Health Scares R Us

meowser-48.jpg posted by meowser

So. The day after I posted last, I had an appointment to see my doctor to do a Pap smear so I could get my Mircette. Only a funny thing happened on my way to the drugstore: He didn’t like the looks of my cervix.

Now, my doctor is not the kind of person to freak out about nothing. This is a guy, after all, who when I mentioned proactively that I’d gained some weight on Remeron, just shrugged and said, “Yeah, that causes the most weight gain of all the antidepressants.” So if he didn’t like the looks of my cervix, I couldn’t imagine what could possibly be wrong with it. I used to be the kind of person who owned her own speculum and looked at her cervix every month, but I’ve moved so many times in adulthood that I couldn’t possibly tell you when the last time was I saw that damn speculum. Somewhere between L.A. and Bakersfield, I lost it. Therefore, I had no idea what my cervix was “supposed” to look like now, not having actually seen it in over a decade.

He said my cervix was “friable”; that is, it bled easily to touch. He would send the Pap out, but he also wanted me to go for a colposcopy (an exam where they stain the cervix and look at it microscopically) at my gyno’s office. I’m just at the age when deaths from natural causes start to become statistically significant, although not nearly as much so as after age 65. Plus I’ve typed and edited thousands of medical reports in my life, in every health care discipline there is; I know perfectly well you can be “healthy” one minute and terminally ill (or at least having a life-threatening health issue) the next, and not have any symptoms to tip you off that you’ve gone over the line. (Which is one reason the epi-panickers blowing a gasket about people being “unhealthy” just makes me kind of snortlaugh to the point of sinus pain; in the vast majority of people, you SO can’t tell by looking.)

So of course, my first thought was yikes, cervical cancer. Which actually has a very high rate of survival, because it grows very slowly, and usually doesn’t even require chemo and radiation unless you have a very advanced case or you are one of the very few women with adenocarcinoma of the cervix rather than the far more common squamous cell type. (And it’s thought to be caused by a virus spread by sexual contact — human papillomavirus, or HPV — so, completely unrelated to fat.) At worst, then, I was looking at some unpleasant surgery, that’s about it. And also I had a urinary tract infection, my first, oh joyous Noel. So I got antibiotics plus some Diflucan to ward off yeast infection. But I was hardly even thinking about that. The doctor said if there were any cancer cells they’d probably show up on the Pap, and thus began what felt like the longest week of my life: waiting for the Pap results to come back. I don’t want to die. I don’t want to die.

I ask you, does this sound like the mental contents of a self-destructive person? A fatty who just wants to eat herself to death? Why would I take the fucking Remeron in the first place if I just wanted to slip away into nothingness? It would have been so easy to do. Instead, here I am taking the fucking Remeron, getting fatter, and hoping desperately that I don’t have the big C.

So I scheduled the colposcopy, which he wanted me to have even if the Pap was negative. Oh, and while I was at it, I scheduled that mammogram too, for the day after the colpo. Might as well get all my health scares over with at once, I figured.

And then I missed my period. For the first time ever. I’d had late periods before I was on birth control pills, but never, ever did I miss one. But that Saturday, when I’d normally get it, I had one or two tiny little red streaks, and that was it. I’m going to die, and I’m pregnant at age forty-fucking-five. And we haven’t even gotten to how diseased my boobs are yet.

The net result of this is, I set my digestive tract on fire. I gagged on and then vomited up my Bactrim. (Why do they have to make such giant uncoated horsepills out of the stuff, anyway?) I couldn’t eat anything but soup. C. mentioned ordering a pizza, and my colon screamed, “NO! DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT.” When the very thought of cheese makes me gag, I know I’m ill. Raw vegetables were out. Citrus fruit was out. I hiccuped like a cartoon stork and farted hard enough to blast me clean out of my chair and on to the floor. Gastritis. I haz it.

