My Covid Testing Experience

In this year where any kind of disaster imaginable seems possible, one could hardly blame me for being a little jumpy. Over the past couple of weeks, at my job’s temperature checks, I have realized that my core body temperature is almost always below normal. Well especially in the morning, as it often clocks in at 96.7 degrees, and I feel that cold when sitting in my room after dressing for the day.

On top of that, my nostrils have been a bit drippy and my throat congested for some time now. When this happened last year, I simply assumed that it was some kind of allergic reaction that would eventually calm down, as it did. But this year, with the ever-present threat of Covid-19, I was wary.

So all of those things converged this morning, as my temperature bottomed out at 96.1, and I was so cold that my hands shook and teeth rattled. I also felt so congested in my head that it seemed my brain was swimming. I am aware that this is probably not Covid, but on calling out of work to get the sleep I needed I decided I should get myself tested for the benefit of my coworkers, if nothing else.

And on that sleep? Ah, it was glorious. After some Covid-induced dreams, I finally, wonkily emerged around 12:30 and stepped outside for some air. I was relieved to learn that my temperature had increased to 98.4, and I certainly was warmer. But I still felt so yucky that my time outside did not last long.

So, my wife had made the testing appointment at a Cary, N.C. Urgent Care center at 3. After running some other errands, she drove me over to the clinic. This was not a drive-up appointment, but rather we were to enter the room to have the test administered. I was surprised by this, but admired the way they had things working.

First, we called a number and checked in, at which time we were told to wait in the car until contacted. It took about 12 minutes to get the call, with the office having texted a link that would have let me see my spot in line. Their texting was used well and kept the patient abreast on all progress throughout the experience.

Once we entered, with the support nurse holding the door ajar so we needed to touch nothing, she first asked about symptoms and then affixed something to my pinky finger, I think she said to test blood flow. Then another quick temperature. Check, still holding steady at 98. And finally, the real fun started.

Another man, in what capacity I am not entirely sure but I suppose a doctor-type person, came in to do The actual test. “It’s not too bad,” he said even as he offered me a Kleenex. Then, after helping me extract the mask from its entanglement with my hearing aids, he stuck the swab into my nose.

Ok, that’s it right?” I thought. But no! It went back, and back, and back, and surely took some of my whatever lobe when extracted. “Ow ow ow!” I said as I tried to keep myself from separating from the swab. Whew! That may have popped something into place, because much of my congestion has actually stopped, at least temporarily. My nose still hurts a bit, but yeah I guess it’s survivable.

And now I wait for probably three days. He said if it’s positive, then I’ll hear from the health department and that center. If negative, I’ll get a letter in the mail in approximately 2 weeks. We’ll see. If nothing else, it’ll give me a little peace of mind for as long as that lasts. I’m sure there are thousands of other tales of those who have been tested, many less dramatic than mine. But this is my quintessential 2020 story, and let’s hope it’s the last I have! Maybe things will settle down now?

It’s Like Pulling Teeth: My unexpected run-in with an Oral Surgeon

If one is me, one asks the question how many different things can one endure in one year. Ah the craziness of 2020 continues.

So first the backstory: for something like the last year, I’ve noticed a slight protuberance in my jaw. It was a minor aggravation, and while I knew I needed to nip it in the bud at some point I just never really took care of it. Well ok, I can admit that it has more to do with a lack of desire to tangle with our medical system, which while it has big problems, especially as relates to how we Americans are expected to finance care, is actually pretty good. I’ve become something of an unwitting veteran in the last few months, as you know.

Anyhow, in the last three weeks or so, this lump seemed to grow at an alarming pace. My wife and I finally concluded that something needed to be done immediately to ensure that nothing more sinister than a tooth infection was going on. With the Covid pandemic, finding a dentist that will see me on short notice is a challenge. After being rejected by the UNC system, I just put the word “Dentist” into Google Maps and called the first place that came up: Zen Triangle Dentistry.We entered on Saturday shortly before 12 PM into a fairly small operation with roaring air purifiers and our masks on. They gave me a couple of quick, complicated X-Rays where I was instructed to hold my head completely still with no head clamp and while biting down on the teeth part in front of me. Do you know how difficult this is?

