4 minute read

This semester has thus far not gone according to plan. We’re on the cusp of what is technically the fourth week of classes, and I’ve been in the classroom precisely twice: once on Wednesday, September 2, for the first day introduction and syllabus discussion, and once on Monday, September 7, for an actual teaching day. I had a meeting in New York starting on Thursday of that week, and so had already cancelled classes for Wednesday the 9th, building that absence into my class schedules.

What I hadn’t counted on was developing a cough about 30 seconds after I finished teaching on the 2nd, as noted in my last post. This cough started as what I assumed was irritation from all the smoke in the air from the Station Fire to our west, and then turned into the dry tickle-in-your-throat cough produced by post-nasal drip. Which is what it still was on the 9th, as I headed for New York.

By the time I got to New York, though, the cough had begun to turn — no longer dry but wet and awful, a racking, nasty cough accompanied by an octave-plus drop in my voice which left me sounding like a long-term pack-a-day smoker. I assumed that the cough had turned into a bronchial infection, and when I continued getting worse on Friday, I called my doctor back home and wheedled my way into an appointment on Tuesday afternoon.

Saturday, though, as I made my way through the subway, Penn Station, the NJ Transit train, the AirTrain, the Newark airport, the Houston airport, and so on, it started to become clear that Something was Wrong. My voice was almost shot, my cough was getting worse and worse, and I was exhausted, easily winded when walking, and just generally felt like crap. I got home that night, expecting to spend all day Sunday in bed assessing whether or not I could teach on Monday.

Sunday morning I woke up with all of the same symptoms as Saturday, plus the addition of horrible abdominal cramps, cramps which started just under my ribcage and twisted down through my muscles and organs without — well, without producing any of the expected resolutions involved in abdominal cramps. It was at this point that I started thinking, okay, what if this bronchial infection has turned into pneumonia, and what if it’s spreading into some more systemic infection?

I live alone right now. And so I had to get myself to the urgent care place while I knew that I was in reasonable shape to drive myself there, and to drive myself back. So I set about the process of getting permission to go to the urgent care place: I called my doctor’s office and left a message with the answering service, who paged the on-call doctor, who called me and said yes, she was worried that this was turning into pneumonia, too, and that I should go to the ER or to urgent care.

Nothing is simple, of course: the medical group that I’m assigned to under my HMO is in a dispute with the nearest hospital, which is now refusing to provide service to us based on the HMO’s refusal to pay a sufficient percentage of what it owes them. And I’ve never been to the next-nearest hospital — honestly don’t even know where it is, and didn’t feel like this was the moment to try to find out. So I ruled out the ER and started trying to figure out if a nearby urgent care place accepts my insurance; happily, they did, so I was on the way.

On one level, it turned out to be a good choice: Sunday around noon, the only patients in there were me, one guy with a lower-leg injury, and one guy trying to get a vaccination of some sort. So they took me right back, were able to do a chest x-ray then and there, did a pretty thorough examination, and wound up both giving me a prescription for antibiotics and high-end cough syrup and swabbing me for H1N1.

Here’s the downside, though; as of this morning, nearly a full week later, I still didn’t know the outcome of that test. The lab picked the test up on Monday, and I was told I’d have the results by Thursday, but I’d called every day since then to no avail. One key difference between “urgent” and “emergent” is, I guess, the speed of the lab results.

In the interim, though, I basically operated under the assumption that this was in fact H1N1. The antibiotics helped some of my symptoms very quickly, but not all of them, by any means. And the more I saw about H1N1’s onset — dry cough, followed by a brief period of feeling better, followed by wet cough and a sudden turn into feeling much, much worse — the more familiar it all sounded.

But I just got the results — 11 am, Saturday — and they’re negative. Which means I’m back to assuming that this is bronchitis, probably of a viral kind, since the antibiotics helped but did not entirely clear up the problems. And I think I may have bruised a rib with all the coughing, as one spot on my rib cage has just been killing me since yesterday.

When it might be swine flu, my course of action was clear: stay home and away from everyone until the coughing goes away. But now… it’s not swine flu, and the coughing’s not going away. Is the course of action the same? I was able to manage staying home last week — how, exactly, I’ll discuss in the next post — but I’m not sure I can do it again.

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