Anyway, the bottom line was, everything turned out to be negative. The Pap was totally negative, which my doctor said “surprised” him, given the frightening appearance of my cervix. They gave me a pregnancy test too. Negative. The labs were all negative. Even my cholesterol was better. The only thing wrong was my vitamin D level, which, as with almost everyone who lives in this part of the country, was too low. The colposcopy turned up nothing but some inflammatory changes which my gyno said were probably from a series of yeast infections. Nothing cancerous. Nothing pre-cancerous. She didn’t even want a biopsy. Whew. She said, “You kind of have to take what he says with a grain of salt when he does a Pap smear. He might do one every couple of months; I do several every day. He doesn’t know cervixes the way I do.” The missed period, she said, probably signaled the start of perimenopause, although it’s possible I could get periods on and off for the next decade, and you’re not technically considered to be in menopause until you’ve had no periods at all for a year. I think I’m going to her for my next Pap.

The mammo wasn’t that bad either. As it turns out, my boobs flatten out pretty easily, so they didn’t need to take multiple pictures. The side views were kind of pinchy, but only for a few seconds. And today I got the results of that. Negative.

Yay, negative. Everything negative. Blood oranges, here I come.

The only problem I still have left is this damn UTI. Two rounds of antibiotics and I can’t get rid of it. I’m on the home remedies now — cranberry juice, and cream of tartar dissolved in water, the latter of which tastes kind of like flat Alka-Seltzer. If that doesn’t work, I’ll have to go get a urine culture and more targeted meds.

But really, with all the freaking out about fat in the media, one thing you don’t see all that much people freaking out about that they should be freaking out about is antibiotic abuse. For decades, in Western society, we’ve taken antibiotics, or given them to our kids, for every little thing. People get a cold and they want antibiotics for it; this story, by Dr. Dean Edell via KGO-TV, quotes an ER physician as saying “doctors write for antibiotics over 40 percent of the time when someone comes to them with a cold.” That is just ridiculous. This piece (and another of Dr. Edell’s about antibiotic abuse) puts the focus on the danger to the individual patient of taking unnecessary antibiotics (i.e. if you take them when you don’t really need them, they won’t work so hot when you do really need them).

But Dr. Edell, in his book Eat, Drink, & Be Merry: America’s Doctor Tells You Why the Health Experts are Wrong, goes even further in describing why this is dangerous: People swilling antibiotics at random creates strains of antibiotic-resistant superbugs, which then go on to infect other people. Given that sepsis (infection that spreads to the blood) is an extremely common and very debilitating problem for people over 65, especially, if Obama et al really want to reduce Medicare costs, that seems to be what they should be concentrating their efforts on, not hounding people to lose weight. Some bouts of sepsis can cost people serious poundage; when you get that sick that you can’t keep anything down for months, you’ll be glad to have the padding to spare.

So I beg of you, don’t beg your doctor for antibiotics. Ever. If s/he thinks you really need them, s/he will say so. Unless, of course, you have a complete assbag of a practitioner on your hands who thinks your abscess will go away if you diet.


19 Responses to “Health Scares R Us”

  1. lilacsigil Says:

    I work in pharmacy, and every single time I give out antibiotics, I tell people to take the whole course, even though they will probably feel better long before they finish it. We also have local doctors who will not give out antibiotics without an actual diagnosis of a bacterial infection (except in the very elderly or frail). People are starting to hear the message.

    And I’m so glad to hear everything is clear! Awesome!

    (My vitamin D is low despite having very pale skin, eating plenty of dairy, living in the country with the highest skin cancer rate in the world, and having had two suspicious moles cut off already. It may be thyroid-related in my case, or possibly geeky-lifestyle related. Either way, it’s easy to fix.)

  2. Kate Harding Says:

    So glad everything was negative, Meowser. And holy crap, right on about the antibiotic abuse. My pediatrician used to give me antibiotics for EVERYTHING — most often bronchitis, which is only rarely caused by bacteria. And whaddaya know, I was chronically ill as a child. Unfortunately, I kept going to that pediatrician all the way through high school, so it wasn’t until college that I found out what it was like to go longer than about two months between illnesses that required time off school. And it wasn’t until a couple years after that that I read what antibiotics can do to your immune system and put two and two together. Hey, look at that, I haven’t been taking antibiotics every time I get a cough, and now I get way fewer coughs! WHO KNEW? (Oh, I was also on a low but friggin’ daily dose of erythromycin for about 2 years in high school, because that was part of my dermatologist’s ultimately futile acne-fighting strategy. I don’t think they’re supposed to do that anymore. I really hope they don’t.)

