It Took Me A Month And 3 Doctors To Figure Out I Had a Liver Infection But Thank God I'm Not Crazy

Almost every doctor I went to see seemed to just go ahead and assume I was crazy before I even sat down, probably because I wrote or circled things on my forms like "Celexa, 40 mg daily," "Buspar, 30 mg daily" and "history of substance abuse."
Publish date:
December 10, 2013
death, doctors, illness, grandmothers

You guys probably didn't notice, because Lesley and co. did such a great job inhabiting my role, but I was out of the office for roughly a month on-and-off there. It was really fun because a) I was deathly ill with a mysterious disease that had me nauseated and vomiting constantly and too weak to make it to the corner store and b) because some people in my life alternately thought I was 1) relapsing on drugs 2) just kind of lazy or 3) making myself sick with my crazy crazy brain.

After a couple of weeks of these symptoms I was actually starting to think I might be crazy, too. After all, I don't exactly have a spotless mental health history and I have had psychosomatic pain before -- I used to get near-nightly and extremely painful back spasms that quit almost entirely once I started working on my sexual trauma and acting out in therapy. Bodies are weird.

(I once stretched something in a Pilates class that unlocked some kind of emotion and made me burst into tears and the instructor said it happens all the time. Sometimes, in child's pose, I visualize myself actually releasing decades-old trauma from the muscles in my hips and it really makes me feel better.)

But what didn't help is that almost every doctor I went to see seemed to just go ahead and assume I was crazy before I even sat down, probably because I wrote or circled things on my forms like "Celexa, 40 mg daily," "Buspar, 30 mg daily" and "history of substance abuse."

"You should probably try seeing your psychiatrist," suggested the guy at the ER clinic I had to take a car to because I was too weak to walk to the subway. He was also really, really interested in the (mild) painkillers I had taken after my last root canal, despite the fact that it had been over a month ago.

The thing is, my depression and anxiety (and the medication I take for it) as well as my status as a recovering addict are extremely relevant to my medical health, especially if a doctor is going to be prescribing me something. When seeing a new doctor, I make sure to let them know right away that I am sober because as an addict I can't always trust myself when it comes to drugs.

By saying, "I'm a drug addict, I can't have anything addictive, put that shit in the chart in big letters please," I am safeguarding myself from a future day when I might not feel strong enough to say no to a prescription I know could be trouble for me. Even that doesn't always work -- despite the fact that my chart was clearly marked, I eventually had to ask my dentist to talk to my oral surgeon and ask him to please, please stop offering me Vicodin because if he didn't, one day I was going to accept that Vicodin.

But I think for a lot of doctors, laying all this stuff out right away makes me sound like a little bit of a whacko. I can feel some of them writing me off mid-sentence for being a mentally ill addict. Lesley says the same thing happens to her, except it's as soon as they see she's "really fat."

Because I've mostly just visited the urgent care for colds and things over the past few years, I don't have a primary care physician and I didn't realize until this happened that finding one of those that you like and trust is actually sort of an epic task. I just thought doctors were sort of interchangeably efficient, like choosing between detergent brands at the grocery store.

When my symptoms first hit and didn't go away after 5 or 6 days, I went to the urgent care where they shone a light down my throat and sent me on my way saying it was probably just a virus.

I tried to explain the extreme level of fatigue I was feeling, how it was making it impossible to do my job or get my son to daycare, and I started to cry as I begged for anything they could do to help me. Again, making myself look crazy. The doctor said I should "take my time to pull myself together" before leaving.

A week or two later, when I was still having symptoms on and off, I went to the emergency room in a fit of desperation. That's where I met Mr. "Give your psychiatrist a call" who also at one point asked me, "So when you look at the past month, what do you think has been going on?" I don't know dude, isn't that, like, YOUR JOB?

This was after I'd asked to be weighed backward due to being in recovery from an eating disorder (again, CRAZY LADY ALERT), only to have the male nurse do a hilarious bit where he feigned shock and horror at the number I couldn't see. So by now I was really really sick and obsessing about my weight.

The emergency room doctor at least ordered some bloodwork, to be completed off-site, and scheduled an appointment for me to come back to the clinic ... in 3 weeks.

"Can't I come back any earlier than that?" I asked

He sighed and scanned the calendar. "Yes, you can come one week earlier."

