I am the 1 in 1000. Despite any attempts at a chilled-out existence I have come to terms with the fact that bad stuff just seems to happen to me. Aspects of this can be credited to an affinity for an adventure, but more often than not it's just odds. Due to this I have had my fair share of strange hospital stays. Yeah, when I used to drink I ended up in the ER with broken bones, yet the majority of time spent in hospitals has been for the most random and humorous (no, injury or medical bills are not funny, but I'm of the mindset that sometimes all you can do is laugh).
The hospital stay that is most likely to appear on an episode of "Grey's Anatomy" where all the doctors would surely make fun of me is the time I was drawing my cat on Christmas day with my brand new sketch pad when she pounced and bit me. I guess she didn't like my portrayal of her. The infection became so bad I couldn't move my arm, spent 36 hours hooked up to an IV, narrowly escaping hand surgery as the infection subsided before it inched into my tendons. I still have the cat!
About a month ago I woke up on a Saturday and noticed a few red itchy bumps on my legs. Paranoia set in: BED BUGS! I spent an hour scouring my bed and sheets for all the signs the Internet warned of and texted photos of the bites to a friend who had experienced them before. According to him they did not fit the description, and since I had found no signs of those little fuckers crawling around my sheets while I slept, I chalked up the bumps to razor burn and headed out to enjoy the sunny Brooklyn day.
After wandering around a food fair by the waterfront I stopped at my favorite spa on the way back home for a bikini wax. This was a poorly chosen day for hair removal. As I was getting undressed in preparation to have my pubes ripped out, I looked down and gasped. The few bumps on my legs had evolved from an odd red spot here and there to a vicious red rash that encompassed my entire lower body, most concentrated at my feet. I quickly dressed and politely (as one can be mid-panic attack) canceled the wax and scurried home to open my laptop to fall into a WebMD black hole of self-diagnosis.
It made no sense; I hadn't eaten anything strange, I hadn't switched laundry detergents, and while I experience mild seasonal allergies I had never had any sort of rash like this. Then it dawned on me: Lamictal. Damn Lamictal.
I've had a prescription for various benzos (the class of drugs that includes Xanax, Ativan, Klonopin, etc.) for some time now to take for panic attacks and insomnia, yet the addictive class of drugs was no longer serving me so I wanted off of them. A mood stabilizer, in this case Lamictal, which is used to treat seizures but is also prescribed by psychiatrists for this sort of thing, was given to me to avoid the anxiety-inducing side-effects of discontinuing anti-anxiety meds (ironic, right)?
Before deciding to take it I read about the possible life-threatening rash but was told the odds of that happening were 1 in 1000 and not something I should be concerned with. I spoke with my doctor and agreed to take Benadryl and if the rash was worse the next morning head to the hospital. It indeed got worse. I woke up Sunday morning at 6:30 a.m. scratching myself. The rash head spread to my entire body and my face was red, puffy, and swollen. I called a cab, gave my vicious beloved cat a pet and headed to the ER alone.
I like to think I'm an independent person when it comes to such things (the last time I was given pain medication I told my ex-boyfriend I was "the brave little Sophster," recalling one of my favorite childhood films "The Brave Little Toaster"). Yet as I sat in the waiting room filling out paperwork, my anxiety, which was increasing as the rash spread, skyrocketed when I got to the section that asked for an emergency contact.
I didn't know who to put. My mother is in Virginia, my sister in Germany, and my father in the Caribbean. I put my mother, but I knew this hospital trip I would be flying solo.
I was equipped with my journal and a book to pass the time, and as I had only gotten a few hours of sleep I rested. I feel oddly calm in hospitals. Perhaps it is a feeling of safety, knowing there is someone to take care of me. I'm sure my shrink would have some insight into this. They concluded the rash was highly likely due to the Lamictal, but told me to go to a dermatologist to be sure.
One dermatologist visit and a biopsy later it was confirmed that it was indeed a side effect of the medication. I immediately stopped taking it and was given oral steroids and a topical cream. It's taken about a month for the rash to fully subside. I'm now just taking a sleep aid, and while ideally I would be totally free of pills and psychiatrists, having experienced terrible insomnia since high school (I can go days without sleep) I know how insane it can make me. I've tried herbal remedies, acupuncture, exercise, all the advice about turning off your computer, calming music, anything you can think of, but at this point in my life I need something stronger and I am okay with that.
After I shared the story to those close to me, friends and lovers I wasn't even dating at the time, the reaction was all the same: "Why didn't you call me?" I've been known to bitch and whine about having so few loved ones; yet usually such thoughts cross my mind as I'm isolating myself alone in my apartment with the company of my cat.
The rash experience taught me two things: One, I can never take Lamictal again and going forward I need to closely research all medications before agreeing to try anything.
Secondly -- and perhaps more important to my mental health than a mood stabilizer -- is that I do indeed have many people who would be happy to be listed as my emergency contact person. The key is to reach out to them. My cat is stuck with me; humans are free to roam the world on their own. Maintaining and strengthening relationships requires effort. The rash and the hospital stay were less a lesson in pharmacology and more in the importance of making plans and calling people.
Also, a really good way to distract yourself from the fact that you are covered in itchy red bumps is to get out of your own mind and be there for someone else. A month post-rash, my social calendar is filled with people who would be happy to accompany me to the emergency room should I again break out in hives or be bitten by an animal, and for this I thank the drug manufacturer.