After palpating the lump and feeling along my neck to see if others existed, the two individuals who were checking me recommended that I go somewhere else to have it thoroughly checked to rule out the possibility of cancer. While I had already been aware of such a possible conclusion, having it spoken aloud made the rest of that weekend fraught with emotion. I just tried to hold it together and survive till Monday when we were finally able to visit an oral surgeon at High House Oral Surgery.

Entering this office early Monday morning after fortunately having been worked in for an emergency visit, I was immediately put at ease with yet another x-ray, this time with a clamp and a bar onto which I could hold, both of which made the process measurably easier to bear. The oral surgeon told us that he believed it to be an abscess that he could drain, despite its having appeared so prominently on the outside of my gum. The catch is that the tooth on that side would need to be pulled, and oh yeah while we’re at it we may as well get the other two bottom teeth on the opposite side that have also grown in wrong. AAAHHH! When compared with what I thought would be the outcome though, suddenly an involved dental surgery didn’t seem so daunting.

So once we got the bill squared away, and it was of course high but not as high as I thought such procedures would be, we were ready to go. I was surprised that they were so quickly able to go ahead with the process. Everyone convinced me that, for various reasons, going under general anesthesia would be the best idea, and after the fact I have to say I am glad this choice was made. “The only real issue,” the surgeon said “is that sometimes you don’t wake up”. Well that’s scary, but it’s a risk you take I guess.

The feeling of getting ready for action was similar to what I had experienced in the Emergency room a little while ago with the heart thing. Cold EKG leads were stuck to various parts of my body, then an IV was inserted. I love my veins, as their easy visibility means a lot less pain for me. Then the automated blood pressure cuff was placed (my BP numbers are still good now which makes me happy), and the pulse monitor placed on my finger. I get nervous hearing the beep beep that indicates my heart beat, but then I also learned how to slow it down with my mind using bio feedback.

I reclined in the chair waiting, waiting, waiting… for things to start… and then I had gauze in my mouth and was being gingerly led to a waiting wheelchair to be rolled out. I, thankfully, have absolutely no memory of anything the was done. My wife says, though I counter that if it wasn’t recorded it didn’t happen, that my “high conversation” was hilarious. I let whatever thoughts popped into my brain slide right between my lips, which frightens me a little. That’s a big reason why I don’t like messing with control substances.

And so far so good. The only incident I almost had occurred Monday evening when, feeling normal while lying in bed, I thought I could head upstairs like normal and slurp down some mashed potatoes. And my body disagreed. I just kind of blacked out for ten seconds or so then headed back downstairs and into bed, where I needed to stay. I will find out tomorrow (Thursday) if all is as well as I hope, but I have been spending the week popping a variety of pills and trying to feel more and more like myself.

Have you ever had any kind of surgical intervention? According to my very unscientific Twitter poll, 58% of respondents say they’ve had more than one, 29% said only one, and the remaining folks said not at all. I guess there is always a first time for everything.

Hear It: My Challenging Wax-cleaning

I should open by saying that I am trying as best I can not to come across as overly critical of anyone. I do not think for a minute that the medical professional who saw me intended for my experience to be as it was, and there are things I could have done to make it less likely to have gone that way as well.

That said, I have a disorder called Norrie Disease that renders some unable to communicate what they are feeling or thinking, due to moderate to severe intellectual disability, autism, or some other developmental challenge. So, I take seriously the idea that I can attempt to be a voice for others, of course not having gone through exactly what they are but still being able to give some idea as to what it may be like.

So an audiologist with whom I worked looked at my ears on my last visit to have the aids cleaned. This happened right before the phrenetic events of my Christmas vacation, and in many respects if the aids had to die on me again, I am highly fortunate that they didn’t wait past December 20th to do so. I can’t imagine the displeasure of trying to get by with only one working ear in large family gatherings. Even with both working, functioning in such gatherings takes work.

Anyway, she determined that my right ear in particular was packed to the gills with wax and should be dealt with immediately. She’d wanted to schedule an appointment for that day, but not surprisingly this wasn’t available. So, she had me booked to go in today.

For this appointment, I had to go to UNC Hospital, which is practically on the UNC campus. I managed to get to the Audiology department in time for my 9:45 appointment and settled in the lobby where they were watching some sort of weird cartoon. I also heard kids scampering around, probably burning off energy as their parents tried in vain to keep up.

