The One Where I Almost Died…

Strep throat was the nemesis of my youth. I’d never get it less than twice a year, and sometimes, as many as four times. If someone with even the slightest inkling that they might have strep passed within a yard or two of me, it was pretty much a guarantee that I, too, would be stricken by that beast. I was pumped so full of antibiotics through those years that I became deathly allergic to many. Penicillin? Allergic. Amoxicillan? Allergic. Sulfa drugs? Allergic. Having strep was no new thing to me, so when I came down with it again at the age of 23, it was just par for the course.

The big difference this time, though, was my doctor. What a piece of work this guy was. He was the perfect cliche of the disinterested doctor. His office, covered in golf stuff. He literally practiced his swings as he was “diagnosing” me, barely looking at me. That stuff he left to his staff, who constantly rotated out so that there were new faces every time I visited. Apparently, he was hell to work for. But at the time, I had shitty insurance, with a limited number of doctors to choose from. So I figured he was better than nothing. Besides, it was strep. I’d had it dozens of times. I probably could have treated myself, right?

So I get the antibiotics. The first time around, he gave me something in the “cillan” family, and I had a terrible allergic reaction. He took me off of that, put me on something else – I don’t recall what. I do remember that damned, it was taking forever to clear up. By the end of two weeks, I’m still feeling miserable. I call up his office. He prescribes me another round over the phone. Which he called in from the golf course. Because of course he wasn’t in the office to see me.

Week three passes, week four, and then into week five, and I am still really fucking sick. At the time, I was working in a call center as tier three tech support. I was on the phone with a client, feeling miserable…and then I was on the floor, with a half dozen reps surrounding me, panicked. I’d passed out in a fever. Thank god my buddy Glen was there. He convinced the rest of the crew not to call an ambulance, knowing I couldn’t afford that copay, and offered to drive me home in my own car. One of our other friends drove him back. Before he left, he made me promise to call the doc and get in for an appointment. So I did, for later that afternoon, at 3:45PM (I worked early morning shifts, so Glen had me home by 8:00AM).

And of course, my doctor was…can you guess? Golfing! I arranged instead to see his new nurse practitioner, his third or fourth since I had been seeing him. I laid down, passed out. I woke up around 2:00PM, feeling a bit better, and since my then wife was working and I didn’t want to bother anyone, decided I was able to drive myself to the doc. Yeah, yeah, I know. I blame the fever, don’t judge me! Besides, I made it there safe. Got in, waited for the nurse practitioner. She was running behind, so about 4:15PM she got in the room, and started asking questions. When I mentioned that I’d had strep at that point for over a month, she didn’t believe me. She checked my charts. Looked at my throat, and recoiled. Asked me to wait for a moment, and then hurried out of the room.

A few moments later, she came back in.

“Listen, I’m not supposed to do this without the doctor’s permission, but I really think you need a specialist. I called an ENT I know across town – they said they’d squeeze you in if you can get there before five. Can you do that?”

Sure I could. She handed me a hastily scribbled note, and sent me on my way. I made it to the ENT’s office maybe ten minutes before closing. It was clear that it had been a long day, and everyone was ready to go home…and in walks *this* asshole, with a case of strep throat. The nurse took the note, gave it a glance, handed it to another nurse and told her to call the nurse practitioner, and took me back to a waiting room. About ten minutes later, the ENT walked in.

I could tell instantly that he was not in a good mood.  His shoulders sagged, his eyes had dark rings beneath them, and he heaved a heavy sigh and raised a doubtful eyebrow as he came in. He snatched up the clipboard the nurse had handed him, looked it over.

“You’ve had strep for over a month?”

I nodded.

“Been taking your meds?”

I nodded again. I’d brought my empty bottles with me. He sighed again.

“Alright then, let’s have a look.”

I opened wide, he dug out a pen light, and looked.

Let me tell you right now – there are few things I have ever experienced as terrifying as seeing a doctor’s face go pale. He literally only looked down my throat for a second. He glanced at his watch, then at me. His brow furrowed.

“You drive yourself here?”

I nodded again.

“Fuck.”

At this point in my life, I’d never heard a doctor cuss before. I was getting more and more scared by the moment.

