and my husband and my mom both said I should go back to urgent care.

Later that evening when my husband came home from work, we went back to urgent care and the same PA from the bronchitis visit was there. I had a fever of 101 and I hadn't even realized it (I had had a low-grade fever since August 7th, and it was now August 29th), so nothing seemed out of the ordinary to me. The PA really wasn't sure what was going on, but thought it was another respiratory infection (which can cause a rash) or that it was possibly scarlet fever (which sounds scary, but no longer is because we have antibiotics). She did another strep test and it came back negative. She said she could order some blood work, but was sure I would get better with another five days of antibiotics and steroids, so I went home with the prescriptions and hoped this was the last of the mystery illness.

The rash slowly went away while on the antibiotics, and I luckily had an extra long weekend to relax and recover since it was Labor Day weekend. When Wednesday came around, I had to go back to campus for meetings and to teach, but I found myself struggling to even get out of bed. Even though the rash had gone away for the most part, I was still feeling ill and not like myself. If you know me, you know it's hard for me to take time off because I always have something on my mind and always have a to-do list. I was concerned about how lethargic I was feeling and how difficult it was for me to wake up and get any work done. And, a couple days after finishing the second five days of antibiotics and steroids, the rash came back even worse than it was before. 

I was at a loss. I was starting to feel down and depressed and felt like I could burst into tears at any moment. I stupidly started looking up my symptoms online and was convinced I was dying of some awful disease (I was sure I had lymphoma). I called my family doctor's office and scheduled an appointment and she was able to see me the next day. I was sick, tired, and miserable and had no clue what was happening. 

I went in for my appointment the next morning (September 7th) and, when my doctor walked in, she saw my face and thought I had a strep rash and told me it would go away on its own. I was almost in tears because I knew it wasn't a strep rash and I was desperate for someone to tell me what was wrong with me. I told her I had recently had two negative strep tests, so it couldn't be a strep rash. I proceeded to tell her about the past month of illnesses and visits to urgent care. She looked something up online and showed me a picture of a rash.

"That looks a lot like your rash, doesn't it?" she asked.

It did. She had me sit on the exam table. My lymph nodes were extremely swollen (which I knew and was one of the reasons I was convinced I had lymphoma). I lay down on the table and when she felt around on the left side of my abdomen, I almost cried out in pain. She told me my spleen was very enlarged. I told her about how tired I had been, how I could barely function at work, how I had a fever that wouldn't go away. 

She told me she was 99% sure I had mononucleosis, and would order blood work to confirm. She also sent me to the hospital to get my spleen checked (when you have mono, your spleen can get so enlarged that it can rupture). While I was relieved to finally have a diagnosis and know that I wasn't dying, she said mono can take 6-8 weeks to recover from and that there are no treatments/cures. The only thing you can do is take time off and rest and sleep and drink plenty of fluids. 

Friends, I am the kind of person who doesn't relax easily. It's hard for me to take time off, and it was very difficult for me to give up teaching that poetry class that I spent so much time planning. BUT, I'm currently taking 4-6 weeks off of work and school to recover, and while it's not always easy, it was the necessary choice for my health. Some days, all I can do is sleep on the couch and occasionally get up to let my dog out (my husband works every day, so I'm home by myself most of the time). Other days, I can do some work from home for a bit (job applications, dissertation stuff, etc.). But I tire easily. And mono is very lonely. Most days, I don't even leave the house because I'm not feeling up to it. I went from seeing and interacting with people every day to spending most of my hours with my dog (don't get me wrong, I love my sweet Ruby, but she's not very conversational - lol).

This past month and a half has been tough. I'm relaxing and resting and sleeping as much as possible and am still tired, but I'll get through this. I'm so grateful it wasn't anything worse, and I'm hopeful that in 3-5 weeks (it's already been a week since I found out I had mono), I will be feeling like my regular self and will be ready to return to campus (and to finish this PhD strong). In the meantime, if you feel like bringing someone ice cream, you know where to find me.