Wednesday, January 29, 2014


Here's a funny story about hypochondria: while I was busy barking up the whooping cough tree, I completely missed a legitimate illness that was right under my nose. Here are the clues, extracted directly from my recent blog posts:

"I was too tired to focus my eyes."
"My eyes wouldn't work properly, and I couldn't concentrate worth a hoot."
"in what could now be called full-on zombie mode."
"I am in a constant stupor."

I've saved you the suspense of guessing what was wrong with me by conveniently titling this post with its name, but if you want to play along, here's the story of how I finally clued in to the fact that something was amiss.

By last Wednesday morning (that's 4 days after the onset of symptoms), I had finally gotten a full night of sleep. Yet still, I had this weird disconcerting feeling of being in a dream. It was hard to put my finger on what was wrong, but things just didn't look right to me, like there was a discrepancy between what my eyes were seeing and what my brain was registering. The best way I could describe it was feeling "spacey."

The symptoms were really vague and very subtle, but after days of scrutinizing them, I concluded:
  • Feeling spacey is the primary symptom.
  • At times, when it gets bad, I notice things look like they're subtly rocking, vibrating, or bouncing, and I can feel a faint sensation of the same if I close my eyes.
  • It gets worse in the evenings and after being active.
  • Bright light seems to make it worse—staring at a computer monitor is no fun whatsoever, but oddly, if I get really close to the monitor while reading, I almost feel normal.
  • I have had little to no appetite and on bad days I'm downright nauseated.
Like any good hypochondriac, I turned to the Internet for a diagnosis. What I found was a disturbing number of people who developed the same symptoms mysteriously and never lost them, spending years in a state of unreality. Some people got this way after a neck injury that somehow affected blood flow to their brain. Others just woke up that way one morning. I discovered some migraine sufferers experience similar symptoms, and I spent a day believing I had some incredibly long-lasting migraine.

By Thursday afternoon, I had changed my self-diagnosis to labyrinthitis, based on the fact that it's a fairly common condition that often arises after an upper respiratory infection, which I had just had. On the next Tuesday morning (yesterday, and, if you're counting, 11 days after the first appearance of symptoms), I went to the doctor, who also diagnosed labyrinthitis without any prompting from me.

He said some things that were reassuring and some things that were not: For example, people usually get better on their own, but it was a little unusual that I wasn't getting better yet. He also noted that usually labyrinthitis causes a spinning sensation, so my spaciness and occasional rocking feeling are not exactly par for the course.

To me, this says we're either wrong and there's something else going on entirely, or I'm just a weird bird who can never do anything the normal way. He says if it doesn't improve, he recommends I see an ENT in DC who specializes in vertigo.

Insert witty conclusion here while I go to bed. My eyes are tired.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Confessions of a Hypochondriac: The Whooping Cough Episode

Worrying about my health is something I'm good at, having had a whole lifetime of experience. I've believed I had everything from a heart attack (at the ripe old age of 10) to pancreatic cancer to kidney failure to bowel obstruction.

I never go to the doctor and just say, "Help, I have a cough." No, I go to the doctor and say, "Help, I'm afraid I have whooping cough."

That's the most recent case of hypochondria. I blame my own self. Jestingly using the phrase "whooping it up" in my last blog post as a humorous substitute for "coughing," I unwittingly started an avalanche. Before long, I was thinking of the article I read a few weeks ago, by a sufferer of the ailment, bitterly blaming the parents who chose not to vaccinate their children. Whooping cough (aka pertussis) is becoming more widespread in recent years, and the vaccine I received as a child would have worn off by now. I wonder, as I wheeze in my bed by the light of the moon, what whooping cough feels like. Ah, the Internet can tell me!

By the next day, I am convinced I have whooping cough. At least, there's nothing I've read to indicate I don't. In its early stages, pertussis is just like a cold, developing into an "unremarkable," "occasional," "dry" cough, which is just like mine! After five nights predominated by coughing, I am in a constant stupor from the sleep deprivation (or maybe that's another symptom of my illness). I have to see the doctor!

Never mind that almost everyone in my office got sick at the same time, and they've all mostly recovered. Never mind that everyone around me is coughing like it's Beijing or something. Surely my cough is different, worse, and whooping.

