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Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Steadily downhill

When I wrote last, only a couple of days ago, I didn't realize how sick I was.

I went to the conference vaguely aware that I had a toothache, something I'm not used to. I figured to get by on Ibuprofen and some penicillin pills until I could see the dentist on Monday. But I went steadily downhill during the retreat (statewide PFLAG, which was wonderful) and lay around during breaks and sometimes sessions on the couch in the corner, deep breathing, while other very well-meaning attenders regaled me with toothache recipes and horror stories.

I'm not sure how I managed to get my passenger and myself home. She's a great traveler and roommate, which helped, as did the light traffic. Everything after that is lost in a bit of a mist. I don't even remember writing the last post, though it seems coherent enough on a second reading.

Beloved skipped two important trainings and brought me in to the dentist's office. He was on vacation but could arrange to see me that afternoon. They took an x-ray and asked about allergies. I gave them my standard mantra: "I can't take codeine, Vicodin, or Hydrocodo, or any of these masquerading as something else."

The hygienist was worried about the lack of anything on the x-ray and said, "I can't find an abscess. You sure it's that tooth?"

By this time I was weeping with the pain. They were all (including the office people) distressed by the shape I was getting into, and the other dentist was brought up front to give emergency prescriptions. Beloved drove to the pharmacy and I lolled about, moaning, in the car while the prescriptions were processed.

She opened the driver door and got in with a little white sack. "What have we got?" [Rustle rustle.] "Hmm, penicillin and something I can't pronounce." "It's Vicodin." "No." Read the fine print." What is it with Doctors and dentists that everything has to be Vicodin and Hydrocodo nowadays?

She got me home, medicated me as best she could, but had to go to work, and visit our autistic son, and get a few groceries.

Right after she left, I threw up spectacularly. I almost drowned on the previous day's spaghetti noodles, a lot of which also showed up when I blew my nose.

Then began a period of screaming. I now had mouth scores, about twelve of them, scattered across the inside of my mouth, soreness in the right Eustachian tube, behind the right eardrum (where I could hear gurgling) and a rapidly swelling lymph system in the right side of my neck. Also my throat was closing.

I took and aspirin. Threw it up. Took a penicillin. threw it up. Hmm. That's not codeine-family. My system is shutting down. The last time that happened was the week my gall bladder died. This turned into pancreatitis briefly, and we almost lost me then. I paged Beloved.

She called back. "Was that you? Sounded like a prank caller."

"Mrrfl."

"Right, I'm coming straight home."

I was bundled up and taken directly to the hospital emergency room. Beloved laft to park the car. The intake doctor asked a few questions, but didn't seem impressed.

I added, "In the interests of full disclosure and accurate treatment I am a pre-op transwoman."

The typist's fingers hesitated over the keyboard.

I added, "My legal name is Risa Stephanie Bear and I am legally married to the person who brought me in."

She started typing again, worry lines at the corners of her mouth.

They asked about allergies. I gave them my mantra: "I can't take codeine, Vicodin, or Hydrocodo, or any of these masquerading as something else."

I was given a plastic bracelet. On it I saw,

Bear, Risa S.

[M].

This hospital's organization is known to be somewhat anti-trans, anti-choice, and even anti-birth-control, but I have little choice in the matter. The one across town is better for me in almost all respects, but if I go there it more than triples my costs -- as a result of an under-the-table deal between the insurance company and the big hospital's owner. We state employees aren't really allowed to see anyone but them or their associates. Something to do with our Republican legislature, I'm inclined to think.

[M].

Like I cared either way by then. Not that it mattered. I was read as a girl by everyone I encountered, even in my un-made up, least femme-voiced condition, and I don't remember anyone actually looking at the thing.

I was placed on a gurney in a small room and a nurse took vitals and another doctor came, looked in all the holes in my head and ordered an IV for dehydration and nausea and a shot of penicillin. A nurse came in, set up the IV needle and gave a shot in the fanny and went away.

After an hour or so, I asked about the IV when I saw the third doctor. "Oh, heh, heh. Let's get that in right away."

The nurse came back, a bit flustered, and set up the bottle on its rack. The IV was wonderful; I think it must have had a little morphine in it.

They gave Beloved a raft of prescriptions. When she brought them home, all the painkillers turned out to be pseudonyms for Vicodin and Hydrocodo.

I felt great until the stuff in the IV wore off; then the screaming began again, albeit much reduced in volume as I'd become croaky.

"Here, take one of these." Beloved offered an aspirin, the most innocuous thing in our possession.

I did, but gave her an accusing look and took up a position on the bed from which I could run to the bathroom. The nausea hit in less than two minutes. On my way back to bed I shot her a withering look. "Any questions?" I growled.

No questions. Beloved called the on-call doctor, who proved to be our own GP. She listened to all the symptoms and paid particular attention to temperature. 101.5 followed by 101.7 and climbing. "Go back to the hospital. I'd send you to the other one but you know the costs involved. They'll resist admitting but you can get another shot."

"Allergies?" "I can't take codeine, Vicodin, or Hydrocodo, or any of these masquerading as something else." "Gotcha."

While I waited on the gurney I asked Beloved to look in the cosmetics bag in my purse and find a small pair of teardrop-amber earrings and help me put them on. I tugged at my bangs a bit but they kept falling back. "We can't do everything, dear," she said gently, and smoothed down the blanket she'd begged from a passing nurse and draped over my shaking body.

For those of you who believe my marriage has no right to continue, now is the time to ask yourself -- are you defending marriage when you try to take her away from me? With more than fifty percent of your marriages ending in divorce, not because of us, I think you have a house of your own to clean. Read the New Testament for a change -- it's a very different book from the one that's been quoted so much lately ...

The doctor this time was a close-cropped woman with lesbian overtones in her manner, which made me inclined to be hopeful, but she was even more brusque than the guys had been. She asked a barrage of questions and I couldn't much understand them.

"She's very deaf," interposed Beloved, but not until the third time she said it did the so-called doctor show much willingness to get information from her.

I managed to participate through the fog of war, and the doctor asked, "has this illness affected your voice?"

"It's lower when I'm stressed." She nodded. My voice coach will not be proud of me, I thought. I'm falling down on the job.

On the other hand, it says right there on the chart, estrogen, spironolactone, [M]. These people run the most expensive health care system in the world, and they can't read.

We went through the procedures again. IV, supershot (one that's supposed to last a week), went home.

What it was, I finally learned. A strep infection. I have a spectacular history of these, and should have known all along. Without swelling you up enough to alarm doctors, it can invade new territory at light-speed. I've lost a tooth, an eardrum, a gall bladder, part of my pancreas and, some might argue, my sanity to the stuff. And it's getting harder to kill. I guess I have been telling you all this to remind you that the bugs out there are getting tough again, and to take your health seriously.

Beloved brought home yet more stuff from the pharmacy. "I've practically moved in with them. They're very worried for you. She asked if you have access to all this, that's not a good idea if you're confused about time and measures, and I said I'm taking care of that."

Suppositories for pain and nausea (these work well). Liquid painkiller. We looked at the fine print. Hydrocodo, under yet another name. We actually laughed.

-- risa b

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