    Even after all that, my mind was blown just a few years ago, when I had an ear infection that started getting really painful during the evening, after the doc’s office and walk-in clinics were closed. When I was a kid, such circumstances would lead to an ER visit — and an antibiotic prescription. At 30ish, I was not keen on that idea, but I also sincerely believed I needed antibiotics to cure the infection. Fortunately, I thought to ask the internet, and for once, that actually made me CALMER about an illness. Several reputable sites said that antibiotics aren’t usually required for ear infections, and won’t necessarily even shorten the length of the infection. (Indeed, the infection cleared up on its own.) My gast, she was flabbered. I was hip to overprescription of antibiotics at that point, but still totally believed ear infections were on the list of things you DO always need them for. (Now, I realize they’re probably just prescribed for childhood ear infections a lot to make parents feel like they’re doing something to fix it when their kids are screaming in pain.)

    Aaaanyway. Plural of anecdote is not data, correlation is not causation, yadda, but I really think frequent antibiotic use blew out my immune system for almost the first 20 years of my life, and I’m pissed about it. You are so right that it’s a public health issue. But I’m not holding my breath for pharmaceutical companies and the government to grow a conscience about it.

  3. wellroundedtype2 Says:

    So glad everything is negative. It’s positively negative!
    And, how nice to not have to think about things (except the UTI) for a while.

    So glad you have taken the path away from nothingness.
    Thanks for putting things into perspective.

    Remember, fat is love!

  4. spacedcowgirl Says:

    Great perspectives on this stuff, and I’m so glad all your test results looked good.

  5. Bekbek Says:

    I don’t know why “he doesn’t know cervixes like I do” tickles me, but it does.
    I hate hate HATE antibiotics, so I usually ask three or four times if I really need them on those rare doctor visits. ( health insurance, I do not has)

  6. sannanina Says:

    I did my required internship during my undergraduate studies in biochemistry and cell biology on antibiotic resistance mechanisms. Don’t get me started. My boss was am MD who specialized in bacterial infections (he was an attending in the university hospital I worked for and in addition to doing his research he also was called whenver patients had particularly hard to treat infections). He wasn’t talking to nicely about drug companies or his average colleague when it comes to preventing and treating bacterial infections. A lot of drug companies at least at that time did not search very actively for new antibiotics because they new that bacteria would eventually get resistant and so there was not that much money to be made (I have no idea if that has changed in any way). Doctors on the other hand tended to overprescribe antibiotics by giving them to patients with an infection without ever testing if that infection was bacterial, viral, or fungal. And practically no one ever checked for the particular strain of bacteria which had infected a patient before prescribing the first antibiotic which also can contribute to antibiotic resistance. Also, at least here in Germany some infections that people acquire in hospitals could be avoided by better hospital hygiene, and I am not talkig about the use of desinfectants (although they certainly have their use). Cleaning with completely normal, non-desinfectant cleaning agents already reduces the presence of bacteria a great deal.

  7. lilacsigil Says:

    Sannanina – you are completely right about the cleaning. Unfortunately, hospital funding has been squeezed by successive governments and put into more administration and fewer cleaners, meaning that wards are not properly cleaned and infection spreads. There’s a nasty political meme going around to the effect that “nurses are uppity and won’t clean anymore like in the good old days, and that’s why wards are dirty”. This is designed to not only put highly trained, mostly female staff “in their place”, but take the pressure off the actual lack of funding. It’s not like there’s an excess of nurses to even do nurses’ actual jobs, let alone taking on cleaning tasks as well.

