Wednesday, October 2, 2013

How a simple cold turns into hell with a compromised immune system

Hello friends.

So there's been a little bug going around.  Seems some people have a sore throat which then turns into a cold in some people if they haven't fought off the sore throat part.

That's what happens for people with healthy immune systems, that is.

Me, not so much.

I report this not for sympathy but because it could be of value to people assessing the response of their own post-SCT immune system.

I have been enjoying a pretty healthy last few years -- I don't think I've had a cold lasting more than a day or two in two years time.  I attribute this to taking Tamiflu the second I feel a tickle in my throat.  90% of the time, if I feel this coming on and get in front of it, the feeling is gone the next morning.   Maybe twice in two years (if that) it's turned into a cold that has gone away in a couple of days.   If I feel a tickle in my chest, I take an antibiotic (usually Amoxy-Clavicin) designed to wipe out respiratory infections.  I do this because when I first had my SCT, any sniffle turned into six weeks of bronchitis.  I spent my first year sick probably 60% of the time since it took so damn long to recover and as soon as I did, I'd get sick two weeks later.

Anyhow, through use of Tamilu, Amoxy-Clavicin and more importantly Purell, I've been pretty healthy for the last couple of years.  Enough where I must have gotten complacent.

I flew up to San Francisco last weekend to celebrate my mother's 91st birthday.  I didn't use Purell and came into contact with the germs of whatever parade of deranged, disease-ridden folks had used the airline seat before me.  Without thinking, I probably ate peanuts or pretzels on the flight which means germs went from the arm-rest to my hand to the peanuts to my mouth.  That's how colds get spread.

Sure enough, Thursday night I felt a tickle.  I sourced some Tamiflu from a local pharmacy and popped a pill.  Friday morning I felt okay, maybe the same tickle.  I figured worst case it would go away in a day or two.


Saturday morning I got up to have breakfast and after two bites of an innocent egg white omelette, went to the bathroom for some violent vomiting for about 10 minutes.  I was supposed to meet an old college roommate for a lunch or a drink so I trudged along, sat down, had an innocuous mimosa (so I thought) and a small fruit plate.  Bad idea.  More violent vomiting.

Maybe some fresh air would help.  I had a sip of water (no more food or anything else, I finally determined) and walked for a bit.  Bad idea.  More violent vomiting.  On the street.  I felt like a heroin addict.

Got a car back to my hotel.  Went up to my room.  You guessed it: more violent vomiting.

About the time that I realized this was stomach flu and not just food poisoning is around the time that my throat felt like it was being slashed with a straight razor every time I swallowed.  I'd had that feeling before once or twice in my life...strep throat.

Yep.  A simple bug that wouldn't be anything went to town on me and manifested as stomach flu PLUS strep.  I flew home and got into bed immediatley, and tried Levaquin -- a carpet-bombing antibiotic -- and that didn't seem to help.  I was having to take a strong Vicodin (the 10mg of the good stuff plus 325mg of acetominophen) every two hours just to take the edge off the pain.  I was actually considering dipping into my remaining Dilaudid -- the pain was THAT bad -- and because I was worried about the amount of acetominophen on my liver.  Before doing that, though, I called my PCP who told me that Levaquin is a great general use antibiotic but isn't great for strep throat.  He put me on Keflex and about eight hours later the pain in the throat finally abated.  This was, lessee...Monday.  I went from probably ten Vicodin on Sunday to two on Monday to none on Tuesday (I'm not addicted to opiates, thank God -- was very easy for me to not take it).   As of now, things are downgraded to a mild chest cold with no symptoms other than coughing and respiratory congestion that will clear up in a few days, I'm sure.

Not a lot of fun.

The moral of the story: be ever vigilant, and use Purell!


  1. That sounds awful. I'm so sorry! Glad the worst is over, and hoping the rest of your symptoms disappear quickly.

  2. Sorry you had to deal with it. I usually wipe everything down on the plane. I became crazy about it. Its hard to have everything clean 100%. When I get a cold its a whole to do. This totally sucks!!! BTW are you getting a flu shot?
    Feel better.

  3. No it doesn't sound like fun. Hope you feel better soon.
    Mary Lou Z

  4. I keep a bottle of levaquin on hand because every cold turns into respiratory/sinus infection.

  5. Moral #2: GET A FLU SHOT. Probably would not have helped in this situation. But with a compromised immune system, we're all more vulnerable. Flu shots offer the best possible protection. Shots are available now. Don't take my word for it....ask your oncologist whether or not you should get a flu shot. Mine is adamant that I should have one.