Soon, I went in to see the nurses and have my initial forms filled out. They weighed me, I’m up to 141 pounds which may be the highest number this skinny person has ever recorded. Then, they started asking me all sorts of scary questions about disease, family history, etc. Standard stuff I know, but nevertheless it makes me nervous.

After a short wait in a doctor’s office, thankfully not too cold, and just as I pulled out the iPhone figuring that it might take longer for him to arrive, the doctor showed up.

“Ok, what are we doing here today?” he asked.

“I’m here to have my wax cleaned out,” I replied. “My audiologist says it’s starting to be a real problem.”

“Ok then, hop on up here,” (I was ushered to a somewhat reclined chair where my head was then placed firmly against its back at an angle), “and take out the aids, one at a time so you can still hear me and will know what to expect.”

Into my right ear went the air machine. I actually don’t really know what it is called, except that it made a fair bit of noise. I could immediately feel it sucking, and thought to myself “ok, maybe this won’t be so bad after all.”

And then, oh but then. He gradually amped up, commenting: “man this stuff is really packed in. That’s common for hearing aid wearers though.”

If I had remembered my last attempt at having this done, I would have suggested that we go ahead and stop there, just letting him prescribe me the eardrops he eventually did recommend I get. You administer them to each ear approximately three times a week for a month, and they’re supposed to loosen up the wax so that it will come out more easily. I’d done this a year or so ago, but then we never went forward with the larger-scale wax removal.

Unfortunately for me, this thought didn’t occur to me. As the machine pulled harder and harder in my ear, first tears began rolling down my eyes.

“Are you ok?” he asked.

“Yeah, this sort of thing just makes my eyes water,” I replied. I’m not crying! I thought to myself.

Within the next few seconds, I practically was crying. I kicked the table, screamed “ouch!” and all but forced him to stop. Oo man! I don’t think I’ve ever experienced pain like that. Oddly, the only thing I could think was “I wonder how on earth women go through with childbirth?”

“I’m about to pass out!” I instructed him once the machine had ceased operating and I’d removed both aids. “Would you happen to have any water available?”

I guess it had occurred to him that I might just need some water at some point, because a full styrofoam cup was in my hand a second later. I gulped it greedily, and just managed to stave off that unwanted episode.

After this, he decided to go ahead with the drops after all and have me return on February 13th for an attempt to complete the process. I was more than a little relieved to get out of there with my hearing in tact.

Except, when I plugged my right-side aid back in, all I heard was the faintest sound of its turn-on tone. “Oh no,” I thought in panic: “I may have lost a lot of my hearing in this ear!”

I muddled my way back on to a bus to Franklin Street to go to Walgreens and collect the prescription, then fired off an email to one of my audiologists to ask what she thought might be happening. I said “and if this loss is permanent, can I begin the process of getting a cochlear implant?”

She replied, correctly I now believe, that things would probably be ok in short order. My canals are kind of small, and thus it’s easy to get things like wax and such lodged in a place and way that it shouldn’t be. As the day has progressed, I’ve noticed more hearing returning as the pain lessens. All I can say to that is Thank God! I envisioned having to make radical changes to my navigation and independence, which I would have done if necessary. But I won’t lie, that sort of adjustment would be hard. I’ll probably have to make it at some point, I imagine.

So I guess the main reason I’m writing about this is to note the importance of really sitting down with the patient, doctor, and perhaps someone who can communicate on the patient’s behalf before treatment is initiated and generating a plan. The thing is, I know that doctors rarely have time to do this. If it doesn’t happen though, it could definitely have less-than-desirable consequences.

Also, it is important to listen to and be aware of the patient’s responses. I can say that he did suspend treatment once it became clear that I could no longer stand it. I’ve heard of cases where this hasn’t happened, and I’d bet it would be more likely if the patient was unable to speak for him or herself.

Just some stuff to think about. I hope all will be normal for me by the weekend, as I still feel some lingering pain but it is now more noticeably decreasing. A nap when I arrived home helped with this. I hope I don’t have any balance issues when returning to work tomorrow, but we shall see. More soon.