It has been quite awhile since I last posted here. I’ve been posting on my other blog, one devoted to reading and writing, not health, wealth, and all that makes life better than the alternative. But August has been a tough month and has brought me back here, to celebrate what’s better than the alternative.
At the end of July, my husband wasn’t feeling well. I suggested we go to the urgent care clinic closest to our house where he was diagnosed with an infection. Something minor. Something easy to treat. Or so we thought.
He did have an infection. I had had the same infection a few months back, the reason I recognized his symptoms. In my case, a quick test confirmed the infection and a trip to the pharmacy to pick up an antibiotic, followed by a long nap, was all I needed to get better. We expected the same would apply to him.
But he didn’t get better. In fact, he got worse. So much worse that when he saw his primary care physician a week after that trip to urgent care, the doctor sent him straight back to urgent care, this time at the hospital our doctor is associated with.
The doctors there discovered his blood contained a very high level of potassium. They ordered an EKG to see if his heart was in trouble. It wasn’t.
But his kidneys were.
After I had hung around the urgent care intake rooms for hours, the doctors and nurses urged me to get something to eat and reassured me they would get him into a room while I was away. They told me to come back once I had eaten.
When I returned, they gave me his room number–Room 15 in the ICU. ICU. That’s Intensive Care Unit. Not exactly what I had expected when they said they would get him into a room.
My first reaction was to wonder if the hospital was so full they could only find space for him in the ICU. That’s the denial phase. He couldn’t be so ill that the staff needed to monitor him 24/7, could he?
It turns out, he was that ill. His kidneys were no longer functioning. The culprit, the doctors were 95% certain, was the antibiotic he was prescribed for that minor infection. The same antibiotic I was prescribed for the same minor infection eight months before.
Apparently, he is allergic to that drug. At any rate, we’re going to consider him to be allergic because we don’t want to repeat the exercise to confirm it.
The first week of August centered around his treatment in the hospital. They did a biopsy of one of his kidneys to rule out more serious causes. You know, like cancer. The doctors said the biopsy results were good, indicating the problem was typical of an allergic reaction. But good is relative. His kidneys were not functioning. He needed dialysis to help his kidneys do their work. And the kidneys need time to heal.
The next two weeks of August centered around dialysis and follow-up with doctors. Twice a week we made a thirty-minute trip to a dialysis center where we sat in a room for the three to four hours needed to filter his blood through a machine.
Along with dialysis comes a limited diet. Foods with high levels of potassium were not permitted. And you can be sure that everything he wanted to eat, now that his appetite was back, was on the list of foods with high potassium levels. Vegetables were particularly difficult to work into his meals. Vegetables low in potassium are ones that have little color and even less flavor: bean sprouts, celery, cucumbers, eggplant, mushrooms, onions. And most things he wanted to add for flavor–salt, soy sauce, salsa–are also high in potassium.
At the end of the second week and after four out-patient dialysis sessions, the doctors concluded his kidneys are functioning sufficiently to eliminate the dialysis. But his need for a daily dose of strong medicine to help the kidneys heal will likely remain for several weeks, if not months. One doctor finally used words that made us both sit up and listen. “You’re not ill,” she told my husband. “You are very, very ill.”
He’s no longer on the dialysis diet. Now we’re on the more varied diabetes diet. The drug he needs to treat the kidneys elevates the level of blood glucose, making it necessary for him to watch what he eats as well as to take insulin since most medications to treat diabetes in pill form are not advisable when kidneys are compromised.
Have I learned anything from all of this?
First, I will always step up to the Consultation window at the pharmacy when picking up a new drug. I did when I picked up my husband’s medication and am so glad I did. Not because the pharmacist warned of the side effects my husband experienced. There was no warning. Kidney failure is not a listed side effect on any of the information available about that drug. So I know I didn’t ignore a warning. Had I not taken the time to wait to speak with the pharmacists about the medication, I would have wondered if I should have known to bring him to urgent care again.
And second, I will pay much closer attention to my husband’s complaints when he isn’t feeling well. He doesn’t get sick often. He usually just plunges forward in his usual day if he feels a cold or even the flu coming on. So when he stayed in bed for days at a time, I should have realized he was really not well.
In support of that second lesson, I am happy to point to the fact that married men are healthier and live longer than single men. This Harvard study only hints, in the final paragraph, that wives insisting their husbands see a doctor is a positive factor in the health of men. Personally, I think it’s the main reason.