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?”
“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.
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?