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!