Cambodia: Not the Place for Medical Mysteries


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Asia » Cambodia » South » Phnom Penh
March 1st 2011
Published: March 12th 2011
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Here's why I haven't blogged for two months: I've been sick. Or rather, I've been afflicted with a condition. It's probably one of the most uncomfortable non-illnesses one could possibly hope to go through, unless of course you like living in a state of starvation, panic, and an oppressive sense of death pervading every facet of life.

I don't wanna be one of those people who just complains about their illnesses all the time and grosses people out with their symptoms; on the other hand, I feel like you have a right to know what prevented me from doing anything (including this blog) other than lying in bed as a blithering idiot for the past two months.

It started shortly after I recovered from the previous illness that has been the subject of several other entries, like this one, and this one, and this one. It was apparently some sort of monster virus that likes to take as many surrounding organs as possible with it as it dies.

So what were my symptoms? A better question is, What weren't my symptoms? Well, I didn't throw up, and I didn't have a cough. I didn't have any convulsions, either; but I had pretty much every other symptom known to man.

I woke up one morning and didn't feel right. I was weak, shaky and my mouth was dry. I didn't much feel like walking to school, but I did anyway. I tried to put the blame on the nightmares I'd suffered for the last three nights that prevented me from going back to sleep. (Usually, I only have nightmares maybe once or twice a year).

Two weeks later, I was still shaky and messed up. My bowels and bladder were in an uproar all the time. My entire body had fever cramps, in my upper back, lower back, shoulders, neck, and thighs. I could no longer think clearly. I assumed I had a bladder infection (which, incidentally, has never happened to me before).

So I got antibiotics.

Then all hell broke loose. My neck began aching. My ears began aching. And itching. All the glands in my neck and throat and jaw swelled up and I broke out in multiple cold sores. My eyes were itchy and sore and red and I wanted to die. My left leg started hurting; then my fingers started hurting, in the joints. Looking down at this improbably early arthritis, I noted with terror that my fingers were moving and shaking of their own accord. I knew then that I was going to die. There was no escape. My life was over.

Over the next week, the following things happened, in no particular order:

Starvation. I was INSANELY hungry, all the time. I couldn't go more than 3 hours without eating, or else I would face a total blood-sugar crash. I couldn't eat any sugar or carbs, because it made me totally nauseous. I could only eat meat and vegetables. I WAS EATING OUT OF THE GARBAGE.

Panic Attacks. I've never had a panic attack in my life. I'm pretty hard to worry or scare. Yet my body would simply go into them of its own accord. They were not induced by my thoughts (which were often non-existent, or in gibberish). My heart would race, I would be unable to catch my breath, and I was pervaded my the oppressive sense that I was going to die. It was like one large, month-long panic attack.

Insomnia. I would sleep for three to six hours a night. After this, it was impossible to sleep any more. It was impossible to nap for more than 20 minutes. On the rare nights that I got enough sleep, I would wake up with my heart STILL racing, feeling even worse than when I went to bed.

Shell-shock. I became extremely noise-sensitive--sensitive, as in COMPLETE AND TOTAL SHELL SHOCK. Cats fighting in the middle of the night would wake me up in a state of terror, which they don't generally do. Going back to sleep was out of the question. My phone ringing in the cool quiet of the evening was enough to send me into an hours-long panic attack, heart racing, gasping for air, with the knowledge that I was about to die. Walking along busy roads was an overwhelmingly stressful experience from the innermost circle of Hell.

Hell-fire. Sitting in a cool room felt like a boiler room. Going outside was enough to make me weep with misery. I had a fever between 99 and 100 at all times (I normally run quite low and don't feel the heat at all). I can now claim a record-breaking 24-hour hot flash.

The Burn. My muscles began to burn and stiffen as if I were doing heavy physical excercize all the time (even though I was generally lying in bed). At times, they would totally paralyze.

If you want to know what this felt like, go out and do 100 lunges. DON'T STOP NO MATTER WHAT. Keep doing those lunges, all one hundred. Sometime along the way, you will learn what it felt like for me to get out of bed and go to the bathroom.

Anemia. I had INSANE cravings for random foods. Cravings as in, I suffered physical pain and was utterly convinced my body was going to implode if I didn't immediately eat something such as fish, green vegetables, Cheerios, ice chips, or clay dust. And some of those things aren't even food!!

Blinding brain fog. Brain fog enough to put Chief Bromden to shame. I could hardly see straight, always felt half asleep. My head was floating, light hurt my eyes, and I forgot language. Focusing on another human being was out of the question. I thought I was having strokes. Imagine trying to teach an English class in this condition!

Something close to a heart attack. My heart would race in even in my sleep, I was gasping as if there were no oxygen in the air. Going to the grocery became a major feat equivalent to the Iron Man competition. Going up the stairs? Forget it! I tried going up the three flights of stairs to my apartment one night, and it knocked me into a pulmonary crisis. My heart was doing about a million beats per minute, I gasped for a quarter of an hour, and my chest became tight and painful. It looked terrifying like this wonderful gem:

LEONARDO DICAPRIO CONVINCINGLY FAKES A PULMONARY CRISIS! Sorry, I couldn't figure out how to embed the video.

