Friday, June 11, 2010

The Romance of Travel: Collecting Viruses

I'll be getting back to the travelogue very soon, but first, a brief sketch of my first week back.

With the exception of one very hot day, hot even for here let alone there, Ireland and London were blissfully cool.  It felt like mid-Spring most of the time, mostly because it was.  I only needed my sweater once, but most days I had to wear my over-shirt, and long pants were always in order.  In other words it was my ideal weather, sunny and warm but not too warm during the days, at night cool enough to warrant a blanket or duvet on the bed.  Bliss.

I came back to New York experiencing one of its baking periods.  It wasn't strictly a heat wave, per se, I believe those require temperatures in the 90s to fit the definition, but it was hot, muggy and thoroughly unpleasant, unless you are a lizard or some kind of tropical houseplant.  I am neither.  I believe I am part penguin, actually.  Naturally since it's five floors up and topped by a tar roof, the temperature was worse in my apartment.  This time I had Bill and Mary to corroborate the rise in temperature one experiences climbing the stairs in my building.  I think there could be as much as ten degree difference between the relatively cave-like lobby and my hotbox apartment.

It probably comes as no surprise to those who know me that I did not greet this change in season equably.

It came to a head last Wednesday when I went to a celebratory picnic for my friend Kate, who has graduated with a doctorate in Physical Therapy.  Let's pause for a(nother) moment to congratulate her for completing what was a grueling and challenging three year period of her life.  Like virtually every person I know who has received a higher degree, Kate is now convinced she knows nothing about her field, and is devoting a lot of time to compiling a list of classmates she can refer potential clients to.  I think she still deserves major kudos for tackling the degree, and wrestling it into submission. I also suspect she will, in fact, be an excellent physical therapist.  But don't tell her that; she's not buying it.

But back to heat.  Last Wednesday things had been hot for a few days, so the tar and cement in the city had been baking for a while, with not enough time at night to cool off sufficiently.  I assumed this was why I felt so miserably hot, and why my brain had turned to tapioca, rendering me unable to perform simple math, read subway maps, or make decisions of any kind, really.  Once I found some air conditioning however, I became quickly chilled, chilled in a way I NEVER get, so that's when I realized I had a fever.

It was kind of a relief to discover I was actually ill, and I hunkered down to ride the flu out.  Thirty-six hours later I felt pretty good, not counting the weather which was still miserable and hateful and steamy and just generally horrendously awful.  At least energy and appetite had returned and I was no longer inexplicably hot, merely explicably.

Then Friday afternoon, I came down with a weird rash.  Itchy, burning bumps showed up on my hands first, mostly my palms, but just as I was wondering if they were an allergic reaction of some kind (I have yet to discover any allergies, but that doesn't mean I don't have some) I realized I had the rash on my feet, mostly the soles, as well.

So, add 'itchy' to the list of things making Patrick cranky as of Friday night.  Sweet wonderful Bill had gone out and found a collection of Mystery Science Theater 3000 dvds, and suggested we watch one that night in memory of James.  I agreed, as long as he understood no part of my body could come in contact with any part of his body or indeed any substance that might hold or generate heat in any way (if I could levitate, and thus avoid touching the couch, I would have).  I also took an antihistamine, in case this was some kind of allergic reaction, and while it did virtually nothing for the itching, it did turn me into throw pillow.  I actually enjoyed the movie we watched (Santa Claus) very much, and was touched at Bill's thoughtfulness in seeking it out, but you wouldn't have known it from watching me.  I lay there like a lump, a sweaty, grumpy, slightly itchy bag of hair.  Lucky Bill.  

The itching had decreased the next morning, and the rash didn't seem to have spread any, so I waited one more day before consulting a professional.  Of course for poor Bill this meant another day of me distracted and short tempered.  I was still uncomfortable (oh and the weather still sucked) but even worse, I didn't know WHY I was uncomfortable, and neither antihistamines nor hydrocortizone seemed to have any effect.  This even managed to distract me from thinking about James a little bit, which I suppose could be seen as a blessing, but it wasn't, it really really wasn't.

So, bright and early Sunday morning I headed off to a drop-in clinic at 50th and Broadway.  I had a sinus infection treated here once and found the whole proceeding civilized and pleasant.  This visit was, if anything, even MORE civilized and pleasant.  I was in and out in maybe fifteen minutes and the doctor made a confident diagnosis immediately.

"I think you have hand, foot and mouth disease."  She proceeded to show me pictures on her laptop of hands that looked exactly like mine (I managed to avoid bumps on or in my mouth).  My recent travel, and exposure to crowds of people (especially children), not to mention the recirculated air on the air plane, all supported this diagnosis.  Turns out the flu-like symptoms the previous Wednesday had been a part of it too.  

I think my skin is on a quest to collect random viruses.  Two years ago it gave shingles a whirl, decided that wasn't obscure enough, so this time it went for something a bit more esoteric.  Well, I had never heard of it before at any rate.  Apparently it's more common for kids to get it; adults can, but more often they just spread it without actually getting symptoms.  It's scary how crafty viruses can be.  This, by the way, is NOT the disease cows get.  That is hoof and mouth disease.  In case you were wondering.  I had.  (Addendum: I've since had TWO people ask me "isn't that the thing cows get?"  So I'm no longer feeling so dumb.)

