If you’ve been following my blog since before October 2016 or so, you might remember that I attempted to return to work on October 24th, six weeks after my brain surgery. You may also remember that it was a complete disaster and I have been unable to work since.
But since that was a one-off failure, I don’t count that day as my last day of work. The day that gets that designation in my book is June 10th.
That’s right. I haven’t really worked in a whole year. Hence the reason I don’t even count that day in October.
What happened on June 10, 2016 was a very ill-timed fluke. I was trying my hardest to deal with the side effects from the bromocriptine I was taking to shrink my brain tumor. Daily, I experienced headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, and nausea. These issues had gotten worse since the previous month when my endocrinologist doubled my daily dose of bromocriptine because my prolactin level still hadn’t normalized. I was on a slew of medications to deal with the side effects of one medication. Additionally, I was on another slew of medications to help me try to function through the severe pelvic pain I was experiencing that I was already scheduled to have surgery for on July 13th.
On top of all of this, I was having a severe flare of joint pain and inflammation that had started at the beginning of May. This particular week in June was a bad one. For all intents and purposes, I had an unpleasant insight into what it’s like to have rheumatoid arthritis. My hands were so swollen, I couldn’t wear my rings and I couldn’t make my hands into fists. The pain in my hips, knees, and feet made walking a painful challenge; for an hour or so after getting out of bed, I basically waddled around like a penguin. I had scheduled a soonest-available appointment with a rheumatologist, but it wasn’t until September 1st. ?
Thus the backdrop is set for that fateful night. I now turn to my journal to relay the tale.
“All was going well. We got several admissions in the first two hours I was there, but census dropped to 80, so we had plenty of room.
“Then around midnight, my head started to feel funny. Like I had a headache coming on, on the top half of my head, but it was making me feel dizzy and lightheaded. I ate my apple with peanut butter and my strawberry yogurt in case that was just my body’s way of telling me to eat something. But I wasn’t feeling any better. I was starting to feel hot and diaphoretic. So I asked the M40 nurses if they could check my blood sugar, which they did once they found out the special code for a non-emergency check. It was 105 and my blood pressure was 129/88, so at least from a vitals perspective I was fine.
“But I felt so awful, I knew there was no possible way I could make it through the night. So after some more running around dealing with a cancer patient in the PICU who coded while all this was going on, we finally had a quiet moment and I decided to call [a coworker]. I knew I couldn’t call [a different coworker] because she was working a double that day. So I called [the first coworker] at 1:30 am, crying and blubbering that I was so sorry to wake her but I felt so sick and could she come in. She said absolutely, although she still had to shower and everything. So I stuck it out until she got there, doing what I could do, all the while holding back my dry heaves. At one point I went to the bathroom and tried to make myself vomit so I could feel better but it didn’t work. I kept crying and praying that she would get there soon as I watched the clock like a hawk. Finally, she arrived at 3 am. She gave me a big hug and said it was no problem at all and to go home. She offered to call David to come get me, but since he’s in Iceland, that was obviously a no-go.
“As soon as I left the building, I started bawling, which made me retch into the little Ziploc bag I had, so I made myself stop crying so I wouldn’t get sick. I somehow managed to make it home, although I don’t know how. Luckily the roads are deserted at 3 am.”
I ended up sleeping for 22 hours once I got home. I felt just as sick for the following two nights I was supposed to work, so I called off. I then had a week off (night shift works 7 on/7 off). But when I was getting ready to go into work a week later, I briefly passed out in the shower. I continued to feel awful, and by the end of that week, I had made the decision to go on extended medical leave until after my recovery from my July surgery (this was before we knew I’d be having brain surgery.) But one thing led to another and before I knew it…well, you see where I am now.
So what made me so sick that night? My rheumatologist was actually the one to figure it out. He suspected I didn’t have RA (I don’t, yay!) so he ran some other blood tests. Turns out I had a parvovirus infection, which can mimic the symptoms of RA exactly, as well as cause the other flu-like symptoms I had that night. The RA-like symptoms finally resolved around the end of July. The other symptoms never really went away until after my brain surgery in September.
I have never felt so ashamed about how my health affected my co-workers as I did that night. My coworker who came in was scheduled to work a 12-hour shift that day, plus she had tickets to go to the NBA finals game that night because our team was in the finals (and they are again this year, go figure.) And knowing her, at the time I called her, she had probably just fallen asleep. But I really had no other options. I don’t really know how everything worked out that night because I haven’t really spoken more than a few words to her since. That was actually the last time I saw her, too.
I never thought when I walked into the hospital that night that it would basically be my last shift. The previous three nights had gone really well. I was exhausted and in pretty severe pain, as usual, but I was able to manage my symptoms all right. I was wearing a colorful shirt with the hospital logo on it with my scrub pants and a brand-new pair of sneakers that I bought just for working nights.
But as I walked out of the hospital that night, sobbing and retching into a plastic bag…call it intuition, call it God, I somehow knew it was the last time…and that’s why I cried.