“Ok, fine. I’ll have one of the receptionists stay late with your keys. Call someone to come get your car. I’ll be right back.”

What. The. Fuck. I did as I was told, and my in-laws promised to come get the car. As soon as I hung up the phone, the doc walked in, pulling on his jacket.

“You’re coming with me.”

We rushed out to his car, a nice sports car, though having never been a car guy, I couldn’t tell you what kind. Foreign, though. Leather seats. Real leather.

“You’re a lucky man, Mr. Baron,” he said as we sped through the streets, “I’m taking you to the hospital. You’re going to be there for at least 24 hours. By this time tomorrow, you should be a lot better. If you hadn’t caught me this afternoon, by this time tomorrow, you would probably be dead.”

He explained to me that the strep had abscessed, that it was the worse case he’d ever seen. That strep, when it abscesses, can shoot straight to the brain. He got me to the hospital, all but dragged me into ICU, whom he’d called ahead on his car phone to have waiting for me. I was hooked up to tons of machines, a feed of pure oxygen, and an IV drip of super heavy duty antibiotics.

The kicker, though, was this. Every hour, on the hour, that ENT came back in the room to check on me. He stayed at the hospital all night, until, roughly thirteen hours later, it was clear that I had made it past the danger zone. My fever finally vanished. My throat began to clear. The doc went home, got a few hours rest, and then came back to check on me before I was discharged. He came in, still clearly tired, and handed me an envelope.

“Two things,” he said. “One, I can’t legally do so till you’ve been clear of infection for a month, but when a month is over, we’re removing your fucking tonsils. It’s god-damned ridiculous that no other doctor has demanded this, so I will. Two, you’re changing doctors. I looked into your insurance. This envelope is a letter of recommendation to a friend of mine. He hasn’t been seeing new patients, but he’ll make an exception.”

Sure enough, a month later, I had a new doctor and was less two tonsils. I haven’t gotten strep since. The ENT, from what I heard, got my old doctor’s license pulled.

And I didn’t die of step. How’s that for a happy ending?

 

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30 comments

  1. This is one of those posts where you hesitate to hit “Like” because you’re afraid it might send the wrong message. What a horrific experience. So happy you are still with us, and that there are “some” healthcare professionals left in this world who actually care. ;)

    1. I wouldn’t take it the wrong way! ;) And yeah, it was insane, but that doc was awesome. I wish I had kept in touch, but I was still young and stupid. ;)

  2. In the words of Kevin Harts father…”we almost lost ya there, didn’t we” ;)…. Strep sucks! So glad on many levels you’re still here :)

  3. Well, who would write wonderful stories if you weren’t here? What a story! I used to get a case of strep every April, it seemed, when I was a kid. Fortunately, the strep seemed to disappear by the time I was 10 or even, but prior to that it was like clockwork.

    1. That’s how it was for my siblings, but not I, the strep magnet. Since having the tonsils out, I’ve not had it once. Even when my whole house was infected, my wife and every kid.

  4. As someone who is currently waiting for the results of a strep test, I feel for you the last 6 days have been hell. I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus, I can barely swallow, I alternate between sweating profusely and feeling chills. It’s fucking awful and it doesn’t help that my husband is out of town all week. Curious to hear what it was like to undergo a tonsillectomy. I want one too!

    1. *comforts*

      Strep sucks ass. Just saying. ;)

      Much as I hate to be the bearer of bad news, a tonsillectomy as an adult sucks. I think it was a 4-5 week recovery time? Eating nothing but jello, broth, and popsicles. It got old. But the end results were definitely worth it – less snoring, no strep, less throat issues in general. :)

        1. I know it sucks, but I’d do it again in a heartbeat. So worth it! Besides, when I was finally clear to eat real food again, I made the most epic sandwich I’ve ever made. It was glorious, especially after five weeks of jello!