I tell the doctor, half ashamed because I know she's going to think I'm a crackpot and probably post cartoons about me on Facebook, but at the same time I'm not ashamed enough to sweep my fears under the rug. She says, "I don't think you have whooping cough. I haven't heard you cough once since you've been here, and usually whooping cough is continuous." Well, actually, the things I read on the Internet say that most adults with whooping cough only have spells once in a while, but I just nod that she's right. "And," she continues, "Usually whooping cough is not just a tickle in the throat. It's usually a deep chest cough."

I say, sheepishly, "Well, they say it takes about two weeks to get to that stage. I'm worried I just haven't gotten there yet."

She humors me by giving me a prescription for azithromycin, but tells me to first take my nasal steroids for a few days, because she thinks I probably just have irritation from post-nasal drip. I thank her from my heart. She doesn't believe my suspicions, but she's given me what I need to stop worrying.

And it turns out, she was right. I did not have whooping cough. That day, I went to the drugstore and picked up a longer-lasting cough suppressant, took it that night, and my cough pretty much had disappeared by the next day. But what she didn't know was that I had something much more insidious to worry about! Stay tuned for the next installment in this thrilling medical drama.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Can't Get No Sleep

I've always had trouble falling asleep, but I've been taking it to a whole new level this week. I got a cold last Sunday, and about 2 days into it (when the respiratory symptoms caught up with the general malaise) I started having trouble sleeping. Wednesday and Thursday nights were mildly restless, but not enough to make me tired at work. Friday I went out with some friends and got home late.  I slept great that night, but I still missed out on a couple hours of sleep and probably reactivated my cold a little. I was kind of in low-grade zombie mode all Saturday, which was fine because all I had to do was run a few errands in the morning and chug cough syrup the rest of the day.

Cough syrup is an experiment for me. I've never really used it before, mainly because the thought of swilling some sugary concoction of chemicals makes me want to gag, and I prefer doing things the natural way (for the record, slippery elm doesn't help). But after whooping it up for the past couple of days, I decided to bite the bullet and bought some sugar-free Robitussin. It was still nasty. Wish I could have just found it in pill form. But anyway, I think it helped. At least, there were a few hours between doses where I didn't feel the need to cough. But right after each dose was usually, for some reason, a coughing frenzy. Probably the gag reflex kicking in.

Anyway, round about 10:00, I realized I was too tired to focus my eyes, so I got myself into bed and prepared for a nice heavy sleep. The kind I usually get when I've been sleep deprived.

But this time as soon as my head hit the pillow, the tickle in my throat came back with a vengeance! I had brought the cough syrup into bed with me, so I just poured a dose, convulsed for a few minutes, and finally calmed down. Then I tossed and turned for a while and realized that I was feeling restless. I blamed it on the Sudafed. It wasn't supposed to wear off until around 4am, so I prepared for a few uncomfortable hours. It might have been the cough syrup, though. Or the combination.

But then, despite the long-lasting effects of the Sudafed on my sleep, it hadn't worked so well on my congestion. Part of my nose was stuffy, and it was extremely distracting! I had also brought my decongestant spray into bed with me (it works better than Sudafed), so took a few hits of that and lay back down.

Then, at 11, I got a text message! My Airbnb houseguests wanted to know if they could extend their stay another night! I had to rouse myself, check to make sure no one else had booked for the following night, and then let them know they were free to book. Later (too much later), while I was still semi-conscious, they finally made the booking, resulting in another text message at 12:40 and me having to get up again, visit Airbnb and approve their request.

At this point, I realized I was going to need some help, so I opened my old sleep hypnosis app. I don't know why I bother with it, because it never works. I have a very low susceptibility to hypnosis. So then I went on to progressive muscle relaxation.

After that, I might have even dozed a bit, but I know I checked my phone at 2:24 am, because I was getting that throat tickle again and wanted to know if it was time for another dose. Close enough! I swallowed it down, rinsed my mouth assiduously with water, then started worrying that maybe cough syrups only come in syrup form because they have to adhere to your throat to work, and by rinsing it out with water, I was undoing its effects. So then I had to swallow the water and hope I wasn't just throwing my cough syrup down a figurative drain. [later I found out I wasn't, so all of that worrying was for no reason, and all of that vile medicine could be delivered much less disgustingly].

