Today’s the 28th of May 2011. Round about the 15th of March, for several nights, I went to bed really early and slept 11 hours or so.
Now, while I might do that once every few months, I don’t do it 4 or 5 days in a row, and I sleep 11 solid hours less often than once in a blue moon. I’m lucky to sleep 8 hours at a stretch most nights.
Loud party throat
Then I got a rather strange sore throat. It wasn’t the raging fire type, or the lump in the throat type. Rather it was sore as though I’d spent all day and night shouting at the top of my voice. It was rough and raw.
I felt sure I was coming down with a cold, or the flu.
But the sniffles and sneezes, the ‘full head’ just didn’t happen.
The idiot fog
Instead my head felt foggy, as though I were drunk. I couldn’t concentrate, couldn’t focus, couldn’t apply logical thought. And I couldn’t see well either — the fog seemed to extend to my eyes.
Work was hard, and slow going. As a writer I need my brain to work.
I ground out the bare minimum of work, taking 5 or 10 times as long as usual to achieve it.
The paroxysmal cough
Meanwhile I developed a cough.
You know when you accidentally inhale a speck of food or drink and then cough uncontrollably? My cough was like that, only without the food or drink. A little spot on my throat would feel ‘dry’, and away I’d go: cough cough cough.
Time and again throughout the day and night.
The inflamed throat
Finally I went to the doctor. An intern saw me as my regular doctor was away. She looked down my throat and said it was very inflamed, took a swab, with difficulty as it made me gag, and sent me off with a prescription for Amoxycillin.
I was taking cough medicine, sucking throat lozenges, and getting odd blood blisters in my mouth, along with sore teeth, small ulcers and general discomfort.
That didn’t worry me, although it was utterly annoying: I just figured that sucking lozenges, and not brushing my teeth thoroughly because it made me gag wasn’t doing my mouth any good.
The antibiotics didn’t help. Cough cough cough.
I’m fine, except I’m sick
I went back to the doctor I’ve been seeing for the last 20 years. She checked all the usual things: pulse, blood pressure and so on and sent me off for a blood test. She suspected a virus, and apart from my being unwell and coughing there wasn’t actually anything wrong with me. As the blood test confirmed.
I did feel as though my breathing was a problem — but I think that was mainly because breathing in any way that was more than shallow would make me cough.
Through all of this too, I would tire easily. Take the dogs for a gentle walk, rest for an hour. Take a shower, rest for a while.
That’s probably not too surprising if you’re not breathing deeply enough.
Hayfever meds clear the fog
I did say I’d stopped taking my anti-hayfever medication and she suggested I start again. That cleared my head, and I remembered that if I don’t take the stuff when I should it does tend to make me fuzzy and unable to think clearly.
It’s just that by the end of March I shouldn’t really need it any more.
The doctor did give me prescription for Prednisone, and a cough suppressant.
Could my head explode from coughing?
Cough cough cough. I kept on coughing though. My head was hurting with the coughing. Sometimes I feared my head would explode with the ongoing, heavy-duty coughing. It hurt. Plus I’d cough a bit then kind of hold my breath without meaning to then cough even harder.
I’d been looking forward to an Easter break, but being unwell had put me well behind in my work and I needed to prepare a workshop and a presentation for a couple of days after Easter.
I worked through the ‘holiday’ and then put in a couple of 18 hour days too. I haven’t done that for years — I prefer to be better organised and prepared, but it was how it was. You can’t stand in front of a group of people expecting training or a presentation and say
Sorry, but I didn’t have time to prepare properly.
And, as a self-employed person who has been as much affected by recessionary times as everyone else, there was no sick pay to fall back on. I needed to complete the work. Besides, it was interesting stuff.
Cough cough cough.
Some random virus?
I went back to my doctor. Again, everything seemed fine, except that I was still sick. She gave me another dose of Prednisone, saying it must be a virus and to keep monitoring things.
The very next day, a Saturday, I developed a couple of new symptoms:
- I started to choke while coughing. Just a couple of times, but it was a bit scary.
- A couple of times while coughing I vomited a little. That was unpleasant, inconvenient and annoying.
Since my doctor seemed to be stumped and I had these scary or unpleasant new symptoms I sought help from Google.
Now, while I happily search the Internet for medical information I actually trust my doctor with her years of training and decades of experience over some random website.
In this case though my search turned up a site that seemed to provide a diagnosis: Whooping Cough.
I read the site, and then scrutinised it carefully. It seems genuine enough. The British GP who created it appears to be who he says he is, and the information looks genuine and authentic.
The thing for me was that what he described perfectly fit was was going on for me: apparently healthy but with a dreadful cough, and these 2 new symptoms.
What’s more, at age 56, if I had been immunised as a child — and I may have been — then the vaccination may have worn off, putting me in the susceptible group.
So nowadays in developed communities there are five groups of people who are relatively susceptible. (And come to think about it, it is almost everybody)
- … 5] The over 50s but under 60s (very roughly) who never had the chance of immunization but never got the natural infection as children
- 6] Those even older who had it as a child but whose antibody levels to whooping cough have fallen very low
An outbreak in New Zealand
I searched further and found Whooping cough catches oldies out – New Zealand Doctor:
Tuesday 26 April 2011, 12:13pm
Media release from Waikato DHB
Whooping cough not only affects the young; people over 45 are also getting diagnosed with the highly contagious bacterial disease, a study carried out by a Waikato DHB clinical research team has found.
The number of Waikato adults suffering from the potentially severe illness increased steadily from 2000 through to 2009.
The article goes on to mention one health professional who had it for 6 months, and who pointed out how exhausting it was.
A few days later I put this possible diagnosis to my doctor in a phone call. She was open to the diagnosis and gave me the bad news that there’s not really any treatment, as the Whooping Cough website says:
For the average case of whooping cough there is no treatment likely to make a difference to the course of the illness or materially reduce the symptoms. It will generally take its course no matter what. Attempts to get benefit from bronchodilators, cough suppressants or antibiotics are generally futile.
My doctor hadn’t initially thought of Whooping Cough as there had been no local alerts through her medical channels and since I don’t work or particularly associate with kids I’m not in the usual high-risk group.
I’ve been achieving the bare minimum of work for the last few months: my Tech Universe column, my MacTips, some routine work I do for clients. I’ve avoided seeking out new work, and have had to delay some client work I was in the middle of.
I’m just very grateful that I don’t have some serious, life-threatening thing. This will pass. Sometime.
Meanwhile I’ve been reading more fiction, watching more TV, sleeping, and even doing a bit of thinking about life.
Getting better, slowly
That conversation with my doctor was a couple of weeks ago. The terrible cough has gone, I’m thrilled to say. I still need to clear my throat frequently, but that’s nothing.
I’m still not entirely well though, have generally low energy and am sometimes exhausted. Being active makes me cough, and I need to take things slowly. I tend to run out of energy by early afternoon, and often need a nap in the middle of the day.
This is around 10 weeks on. Apparently Whooping Cough is also known as the ‘100 Day Cough’. I still have a way to go…