  8. littlem Says:

    I’ve heard cranberry juice is good for the UTI, bebe. Do you have an ND or a homeopathic nutritionist with whom you could check that out?

  9. sannanina Says:

    lilacsigil, I was not suggesting that nurses should clean the wards. I worked myself in hospital for a year as a full-time volunteer (you still get paid – it’s a govenment supported program here) and I know that the nursing staff really doesn’t have the resources to do that. Also, considering that nurses are quite highly qualified, why should they clean and doctors shouldn’t? And I also know that it’s not the fault of the cleaning personal. In the hospital where I worked the cleaning personal was underpaid and at the same time had to clean an incredibly large area in an increadibly short time. Not to talk about that the cleaning staff consisted practically only of women with an immigrant backgroud who often did not speak German very well and therefore had a hard time to read the labels of the very aggressive and sometimes even toxic cleaning agents they used – and of course no one took the time to explain to them how to use those cleaning agents or to think if using substances like that were necessary. It’s a bit ironic if the cleaning staff in a hospital puts their health at risk by working there…

    What I don’t get is why there isn’t more money in health care spent on keeping hospitals clean when a the same time it is well known that this would be a relatively small investment that still could reap huge benefits? (A similar rant goes for bad quality hospital food, actually.)

    It does sound as if problems in hospitals on this side of the Atlantic ocean are not really that different from the ones on your side, though…

  10. lilacsigil Says:

    Sannanina – sorry, I’ve been unclear. I didn’t think *you* suggested that nurses should clean wards. Nurses have enough to do already! It is a suggestion commonly made here in Australia. And I agree, the super anti-bacterial, highly toxic cleaners are a substitute for hiring more people, and risking the health of the people they do employ.

    I think that recent governments have tried to make healthcare like any other industry, which it certainly is not. “Customers” don’t choose to engage with the health system because there’s a product they want – “patients” engage because they are sick and/or want to prevent themselves becoming sick. Healthcare will always be costly, but the benefits are huge – and people are willing to pay taxes to support it. It would seem that upping hospital spending would be a win/win situation, but apparently not! (There are other, Australia-specific issues affecting our hospitals, such as the Commonwealth vs states battles, but that’s not the main problem.)

  11. buttercup Says:

    hooray for negative results!

    Might be stress as well on the no period thing. I stopped literally right in the middle of a period when I had my accident last year and didn’t start up again until I was almost ready to be discharged from the nursing home 3 1/2 months later.

  12. sannanina Says:

    Lilacsigil, just wanted to say sorry that I was kind of assuming that you were American :o) (Therefore the Atlantic ocean comment…) This is completely off-topic (sorry Meowser)… it’s just that I have sometimes felt mildly annoyed when people assumed I was American/ was speaking about the American system/ etc. Not because I have a problem with Americans, but because I think it is important to recognize our different national backgrounds and the resulting different experiences we have made.

  13. Meowser Says:

    No problem at all, Sannanina! I share your concern about hospital-related infections. I think most people who work in hospitals are pretty conscientious about sterilization, but of course when there’s understaffing there’s a lot more room for error.

    Lilacsgil, for whatever it’s worth, my doctor thinks almost everyone on earth has subtherapeutic vitamin D.

    WRT2: Yeah, fat is love! Dig it!

    SCG: Thanks, you and me both!

    Bekbek: Hee! Yeah, she’s a real crackup. I really like her.

    Littlem: Yes, I do know an ND in town, that’s certainly a possibility if I can’t make this thing go away. (It does feel like it’s getting a little better, so maybe it’s starting to work.) Fortunately, it’s not causing any real pain.

    Buttercup: Yeah, that’s certainly possible, too. But I’ve been stressed before and not missed periods because of it. On the pill they come pretty much on schedule. That’s pretty amazing, though, that they’d start up again after 3-1/2 months. I guess when you’re in your 40s you just don’t know what you’re going to get…

  14. Anita Says:

    Congrats! That’s the most scary feeling ever (except when the docs want to take pictures of whatever you have – that’s the scariest thing ever, because you know they’re plotting their next paper.)