More time passed. I tossed, I turned, I had annoying half-dreams while still being conscious of being awake. I felt like the whole night was that—my mind just drifting from thought to thought and plot to plot until, finally, it was 8 am and I crawled out of bed with great relief, just happy to not have to try to sleep any more. I felt even more tired than I had been when I went to bed. My eyes wouldn't work properly, and I couldn't concentrate worth a hoot!

Normally when I get up after a night of inadequate sleep, I can work for a while, take a nap a few hours later, and then face the day feeling mostly all right. Today, however, I got in bed  around 11, set my alarm for 2 hours, and waited. I got the same old half-dreams I got before. It didn't help that it was right around the time I expected my boyfriend to come online halfway around the world. So I had to leave the computer on and facing my bed just in case. Of course, he didn't come online, but the computer did try to go to sleep, prompting me to get out of bed half an hour into my nap and change the power settings, and then it turned its screen off another 15 minutes later, prompting me to debate whether I should get up again, or just leave it off. I decided to just leave it off, but it was too late; the sleep was already lost. An hour and a half into my sleepless "nap," I decided it just wasn't happening, so I got back up to cook some food in what could now be called full-on zombie mode.

I hope I can sleep again soon, preferably tonight! The last thing I want to do is add insomnia to my list of chronic ailments.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Souvenir of America

Half of our office has been sick over the past two weeks. One coworker was out almost all last week, came in on Friday just to infect two more of us, and then has stayed home again every day this week. I got sick on Sunday and took off the next two days. Another coworker stayed home Monday, and a different one has been taken down today.

For me, it was only a minor cold, but I have learned by now that if I don't singlemindedly hurl myself into bed at the first sign of illness and devote all my resources to recovery, my cold will just get worse over the next three days and I'll end up recuperating for weeks. I could have probably gone in to work yesterday, but I didn't want to wear myself out before my big evening.

You see, yesterday evening was the night I was scheduled to accompany my boyfriend to the airport for his two-week trip to Indonesia.

My presence was entirely unnecessary. I could have just said goodbye at my house. Yesterday morning, I told him I wasn't sure if I should go because I didn't want to get his mom sick. She was supposed to come as well and then drop me off at home while she took his car for maintenance in his absence. He convinced me it would be OK because she had already been sick last week (I was going to argue the "different strains" case, but my throat was too wheezy). So I went. But by the time we actually left his home, the party had expanded by a dad and a nephew. Three of us were crammed into the back seat, and I was feeling regretful and trying hard not to cough too often.

Then we got to the airport. It was packed with people waiting to check in to their flights to destinations all over Asia and possibly Africa, and as I stood with my boyfriend in an interminable line, I told him again how guilty I felt for coming and potentially spreading my cold all around the planet. He then started recounting the entire plot of Contagion, which didn't make me feel a whole lot better.

I tried not to breathe in anyone's direction, and avoided touching my face. I coughed into my coat lapels and tried to do it inconspicuously. He then tried to reassure me by saying that I was just giving everyone a souvenir from the USA.

Happy travels, world! Next time I'm sick, I think I'll stay away from airports.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

"Pasta Macaroni" from Eurasian HotPot

When I went to Eurasian HotPot for my boyfriend's family birthday dinner, I was not expecting much. Not a fan of Asian food, am I (why ever did I choose to get involved with an Asian man!?) But no one else in the party was particularly delighted, either. Especially with the prices.

Whatever. The "Eur" part in the name ensured, at least, that there were some dishes more to my liking, and of course I took the opportunity to try their macaroni. But then it was so underwhelming, I forgot to review it for weeks after eating it.

OK, to be honest, it was very well prepared and had some interesting weird flavor that I now can't remember. All in all, I liked it, except that it was rather short on cheese. Why do you think I eat macaroni—for the noodles?

So I give it one happy noodle for being interesting, and one sad noodle for not having enough cheese.
1 happy noodle 1sad noodle