June 14, 2013

Hospitalization, Trauma and Recovery

Warning: this is a long post, but my illness was a long and difficult ordeal. It's been quiet around here, and with good reason. After my last post I suffered a relapse and ended up back in the ER on Sunday, May 19, only this time I was admitted to the hospital. Initial blood work showed I had a white cell count of 36,000 - normal is 5-10,000 - indicating an infection rather than the earlier suspected virus.

I woke up at 6am that Sunday with a fever of 105.2. I spent hours in bed covered in ice packs, drinking tons of cold liquids, praying the cocktail of Tylenol and Advil would kick in. It was too early to call anyone and it was a Sunday - I knew I'd never reach my doctor. I was able to keep my temperature in the mid 103s, but something more was wrong. After trying my doctor, his answering service, his back up doctor, and his answering service, I made the decision to start an antibiotic that had been prescribed to me "just in case" earlier in the week. I took just one pill. That one pill plus my incredibly high white count managed to blow any chance of having conclusive blood cultures so they never identified the source of my infection.

The other issue was my strange set of symptoms, or lack thereof. I exhibited some of the symptoms of meningitis, but not all. So they did a lumbar puncture to rule it out. It wasn't a pleasant experience.

I had symptoms of pneumonia, yet my chest x-ray was clear. I had abdominal pain, but no digestive issues. I had severe head and neck pain, but my head CT was normal. I had back and flank pain, but my kidneys looked fine in a CAT scan. The only thing we were able to confirm was the myriad of illness I definitely didn't have. I was diagnosed with Sepsis of unknown origin, which is a widespread infectious and inflammatory state. Many people who get Sepsis have major organ failure and some die from complications. Luckily I'm healthy and my body is strong, so test after test showed I was fine aside from the infection.

By Monday morning my fever had broken and my white count dropped to 25,000. I was responding to broad spectrum IV antibiotics. They continued to do more tests and I felt like a human pin cushion, but still no answers. By Tuesday my white count dropped to 10,000 and by Wednesday it was 8,900. My fever never returned and the antibiotics were doing their job. My infectious diseases specialist decided to transition me to an oral antibiotic, monitor me, and hopefully release me if I continued to improve. I was finally released Wednesday night, May 22.

The aftermath of the experience and recovery were more difficult than I imagined, which I why I haven't posted an update. I spent the first 10 days in constant fear of a relapse and felt emotional over the whole experience. I was still very tired and needed a lot of rest. I was suffering from severe and debilitating tension headaches that required a hardcore prescription to even function. I had a flight booked to see my sister in DC over Memorial Day weekend but I was too sick to fly so I cancelled last minute, bought a train ticket and slept all the way to DC. I needed to be with family and it turned out to be better than any drug prescribed.

I started light training five days after my release, and eased into a semi-normal schedule the following week. Each day I felt stronger and was so thankful to be active again. I started going out, seeing friends and catching up on life. I got back on my bike and rode 92 miles despite the nearly three-week hiatus. I've had multiple follow-up tests, and the final results came back today: I couldn't be healthier.

I will never know what caused my illness and I have to be ok with that. The only thing I know for sure is that I will never take my health for granted. I went from riding 137 miles in a weekend to barely being able to walk across a room. I lost 10 pounds in seven days (not such a bad thing actually!) and was in some level of pain for more than 21 days. But now... now I feel better than ever and have put this behind me. I have some huge training weeks coming up and a half Ironman next weekend. I'm back on track.


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