I could barely stand at this point.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, my beloved grandmother died. I feel like in the past some cold, hard part of me has been less than sympathetic when I hear that someone's grandmother has died. I mean, I feel bad for them, but one of those little kidney-bean sized sections of my brain is thinking, "Yes but she was really old and that is what grandparents do, eventually..."

And it's true that the death of a grandparent isn't the same as the unexpected death of a younger person. There isn't the same shock, the tragedy of a life ended too early. But damned if I don't now wish I'd sent flowers to even the most minor acquaintance going through the passing of a grandparent because I am utterly floored by the death of mine.

It's just that she was so special, and we were close -- in a way I always felt we had the same spirit, or soul. She was 91 years old when she died (although she insisted she was 29 her entire life until her 90th birthday party, which she loved celebrating) and her mind was sharp as ever.

"She was fun and she was funny," went one of the lines in her amazingly-written obituary. She loved a party. In hospice, where I went to visit her the last week or so that she was lucid and conversational, there was a sign on her door reading, "Dear Friends: If I am asleep, please wake me up! I sleep a lot these days and I don't want to miss your visit. Thanks for coming by."

At once point, she leaned into me and said in her Southern drawl that somehow stretched out the syllables in my name to a ridiculous length, "Em-uh-lee, you know the worst part of being here? It's just awful having nothing new to wear." Later she complimented my pink sweatshirt and told me she needed so badly to get to "the sales" to buy a "whole heap of new tops." She had another week or two to live.

She died a little under a month ago now and I still spent last night reading the funeral home obituary page guestbook and crying. There was a slideshow of images of my grandmother throughout the year, which really got the snot flowing. (Also how come whenever you see an oldey-timey picture of a relative, they always look amazingly gorgeous? Was nobody ugly in olden times? Was it just the time and care women used to put into their appearances? My grandmother's vintage hairstyles alone looked like they took an hour, and she had 3 kids!)

I was lucky that I was well enough to make it home to see her in the last few weeks of her life, and only had to have my dad pull over the car so I could vomit on the side of the road once. I was too sick to go back for the funeral when she died soon after my visit, but I sort of knew I might be choosing between seeing her one more time or attending the funeral anyway, and I think I absolutely made the right choice.

But I still didn't know what the hell was wrong with me except that I was now grieving, depressed from being cooped up inside for weeks at a time, stressed from feeling like I was simultaneously failing everyone at once, worried about the status of my job (I texted Lesley to ask her if she could refrain from being too good at it), and heartbroken every time a little voice went, "Mommy?" from outside the darkened bedroom I could barely leave.

So I did what I had been avoiding doing and went on my insurance company's website and made an appointment in the most affluent, whitest neighborhood I could find. Guess what did the trick? Sorry, brown people who live in my neighborhood, you just don't get the same medical attention as the folks in wealthy Park Slope.

I knew I liked this doctor when I told him I was in recovery and he went, "AH, THE DISEASE OF MORE" in a booming sort of Charlton Heston voice. He listened to my concerns, he didn't pass judgments, he mentioned that it could be psychosomatic while also entertaining other options and he had my blood taken onsite and scheduled a follow-up for mere days later. He texted a few times during our consultation, but he also told me stories about working the emergency room in the early days of AIDS and was just an all-around sort of an offbeat, fascinating guy. When I left, I wasn't sure if I was more afraid of finding out something was really wrong with me or that nothing was.

Basically, the results came back, my liver enzymes were elevated, he did some more tests, and it turned out I had Hepatitis A, which I probably got from eating food handled by someone with poor hygiene. The good news is it clears your system on its own, the bad news is it takes 2-6 months.

I'm back at work and feeling entirely better so I'm hoping my symptoms won't return, but it's possible I could have a little more back and forth with this thing before it's totally gone. I'm also VItamin D deficient and have developed high cholesterol (40 pound weight gain in a year WHAT WHAT and also THANK YOU FOR POINTING THAT OUT THIS WEEK, MEAN COMMENTER), which, good to know and you'll probably see future posts about dealing with that stuff.

Anyway, I missed you guys. And a lot of doctors really suck, huh? Oh, also, everybody thought I was pregnant. I had to keep telling people on the phone I wanted a medical appointment, not OB-GYN.