I didn't realize till then just how fabulous an actor DiCaprio really is.

So, I came to the logical conclusion that obviously the cipro I took for the bladder infection had poisoned me. Gasping, I staggered to the local clinic. I was convinced I would drop dead right there. No one could possibly know what was wrong with me. I was a freak of nature and my time had come. In between gasps, I woefully described my symptoms to the nice Khmer doctor.

The doctor took one look at me, and diagnosed me with hyperthyroidism. To this day, I believe this is true, however...

...the blood test came back negative. He dismissed me, in the middle of my DiCaprio-esque pulmonary crisis, telling me it was all in my head. That insulting indignity that doctors like to tell young females. "You're hysterical...you need a vacation...it's all in your head." WELL OF COURSE I AM HYSTERICAL--MY BODY IS IMPLODING BEFORE OUR EYES.

I went back a week later for a second opinion. I was willing to pay for a re-test, but the wonderful foreign doctor who examined me that time dismissed my thyroid within the first 20 seconds of our conversation. "It doesn't present like that!" she snapped. (The Hell it doesn't). She then went on to tell me my brain was messed up, because my pupils were dilated. OF COURSE THEY WERE DILATED--my heart was racing 24/7 and we were inside a dark building! She told me I needed a brain scan and that I was screwed.

Keep in mind, this is not something you tell someone who was been in a state of total panic for the last three weeks. I was internally freaking out at this point.

THEN--and this is the really atrocious part--she tried to accuse me of being an end-stage drug addict. I admit that I must have looked like one: my skin sallow, my cheeks flushed, heavy dark rings all the way around my bloodshot eyes, every rib showing below my collarbone. But, she wouldn't let it go. She tried from every angle to find out what drugs, chemicals, substances, and "recreational outlets" I use. She just wouldn't let up! Despite my tearful denials and desperate pleadings she simply would not accept the fact that I am not a drug user. She blamed me for my problems and then dismissed me, saying, "I don't know what you're doing, but you need to stop it! You're going to lose everything you have, and soon."

And I still had to pay for this "service".

I didn't have the presence of mind to argue the bill at the time; my tuk-tuk driver took me out for lunch where I bawled my eyes out in my degradation and misery. Couldn't the medical establishment see that I was dying of a very real illness? And yet they blamed me for my weeks of horror, terrified me into thinking the end was quite near, and then called me a drug addict!

(I must come clean now: I am a total dork. I do not do drugs. I never have. I never will. I don't even like to take prescription drugs. Not even over-the-counter pain-killers. My reader must acknowledge that drugs were not my problem here.)

I can tell you what the problem was--the unprofessionalism of the Naga Clinic. The Western-run Naga Clinic. The Naga Clinic that ripped me out of a fabulous sum of cash and could have been better run by the local people any day of the year. Because, from all accounts I have read, I was INDEED suffering from a thyroid problem, likely a super-rare viral inflammation. The initial aches and pains, the acute symptoms, the time-frame, the fact that it came on the heels of a bad bronchial virus--all of these things point to it. I really haven't found a better explanation despite my weeks of searching.

I am not wrong, but the blood test was. I can say with almost 100%!c(MISSING)ertainity, that they analyzed the wrong vial of blood. Likely, since the nurse who drew the blood came in without any papers, didn't speak English, and only drew one vial, likely they mixed it up with the young man lying on a cot next to me. Which means that HE got diagnosed with MY anemia, infection, and malnutrition. GAH!!

Luckily, I do have some good news. I seem (SEEM) to be on the mend now. This is not, however, like having the flu where you wake up one morning no longer feeling sick. It's been a long, slow, multi-week process that's still quite distressing--I have moments where I just want to switch off the brain and sleep. I'm still feeling abnormally hot and tired, and my fingers still shiver on occasion. My eyes are still bloodshot, swollen, and ringed, in such a way that it's literally embarrassing to go into public. Last week, I suddenly had 3 of the worst migraines in my life (I usually only have that many per year, and they don't make me sick) and still I have not been able to totally shake the headaches. And on Monday, my entire left leg went numb. I'm hoping I don't have something more serious, like Graves' Disease.

There are times when I question how much I am improving, but the fact is, despite having bad days, I am pretty much able to function like I did prior to all this illness. The really real good news is that next, get to be HYPOTHYROID. That means I won't be able to wake up, get out of bed, and start my day. I get to sit around my apartment in physical pain, depressed and suicidal. I'll lose my job and lie here mired in apathy about this. I have up to a 15%!c(MISSING)hance of never recovering from this.

Isn't that wonderful??


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15th March 2011

GEEZ!!
Lol...I'm sorry to laugh but your writing is so good I can hear you telling this story out loud. I'm sorry your feeling so crappy and out of whack. I can't believe your in Cambodia! How cool is that...I'm still stuck in crappy Ohio...ugh. Well, keep writing, you seem to be very good at that. -Cat

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