Time for a year's end catch up. I won't do the year in review so much, but just these past few weeks have been full. December ran through the meter faster than mercury.
Moving back a couple of weeks, on the Monday before Christmas I woke up with a lot of neck pain, moving into a headache. I felt some knots at the base of my skull and thought I'd slept on it wrong. I went off to work and attempted to care for the first patient, but within an hour was in a recliner in the back room trying to sleep off the pain. I took a Maxalt - migraine pill - and it helped the 9-out-of-10 headache after an hour or so, but the 9-out-of-10 neck pain continued. I was miserable, out of my head but stayed at work in the hope that I would come out of it and be able to work. When I'm not there the doc can only see about half the number of patients and it's rough on him. No dice - by the end of the afternoon I was still worthless. I somehow got home without killing myself or any other driver, although I still don't understand how. I was still operating under the premise that I had somehow slept on my neck wrong and irritated old cervical pathology. A lovely neighbor brought me a bowl of homemade chicken soup and I couldn't consume more than one sip. About 9pm her sister, another friend who is a massage therapist, came over and in fairly short order let me know that I needed to go to the ER. The nurse in me heard her as she told me it wasn't a massage situation, but rather one which had all the keynotes of meningitis. Yet another friend drove me up to my HMO's Urgent Care Clinic, and I called for Ealain to come join me.
The triage nurse ended up caring for me my whole time there and she was fine. The doc, though, was a hack. He was the worn out never-been who ended up doing the midnight shift at an HMO's clinic. I confess I wasn't all that coherent, and my appearance was abysmal - tshirt and surgical scrub pants, with Very Bad Hair. Regardless, I let him know my condition, was able to give fairly coherent and obviously educated answers to his questions, but you know what questions he hit me with? Forcefully? "Do you have sex with other men?" "Do you do IV drugs?" "Have you done any amphetamines?" This despite being hypotensive, having an elevated white count [An elevated white blood cell count often indicates infection, such as an abscess, meningitis, appendicitis or tonsillitis.], and he kept coming with these questions regardless of the fact that I (a) let him know I was a health care provider myself and (b) gave him very precise responses to his questions ["Yes, I have sex with other men. I've taught safer sex for over a decade and all of my sex with other men involves barrier precautions"... "Yes, I used a needle once for IV drugs, in June of 1970. I've been sober from alcohol for 24 years now, and from illegal drugs for many more years than that"]. A true sign of how ill I was is that I let him live. But then we got to the lumbar puncture. The spinal tap. This is a 3.5" needle stuck straight into your spinal canal, to obtain samples of your cerebrospinal fluid, to rule out meningitis. This asshat fool took about 20 minutes of grinding deep pressure pain in my lumbar spine before he gave up his many attempts, and told me he was transferring me to another local hospital where an anesthesiologist could do the puncture. He made sure I knew that the failure was because I was too fat. I mentioned to the nurse that I'd hung from skin hooks a handful of times, and this failed LP attempt hurt much worse than the 6 or 8 gauge skin hooks, and that I would be tickled pink to have a different doctor give it a try.
Ealain and I got a ride to the new ER in an ambulance. Once there I was very pleased with their personable and skilled professionalism. They gave me every bit of respect of being a peer health care professional. The nurse was a very decent fellow who stuck close and kept me very informed of everything going on. The ER doc was also a very nice guy who gave the spinal tap one more attempt himself, with my permission, and then called in an anesthesiologist. That gentleman used an even larger needle - 5" long, but of a thinner gauge - and got the puncture virtually painlessly. Amazing what a difference knowing what you are doing makes. I was in the ER there until nearly 6am, as my blood pressure kept bottoming out and they had to put four liters of saline into me. I ended up with a diagnosis of 'viral syndrome', and instructions to stay home from work and rest up for a few days. They offered narcotic pain meds both in the ER and to go, but I declined. I had some Toradol in the IV line a couple of times, which helped some. Toradol is the only non-steroidal anti-inflammatory [like ibuprofen] medication which can be injected to muscle or IV. I went home and used ibuprofen a few times a day.
Ealain was a true supportive partner through the entire experience, both ER and over the next few days. She collapsed her own personal schedule to be with me as much as possible. My entire universe was down to everything from the base of my neck on up hurt very badly. If I moved my head either up or down a couple of inches, I had terrible pulsing pain in the head. Putting on a pair of socks forced me to rest for five minutes. I largely slept and hurt for a couple of days, and then - before I was truly ready, I suppose - it was time for my holiday trip.
The ER visit was all night Monday night. Thursday morning I had a non-refundable reservation to fly down to Arizona to visit my Dad. He had been unable to get on the schedule for the dialysis center up here, so my kid sister gifted me with a ticket to visit him, so that he wouldn't be alone and lonely on Christmas. I wasn't about to miss this visit, no matter what. Ealain dropped me at SeaTac at a very early and obscenely inappropriate hour Thursday morning, and I used much of the time getting through security. I wasn't moving too quickly. I guess I hadn't really looked at my ticket that well, as I was surprised at a 90 minute layover in Vegas. I don't gamble - you can well imagine how pleasant I found the dinging of the slot machines ten feet behind the seat i waited in for all that time.
The visit itself was nice. Dad and I didn't do anything of great import. At my request we spent a few hours at the large swap meet outside of town. I try to get there each trip to Arizona. Other than that we spent a lot of time just sitting. Talking. Laughing and crying about loved ones who have passed on. Looking at pictures. Enjoying shared musical tastes. And we ate well. We ate quite well. After a day or so I was feeling a bit stronger. Dad was wearing his jacket and gloves, as it was down to the upper 50's, but I was laying out in the sun in a tshirt, enjoying the fact that the temperature was up to the upper 50's.
My flight home was uneventful, and Ealain, along with her friend Mandible, picked me up. The week since I got home I've been back at work, more or less successfully. We enjoyed NYE at the Wet Spot, and spent much of the weekend since together.
Last night, the evening of New Year's Day, Ealain and I went down about 9pm to Richmond Beach Saltwater Park [link to a photo here]. We carried down bags of 2004 momentos, notes about 2005 hopes, sage she had grown, and suchlike. Note to the easily wearied - when this park is closed, it's one longass hike down the hill, across the bridge over the railroad tracks, and out to the beach. We enjoyed a simple ritual time, just the two of us out on that beach. We dug a sandpit and started a fire and burned the items we had brought - two grocery bags full. Once all of the closures of 2004 and hopes of 2005 were consumed in the flames we shared an orange, buried the ashes, and finished up. Did I mention it was a longass hill coming down? Lemme tell ya about the hike back up!
And so it goes. Another year come and gone, and beginning the next. More than any other I can recall, I'm starting this new year with hope and energy. A loving partner can do that to one. I'm looking for 2005 to be marvelous, for myself as an individual, for Ealain and myself as primary partners, for my two jobs in health care and with Janes Guide, my family, and the rest of the world as it spreads out from those centers. Thanks for being with me thus far. Fasten your seat belts - more is yet to come!
Life is indeed quite good.