  5. Over here, in far away Australia, with universal medical health, it has been (a) hard to understand why Obama was getting so much bad press about trying to change your health insurance system and (b) why our current government seem hell-bent on breaking down our system in favour of yours. Just as well you survived. I may be talking out the top of my head, but it does seem it is possible in the US to die in the street outside of a hospital on the grounds that you hold the wrong insurance???? And, you only have insurance if you have a job???? Not sure if I have this story right, but I think my (Aussie) friend told me her (American) husband had to work right up until the day before his heart-lung transplant to ensure his insurance didn’t expire.. . . there’s a story in that, I am sure. Or another story prompt – use ensure and insure in the same sentence and get the nuances correct. LOL. Not sure if I managed it correctly :-)

    1. Good morning Gwen! I find it hard to understand too. In fact, the people I find that argue the most about the woes of universal health care are the ones already getting it! I work with a lot of govt employees and they get decent healthcare for next to nothing. Meanwhile, I pay around $850 a month for coverage for me and my kids – my wife has to have her own insurance, as my company plan won’t cover her because she is eligible to buy coverage through her own work. It is, in a word, ridiculous.

      There *are* laws that guarantee one emergency medical care in the U.S. – no hospital can refuse you for not having insurance or an ability to pay, but the medical bills are horrendous, and the debt collectors will do everything in their power to ruin your life. I have a friend who had to use emergency services and ended up with a bill of just over $100,000 for a single weekend in the ER. She is crippled by the debt, and is likely going to have to declare bankruptcy, which will not only destroy her credit but will likely cost her her job, as many employers these days in the U.S. require a clean credit record for employment.

      Prior to the Healthcare Act, one *could* buy insurance privately, but it was ludicrously expensive. I remember looking in to it ten years or so back, when I was working freelance as an artist, and it was something along the lines of $1500 a month for a family, and that was terrible coverage with a huge deductible. So typically, if you don’t have a job, or the job you have doesn’t offer insurance, you hold your breath and pray you don’t get sick or hurt.

      I don’t doubt the story about your friend. My father had to work even while getting intensive chemo, because it took so long to get the paperwork accepted to let him go home for end of life hospice care.

      I could rant for hours on this. I haven’t even mentioned what it’s like dealing with all of this when you have a small child with cancer. One’s perspective changes a lot when one has been through the medical ringer here.

      1. Thanks for your thoughtful reply Mark, and apologies for the delay in acknowledging it. You certainly got me thinking. When Medicare was introduced in Australia in 1975 there were plenty who were opposed to the idea, but I can’t think of any “ordinary” person today who would seriously want it abandoned. It is not a perfect system, governments always like to tinker with the details, and if you want to reduce the wait time for elective surgery then you still need to carry additional private health insurance, but at the end of the day – everyone knows that if they are in a life-threatening situation, care will be available, and they won’t become destitute on account of needing it. Even though my friend with the heart-lung transplant experience in the States had employment based insurance, the gap still left them with a bill of around $300,000. I think she staves off the bankruptcy threat by ensuring every medical provider (and I think there were around 30 of them), receives $5 per month in payment. Again, I may have that wrong – but it sounds bizarre enough to have stuck in my memory correctly.

        1. That’s a common tactic. As long as you pay a tiny amount each month, they can’t take you to collections for it. Still, you essentially become enslaved to that debt for the rest of your life. It’s just insane that this country is so wealthy in so many ways, and yet our health care is so terribly draconian.

      2. Also Mark, I can appreciate how difficult it must be seeing your child battling the cancer. My girlfriend faced a similar situation many years ago, and wrote of it in a memoir that is for family consumption. Another Australian has just released her memoir on the same subject. It is called Saving Zali by Lisa Venables. You may find some of your own thoughts echoed in there.

  6. Wow what an angel that ENT was. We had a foster child who had Colitis and had a similar situation as this. A doctor was rushing home and stopped when he saw her writhing in pain, came over and spent an hour determining the problem. He went to his child’s performance, and then came back and spent the night helping us get her through the next few days. He probably saved her life too.

    Makes you feel all humble, doesn’t it?

  7. I can recall having strep throat a couple of times. It’s hard to differentiate strep throat from soar throat sometimes, and I mostly end up taking antibiotics for even soar throat. How sad.

    Well, glad you made it through.

  8. OMGosh what a horrible experience! Having my fair share of strep, I can’t imagine how painful this had to have been. Lucky you are to still be around and tell the story.

    1. I know! It was definitely an eye-opener. I never before that knew how dangerous strep could be. It killed Jim Henson, and it is believed to be what killed Mozart.

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