    The other thing they don’t tell you about antibiotic use is that it’ll do a number on your normal flora, making you more vulnerable to things like, um, gastritis. And it can *really* do a number if something nasty moves in while your normal flora are languishing (toxic mega-colon is one delightful potential result, for one). On the other hand, they’re a god-send when you get the right ones for the right condition.

  15. wellroundedmama Says:

    Meowser, I’m so happy you got good results. I know the agony of waiting; I’ve done it too. You just feel like OMG OMG OMG OMG all the time. Such a relief to get a good report! Yay!

    Blueberries are good for UTIs as well as cranberries. Eat ’em up!!! The key though is to not take sugar with the juice….unsweetened cranberry juice (pucker up!) or you can also take cranberry capsules if you can’t take the sour. The sugar can add to the UTI. Just get the cran acidity.

    Please keep a watch that the UTI doesn’t migrate north to your kidneys. Drink lots of water and don’t be afraid to do some follow-up if you continue to feel badly. Don’t forget probiotics to re-populate the good bacteria in there! If you continue to have problems, acupuncture might also be something to consider.

    As far as missing a period goes, your infections may simply have delayed your ovulation. You may still get your period eventually, but when will depend on how long ovulation got delayed. I wouldn’t rule out skipping the period but at 45 most people are still having periods pretty regularly, so it’s more likely it just got delayed by all the grief your body has been through this month.

    Feel better soon, and email me privately with the results of your vit D numbers!! We’ll have a low D contest! 😀

  16. JeanC Says:

    Glad everything came out negative. I hate the messages from doctors who say “oh, we need more tests” after a regular procedure. A few years ago I got a letter from the clinic after a PAP saying they found something weird and to give them a call. I got the letter on a Friday, and luckily I had gone to check my post box on my lunch hour, otherwise I would have gotten it late Friday night. As it was I was a wreak, but luckily my boss let me borrow the phone in his office to call the clinic as soon as I got back.

    As for perimnopause, wellroundedmama is probably right. Most women our age are still having regular periods. But if you are sliding into it, welcome to the club. I’m 47 and have been perimenopausal for a few years now and poor hubby has been having fun dealing with me…NOT! It actually isn’t that bad and I am enjoying not having periods much anymore. Now I just need to get a handle on the periodic hot flashes and mood swings. Luckily for me Evening Primrose Oil helps for the hot flashes (they aren’t hot flashes, they are my inner child playing with matches LOL) and liberal application of chocolate helps with the mood swings 😀

    Finally, on the subject of antibiotics, I avoid them like the plague as much as possible. The only time I will go on them is if I get a serious case of bronchitis and then I get the most basic one possible and go the full 10 day course. I’ve tired Zythomax, the 3 day antibiotic, but the side effects made untreated bronchitis preferable 😛

  17. meowser Says:

    Kate (who I just found in my spamtrap!): Yeah, no kidding. Strep throat is another one that they always used to tell us to take penicillin for, since the theory was (still is) that rheumatic fever could result from an untreated strep throat. But sometimes they’d give the penicillin without taking a throat culture first, which is just gloryhallastoopid. And I’m pretty sure the cervix shit arose from yeast infections that occurred with the penicillin usage, since almost nobody would warn you of the connection. Gargh.

    Anita: Yeah, it did occur to me that the antibiotics weren’t helping the condition of my stomach any either.

    Well-Rounded Mama: I’m eating yogurt whenever I can. And as soon as I find out what my “D number” is, I’ll let you know. (They just said it was “too low,” they didn’t give me a number.) I’m on vitamin D liquid now.

    JeanC: “My inner child playing with matches,” HAHAHAHAHA. My mom said hot flashes literally felt like being set on fire for 60 seconds. I can hardly wait.

  18. And Now I Am Deathfat… « fat fu Says:

    […] I kind of regard it as an interesting novelty more than anything else. (It does help immensely that I don’t have fat-shaming doctors. You have no idea how grateful I am for […]

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