It was still early in the morning, the dew was beginning to dry in the warm summer sun, but it seemed too nice of a day to waste it all inside. I knew I’d have a long Saturday in the newsroom, but I figured if I rode my bike to work, I could take an afternoon break and go for a quick ride through downtown. And maybe, if I was working hard enough, I could treat myself to a little midday pick-me-up at Korner Kremery.
As my legs circled round and round, propelling me further from home and closer to work, I became a little concerned with my physical strength. How is it when I drive to work I encounter zero hills, but the second I’m on my bike, they seem to grow from bumps to mountains. And if I was getting this hot and out of breath on such a short cycle, I’d need to look into upping my workout routine because, frankly, it was a little pathetic.
I made it to the newsroom eventually, unlocking the door and carting my bike into the font room. I untethered myself from my book bag and looked at my whiteboard where I had written out a task list before I left the previous night. There’s so much to do before we launch The Southeast Iowa Union, I just needed a little more time and an empty office so I could focus.
I swayed from one leg to the other, trying to loosen my muscles up after my ride. There was just something that felt off. I peered closer at my to-do list and cleared my throat. There it was, my throat felt funny, a little swollen. I took in a deep breath, and that I could do just fine, but trying to swallow was a bit more difficult. I began looking at my exposed skin. It didn’t feel like I hit anything on my bike ride into work, but when you’re allergic to bees, you can never be too careful. I didn’t see anything so I went to the kitchenette, grabbed a paper towel and wet it down with cold water. There was nothing wrong, I told myself, my body just physically didn’t want to be at work on a Saturday. It, obviously, was all in my head. So I got to work.
An hour in, I was starting to feel like I was having cold chills. Swallowing was more difficult and becoming painful. I again went and checked myself for a bee sting. Not that I could have done anything about it; my EpiPen, I remembered, was in my workout bag, not my work bag.
I erased my task list off the whiteboard and began writing down all of the possible explanations why my throat seemed to be swelling.
Now, at this point most people probably would have been making their way to the doctor. But as much as I complain about paper cuts and random bruises, I have a high threshold for pain and an aversion to going to the doctor when it’s unnecessary — this stems from a long family history of not wanting to waste money on the doctor.
As an adult, with a rather lengthy medical history (for those unfamiliar I’ve had open heart surgery and a brain tumor removed) I try my best to stay healthy. I pay attention to what I’m eating and try to work out a couple of times a week. I go to all of my preventive screenings and doctors’ appointments and make sure to follow up with my specialty care doctors. But with all of that history, it still is ingrained into my core, not to go to the doctor, that things will usually work themselves out. That’s the lie I told myself about my throat. It would be fine.
It wasn’t. I got a ride home and then went to the store to stock up on Benadryl. I figured I was having some sort of minor allergic reaction and just needed an antihistamine to calm everything down. And it worked. It was easier for me to swallow, but the Benadryl also kept me knocked out most of the weekend. When I showed up for work Monday morning, things were worse but I was going to ignore it. That was until my boss told me to go to the doctor. Within an hour I had confirmed strep throat and an antibiotic prescription to pick up.
Monday I followed the doctor’s orders. I went home, rested and tried to keep drinking fluids. While I could still breathe just fine, drinking and swallowing continued to get worse. It felt as if my tonsils were touching each other. As Tuesday rolled around, I wasn’t feeling any better; although the doctor said it would probably be Wednesday before the antibiotics kicked in and I’d start to feel some relief. However, I had that same feeling in my gut as Saturday, but this time I wasn’t going to ignore it.
I texted my mom and asked if she’d come stay with me. I was worried I might stop breathing in the middle of the night. At 1 a.m., while she slept, I sat hunched over on the couch, using every ounce of my concentration on breathing. I decided this was it, time to go to the Emergency Room. What should have been a seven-minute drive took 12. I love my mom, but she is maybe not the one you want driving you in an emergency. In an unfamiliar town, she made sure she stopped at every stop sign along the way and didn’t merely look both ways once, but at least three times before crossing the intersection.
I have spent time in a lot of hospitals. And I’ve made a couple of appearances in area emergency rooms and I have to say, the staff at Washington County Hospital and Clinics, especially Dr. Brian Murphy, were extraordinary. It was a struggle for me that morning to say “yes, I need to go to the ER.”
When we talk about health care, one of the causes of rising costs is people going to the ER for issues that should be seen by a primary care physician. There are a lot of reasons why this happens, but Wednesday morning, this was stuck in my head. I knew I had strep throat, and I knew I wouldn’t feel any relief from my medication until likely later that day.
After listening to my breathing, looking at my throat and starting what would be seven hours’ worth of fluids, antibiotics, steroids and pain medication, Dr. Murphy assured me I had made the right decision, and that brought me almost as much relief as the medication did.
After debating if I should be sent for an emergency tonsillectomy in Iowa City, the doctors decided to wait a few weeks until the infection and swelling goes down. So after a, hopefully, successful launch of The Southeast Iowa Union, I will be taking some time off to do something my sister did when she was six, have my tonsils removed. I hope this can serve as a reminder for myself and others — no one knows your body like you do. When you feel something is wrong, it’s worth a trip to the doctor, sooner rather than later.