7 November 2008

Getting Stuff Off Chest

So I moved way back in June. It was damp when I moved but the landlord, a friend of a friend, was aware of the problem and taking steps to remedy it. They took various steps to rid the house of damp but they didn't nail it and now, as Autumn pulls its coats tighter and bows its head against Winter's bitter winds, the house and its contents aren't so much damp as dissolving rapidly.

Very soon after moving in I caught a cold and when I let the cold go again, I retained a small memento of its passing in the form of an irritating cough. I probably should have done something about the cough sooner but you know what chaps are like when it comes to health and quacks, especially with something as apparently petty as a cough, so I didn't.

As a child I suffered from asthma. Not the near-death-adrenalin-injection-in-the-bum form of asthma but the milder wheezy-at-footy-and-games-involving-running form. Luckily I was free of asthma just before puberty and soon replaced the absentee asthmatic coughin and wheezin with the nicotine and thc kind so I didn't really miss it that much or for very long. And when I did eventually take my new cough along for the doctor's inspection, my asthma experience meant that I had a pretty good idea what I was in for. First a course of amoxycillin for a chest infection. When that didn't work, a chest x-ray to rule out the unmentionables plus a prescription of steroid and ventolin inhalers to deal with the more palatable, and probable, causes of the coughin. I had the x-ray on Monday and got on with using the inhalers believing that my asthma had returned, no doubt encouraged by the damp conditions, and that was that.

My GP called on Wednesday afternoon. The results of the x-ray are in and something on them indicates that it's slightly more serious than just asthma and further tests are needed. It seems likely that I have one of two things: atypical-pneumonia or tuberculosis. TUBERCUWHATSIS?!?!? I explained to my doctor how, when the BCG vaccinations were being inflicted on my schoolmates, my skin-test indicated a built-in immunity to tb and I was spared the BCG. Ah, my GP reassured me, it's not as simple as that - they now believe that in some cases, a test result that was previously thought to indicate immunity might actually mean that I have been a carrier of latent tuberculosis for a very long time.

blurred sample

So now I have to spend several mornings spitting in sample jars so they can work out which I have. On the one hand, I'm not spitting up blood so tuberculosis does seem unlikely. On the other hand, I have spent large portions of my life at least attempting to write romantic poetry and I do quite fancy a trip to Lake Geneva (not to mention 5,000 grains of opium if you have Dr Polidori's mobile number handy?), so perhaps the evidence is inconclusive. I think the craziest thing is to be bagging up jars of my own sputum in a bag bearing a very conspicuous BIOHAZARD label!


sputum sample bottles


Lady P said...

Good grief. As a multiple pneumonia-and-pleurisy sufferer my sympathies are with you. But TB??? You realise of course that the alternative to romantic poethood is blonde-haired-heroine-who-dies-of-consumptionhood. And they never had any opium at all, never mind 5,000 grains.

Thank you, btw, for sparing us of close-ups of the biohazard itself.

Get well soon!

marja-leena said...

How awful that damp house, then your health problems. I trust it's merely a boring non-romantic illness and that you will get well soon. Keep us posted.

Dick said...

Jesus, Dem, all a bit of a shock for you. What does it mean in real terms? I assume that whatever it turns out to be is curable/treatable. I hope for you the former with minimum inconvenience and maximum romantic overlay.

Dem said...

Okay - the shell shock has continued and has kept me from replying before now.

LadyP - I didn't know about your multiple-pneumonia-and-pleurisy problems and I think I must seem a bit of a baby next to your own experience. I'm not sure who your heroine is - googling leads me to Marguerite Gautier of La Traviata but all I know is what google throws up and I guess there must be countless consumptive blondes if you look hard enough. There was no way I was every going to take pictures of the biohazard - I am the Queen of Squeam!

Marja-Leena - thanks for your wishes. One way or another, the damp has almost certainly had a hand in the illness but even that is not forcing the landlord to take it seriously. They're friends of friends so I did feel a certain amount of personal obligation but they're just wriggling off hooks and proposing inadequate, corner-cutting remedies that deal with symptoms and not causes so all my sense of obligation is washed away and I'm out of here soon as.

Dick - they're both shocking words, especially tb, but the reality is that they're very treatable. Since posting this blog, I saw my GP on Monday. He sent me to the Royal Hospital (famous from several scenes in Boys from the Blackstuff but substantially changed since) for them to take blood. He also prescribed two lots of antibiotics for pneumonia for me to start taking after producing the final sputum sample. On Wednesday he called to say that the lab had been in contact with him regarding the sputum samples. They had found the tb thingy in the sample, they had to grow the culture or something before they reported definitely but obviously that identified the problem. He had made an appointment for me at the TB Clinic this coming Tuesday. In the meantime, I carry on with the antibiotics. As far as I understand it (and most of this is from googling rather than my GP), on Tuesday I will be prescribed a cocktail of hardcore antibiotics which I will have to take for the next 3-6 months. After about a fortnight, I will cease to be infectious and should begin to feel better. It could be a bit more complicated than that if it's a drug resistant strain of tb but I want to pretend that possibility doesn't exist as it's fairly slim even if it does exist. So that, to answer your question, is what treatment means in real terms.

How I have felt in real terms is knackered, feverish at night, coughing all the time(but for the melodramatic, sadly my hankies aren't in the least bloody) and just terribly frustrated with it all because it's been going on for five months. Much of it, especially the fatigue, has built up slowly so that I haven't particularly noticed it, it's just gradually become the norm that after walking the dog in the morning, I feel exhausted for a few hours, or after the first 20 minutes up a gentle slope in Edale, I need to turn back where in January I continued on higher, steeper and snowier for another 8 hours. I suppose, to totally misappropriate a Biblical metaphor, it's like not noticing the log in my eye because it sorted out as a speck of sawdust. Actually the worst thing over the last few days has been the antibiotics which have left me feeling like my guts have been kicked in. Even that has calmed down now and I'm just crossing my fingers the same doesn't happen again when I start the proper antibiotics. The main thing is that it's a massive relief to know what it is and that it is totally treatable and for now I'm just crossing my fingers that I haven't passed it on to any of my family (all of whom will have to be tested under some Public Health procedure, kick started on Tuesday). So that's it, a bit shocking to hear or read but actually not so terrible to endure.

Dick said...

Well, heavy duty stuff all round, Dem. But thank god there's to be no Chekhovian fadeout! Clearly there are advantages to being at this point in the 21st century. Let's hope it all starts being little more than a daily hassle good and soon. Keep us posted.

Natalie said...

Dem,omigod! I come back here after a long gap and find that you have the Garbo (or rather the Camille) disease. This is entirely unacceptable. But at least you do not have to languish palely and romantically in a Swiss sanatorium (thougth a trip to some dry mountains would do you good). Nowadays TB has, apparently, made a comeback but it is treatable, thankfully. I trust that you are in competent medical hands and that the recovery period won't be too stressful. If you can get out of the damp house ASAP, of course that would help. Long-distance hugs and well-wishes galore to you, my friend.

Dem said...

Thanks Natalie. It turns out that I don't have tb after all, but something very like it and twice as long to shift. Hey ho! That trip to the alps sounds more appealing by the day - can you swing it? I'll have to make do with Edale in January.