Of course I had to ask about contagion.  Remember that celebratory picnic?  There were lots of wonderful people there, many of whom I hadn't seen in two to six years, so there had been much hugging and kissing.  I had made a particular point of hugging and kissing my friend Dessida, who is six months pregnant with her first child.  When I came down with the shingles the Nurse Practitioner had warned me to steer clear of pregnant women (and people on chemo, which was distressingly relevant at the time).  I had then proceeded to fly from Indiana to New York on what appeared to be a flight chartered by a convention of Expectant Mothers.  Back in NYC as I took care of chores that simply could not wait, pregnant women kept jumping out at me Ninja-like from around corners, or standing up from tables to reveal their states after we had been conducting our business for HOURS.  Consequently I was a wee bit anxious this time.  Dessida reacted to my news calmly though, as she does to most things in my experience, saying she sometimes thought she should just stay in a glass bubble for nine months.

Anyway, it was nice to know what I had, and since the itching had stopped that morning, all physical and mental distress was alleviated.  There's no cure for it, one simply has to let it run its course, which usually takes about seven to ten days.  Then Monday morning came with a significant break in the heat and I was a very happy camper.  This was probably one of the most straight-forward, uncomplicated encounters with the medical industry that I had ever experienced.  That was nice too.  I've had lots of medical wild goose chases, where people give me their best frowny faces, make lots of vaguely worrying innuendo, suggest a fair number of expensive tests, then after I've spent money I don't have they suddenly say "nope, there's no problem, and in fact there never was, we're really not sure what this was all about."  I'm more than a little distrustful of the medical industry.  This experience had been refreshing from beginning to end.

Then the doctor from the clinic called, mostly just wanting to check to see how I was, but also to ask a follow-up question about the rash.  See, if it was anywhere else besides the hands and feet, then there was another possibility.

"It might be syphilis."

Sigh.  For some reason doctors are constantly suggesting I might have syphilis.  And they never, ever believe me when I explain that most of the time it simply isn't possible.  They assume I'm so embarrassed at the suggestion I might have an STD, or horrified at the thought that maybe my partner (the one they erroneously assume I have) isn't QUITE as faithful as he claims to be, that I refuse even to entertain the notion.

"Are you sure you couldn't have come in contact with it?" they always ask.

(Well, is there any way other than sexual contact?  I mean, I haven't seen another person naked, let alone touched one, in months or in some cases, years.  Is it possible to get it from toilet seats or, I don't know, poorly washed sheets from the Drawing Resource Center?)  "Yes, I'm really pretty sure," I'll respond.

They never believe me.  I don't know why they bother to ask, frankly.

"Well, let's do the test, just in case."

It's hard to argue with "just in case," -- even when it's a test I KNOW is unnecessary, and is going to cost me $50 to $75, money that in the past wasn't always that easy to come by -- so I usually end up doing the stupid test.  Occasionally somewhere in there I might even start to wonder, well, IS it possible?  CAN you get it from toilet seats?  Am I forgetting some fun hot night somewhere along the line?  I don't know how that could happen, believe me, if there had been some fun, I think I'd remember it, at the very least I'd notice suspicious black-outs in my recent past, but well, who knows?  Or maybe that encounter six months/five years ago DID expose me, and we're only just now seeing evidence, okay sure, 'just in case', what the hell.

I have had this experience at least five different times.  The test always confirms what I knew all along, and it's SWELL and all to get good news of any kind, but unfortunately in many cases that has also meant that the doctor feels his/her job is done. The actual problem I came in with, however, often hasn't yet been addressed other than yay-not-syphilis and I'm forced to remind them of that fact.  Usually the problem, whatever it was, clears up on its own, but occasionally I've had to be quite aggressive with these people, refuse to let them dismiss me as a hypochondriac, or someone insufficiently grateful for the gratuitous yay-not-syphilis 'diagnosis', and kick up a fuss until we ascertain the actual problem.  

Fortunately this didn't have to happen this time.  I had none of the additional symptoms that STD requires and while I no longer can claim to be living like a monk, my recent travels and accompanying virtuous living (and believe me, even if I were a cheating bastard, there is nothing like traveling with one's sister, especially a sister who has met and liked one's boyfriend, to encourage good behavior) had put a big hole in the most likely window of infection (which granted, is nine to NINETY days, but still).  The doctor won even greater appreciation from me by accepting this.  No "are you sures," no "just in cases," she accepted my analysis of the situation.  On a side note, should I be flattered that most medical professionals assume I'm more of a stud-dog than I am?  They seem to ascribe a much more exciting sex life to me than has ever been the case.

Okay, after I've had some fun at the expense of some medical professionals, and vented just a wee bit, let's acknowledge that a "no it's not possible" reaction to a suggested STD is text book.  I know that.  I understand that doctors have to assume you're just not being quite honest with yourself or them.  I just don't know why syphilis consistently is the one I get accused of, and why the accusation usually comes after an extended period of celibacy.

I'm sure you're all delighted to know that the rash is almost gone today.  And anyone who may have come in contact with me before I sequestered myself, if within a week of our contact you haven't gotten sick, you probably won't.  So says my lovely drop-in clinic doctor.

And the weather this week has been wonderful.

Back to travel photos very soon.


Marta said...

you are too funny! i wish i lived in new york, i would bring you take-out and kiss you RIGHT on the mouth! hope you're feeling much much better.

tornwordo said...

I thought hoof and mouth too. Glad you're on the mend.

Java said...

Heat is miserable. Itching is miserable. You have a good excuse for being miserable.

We never get a break in the heat here. Well, if we do it goes down to the high 80s and the humidity drops to miserable rather than unbearable.

Santa Claus has been MST3K'ed?? (speaking of verbing nouns)

Glad you got better.