Thursday, September 28, 2006

Brother, Can You Spare a Kidney?

Ever had a kidney infection? I did, which meant that August was a full-on festival of fun.

It all started on a quiet Tuesday morning, when I rolled into work with a bit of a fever. (Later, I discovered that it was actually quite a lot of a fever.) I told a few coworkers that I seemed to have a touch of the flu, and therefore might leave early. One of the women in my office told me I looked much sicker than that, and might want to consider going to a hospital. Pshaw! Hospitals are for wusses.

So I went home. I felt fine. Well, except for the raging fever, the shooting pains in my side, the pervasive mental fog, and the sickening feeling that maybe I was pretty bad off after all.

I spent the next hour at home, cuddled up in bed, cradling my cell phone. A friend called me with the address of an urgent care clinic in my neighborhood, so I walked over. On the way, a cop driving past rolled down his window and asked if I was OK. My response? “Oh, sure, fine. How are you?”

I got to the clinic and settled into a chair. When I was called in to see a nurse, she immediately shoved a thermometer into my mouth, drew it out, and almost dropped the thing with surprise.

Nurse: So, what brings you here today?
Me: I might have a touch of the flu.
Nurse: It might be more than a touch. Your temperature is 104.
Me: Cool!

After some paperwork, I was shuttled in to see a doctor. He punched me in the back a couple of times, then informed me that I had a kidney infection. I was a little delirious at this point, but I do recall asking if I could simply borrow his kidney. Then he told me I should really be in a hospital, at which point I refused because “people die in hospitals.” Yes, that was my logic. Like I said, I was a bit delirious.

Eventually, my fever went down to a downright comfy 101, and I was sent home. The doctor had me “monitor my condition” for the rest of the evening. “Monitoring” meant I was supposed to sit around and see if I got any sicker, in which case I’d have to go to the ER. The doctor was concerned that I wouldn’t know if my temperature went back up to 104 or not, but once you’ve experienced a temperature that high you don’t tend to forget it.

The next morning, I received a two-week prescription to Cipro. Seriously, two weeks. Did people with anthrax even take Cipro for that long? The next 14 days were a parade of Cipro’s greatest side effect hits, including: loss of appetite, wooziness, ooziness, and, grossest of all, a yellow metallic-tasting goo that coated the inside of my mouth for two days. I resorted to scraping it all off with a metal nail file, which did interesting things for my gag reflex. Sexy!

I was pretty sick over the next few days. Fever, chills, goofy delirium, 16 hours a day of sleep, and occasional moments where I shook all over and prayed for death. (I marked my recovery in terms of how long it had been since I’d prayed for death…12 hours! I must be getting better! 24 hours! The PTD “Pray for Death” Scale became the central theme of my life.) There were also balcony repairs going on outside my building, meaning that occasionally I felt as if I were trying to nap inside a cement mixer.

I thought about how much easier it would have been this sick in my old life. The Embassy Health Unit would have been my one-stop-shop. My spouse could have taken care of me. Missing a week of work wouldn’t have been such a financial setback for me, because I had sick leave, and a spouse to pick up the financial slack. I spent entire hours feeling sorry for myself, which is more self-pity than I’ve allowed myself all year.

But it’s OK. My friends nurtured the heck out of me, with everything from movie nights to grocery runs to reassuring text messages. “Thinking of you…” “How can I help…” “A kidney infection is life’s little way of telling you to stop and smell the roses…” “If your temperature hits 105, sell!”

The recovery felt like it took forever. By the end of the week, I’d lost about 8 pounds (a lot, when you consider I barely weigh triple digits as it is). My pants hung off me, making me look a bit like Marky Mark. I had to drink almost a gallon of cranberry juice a day. I had to cut back on sodium and caffeine, my two favorite food groups. I slept for much of the next three weeks, and had to cut back on my usual Paris Hilton-style social life.

Maybe this really was life’s little way of telling me to stop and smell the roses. I looked at my appointment calendar, and realized I’d gone out 13 of 14 days before I got sick. I’d been having symptoms of a kidney infection for almost a week before I’d noticed that anything was wrong. I didn’t have any clean clothes because I hadn’t been home to do laundry for almost three weeks. Hey! Maybe I overdo things a little. Maybe I should slow down.

But, most likely, I won’t. Who am I kidding? I need for life to have momentum, to have something new always around the corner. But maybe I’ve gotten smarter. Hopefully next time one of my organs goes rogue agent and tries to assassinate me, I’ll see a doctor right away. Like I’ve always said, I need to learn my lessons the hard way.