25 May 2007

the ponderous patient: a panic attack

i swore when i began this whole medical school process that i wasn't going to be one of those medical students who thinks she has every disease or physical problem about which she reads. (i knew i'd be the student with 500 different colored pens and notecards, but that OCD behavior began long before I ever considered this path.) i actually have made a point *not* to read about any treatments I've needed or medications I've taken since beginning med school, because I've been certain that my subconscious will suck up the information like a heavy-duty paper towel sucks up blue liquid on a commercial and that I would, ergo, become one of *those* students....

so. yesterday the cats woke me up at (i kid you not) 6am. i guess they decided it was play time. i disagreed, but couldn't go back to sleep, so i chose to drag myself out of bed and plop myself in front of my computer. i ended up chatting with j.p. (who never sleeps anymore) via gmail talk for quite some time. when the conversation was over, i decided to get myself a glass of chocolate soy milk. <--this has become my new favorite food. yes, i am that pathetic, being so unable to eat anything that tastes good that now fat-free soy chocolate milk is, to me, absolutely delicious. (have i mentioned recently that i'd like my gallbladder back?) so, as i was reaching into my near barren refrigerator for my yummy carton of chocolate soy milk, i noticed that i had a bright pinkred circle on my arm. i put down the carton, rubbed my eyes, and looked at my arm again. still pinkred. "hmm..." i thought, walking over to the ray of sun coming through livingroom window and looking at the spot again. still pinkred. uh-oh.

did i mention that the bright pinkred circle was precisely in the same location as where i had had a tb test done the day before?

so. i make my stupidest move ever and do what i've sworn not to do: i pull out my microbiology textbook. i flip to the index and look for tb and skin reaction. i turn to page 234. and i gasp. there, on the page, is a picture of someone's arm with--you guessed it--a big pinkred spot. "aaaggghhh!" i think. then i read a bit, realize that the circle's size matters, so i go find the handful of coins i keep in my backpack for those marathon lecture days when i cannot stay awake without making a mad-dash to grab a coke from the vending machine. "hmm... not as big as a quarter, but about the same size as a nickel. g-r-e-a-t." having had enough of my microbiology text, i toss it on the floor in disgust.

i then sit down at my computer and do a google image search for tb and skin reaction. up pops about 10 pages of images of arms with--you guessed it--round pinkred dots. it's about at this point that i believe i began cursing. audibly. i scanned a few pages and paragraphs--from places like nih.gov, not bigpinkspot.com--and see a few brilliant key words: weight loss, nausea, loss of appetite, yada, yada, yada; the sites list out about 60 % of the symptoms I've been experiencing lately. more cursing ensues.

my mind starts racing. i spent years working at a medical center that put me at high risk for tb, but i now comparatively live in the proverbial boonies. i had a tb test last year around this time (it's one of those annually "required" tests for medical school) and it was negative. "how the f*ck could i have gotten tb?" i wondered. in spite of the advertisements posted by medical schools, there really isn't any clinical contact during the first year of school. not unless you consider cpr to be a clinical contact experience, which i don't. so it's not like i've been around any patients. and, loathe as i am to admit it, i live in yuppie land. seriously. mcmansions, mcdogs, mcbabies, mchummers, mcgolfers--you mc it, we've got it. except for tb. tb is just not one of those things that gets mc'd. not in this day and age, anyway....

i start thinking about how crappy i've felt in the past year and all the medical problems i've been experiencing during my soon-to-be-over 20s. nobody my age should have this many medical problems. so, once again, up pops the hypothesis: what if all these things are not random individual events? could i have an immune disorder? it certainly would explain a lot...not to mention that one of the populations that most easily contracts tb involves those who are immunocompromised. hmm....

by this point, it's 10 till 9 am. just time for the doctor's office to open. i feel like a schmuck doing it, but i call at exactly 9 am. <--the emotionality about calling stems from having been on the other end of that phone on more than one occasion. medical staff are like any other mortals. talking to them first thing in the morning, just before or after lunch, or in the 5 minutes before closing--it's a bad idea. it gets you labeled as one of *those* patients. the kind of patients who copy down the phone number for the office's back line--since it appears on caller id when you call them to give them test results and such--and then proceed to call that number incessantly if they can't get through on the main number. as if there were enough hands to pick up another ringing phone! note to patients: just don't do it.

the nurse calls me back a while later and asks if the area is raised. nope, just redpink. round. and starting to get kinda itchy. she tells me not to put anything on it--no lotions, creams, soaps, etc--and to come in at my scheduled time on friday to have it checked. "some people have an allergic reaction," she says. so. i realize that there's nothing i can do about this bright redpink spot on my arm except wait.

this means that i now have to focus on my emotions, which have suddenly gone haywire. why did this freak me out so much? i really can't say. my only guess is that, at a certain point, we all hit our limits for the quantity and quality of physical ailments that we can take in any given period of time. for whatever reason (lack of sleep?), this damn redpink spot scares me.

i do the only thing i can think to do: i take a xanax and crawl back into bed.

needless to say, the redpink spot faded over the course of the day and gave rise to a purplegreen bruise. today, there is nothing on my arm save the remnants of said bruise, which is now about the size of a pencil eraser. definitely not tb material. not even in the least.
so. with my tail between my legs, i went into the doctor's office this afternoon to have the spot "read." "where's this pink spot you were worried about?" asks the receptionist, the nurse, and the doctor...although not all at the same time. it's a pity that we're not having hoodie weather, because i could have really used something to hide under. *blush*

so. it's official then: i'm as paranoid as the next medical student, if not more. i was hoping not to catch the disease bug, but like the highlighters, the notecards, the supplemental textbooks, and the 1,001 questions, all fingers point at me. even as a patient, i'm the penultimate med school nerd. penultimate because there are still a few worse than i am--they're the ones still sitting in the doctor's waiting room. ;-)


j.p. said...

sorry you had to go through a panic attack and all, but i'm certainly glad it's not tb. you certainly don't need anything else to deal with right now.

and, btw, i do sleep, just at the wrong hours. kinda like a vampire. ;)

student dr. blaze said...

i dunno, i'm beginning to think i should send you my sedatives. maybe with yours and mine, you'd get some rest? ;-) and, btw, the comment was my funny way of commiserating. i never get regular sleep anymore, either!

i'm also glad it's not tb...but i feel like an absolute fool for panicking like that. it has something to do with wishing for an over-arching dx that could explain all this and simultaneously being terrified that i'll get slapped with another (random) dx. not to mention, wouldn't it just fit my karma to get something like tb now that i'm not in the middle of the germ pool at jackson?!?!?

i think maybe i should start jumping off 80 ft water towers like my brother. maybe my dx is simply an inborn error of caution? ;-)

a little disclaimer...

i'm a medical student. just a student. so please, don't take anything i say too seriously. remember that i was an english literature major as an undergrad, so there is much fiction to be found in these pages. do you think i'm telling a story about you or your illness? more likely, you're tapping into my sense of "everyman"--that is, your story resonates with what i write here because it's not so uncommon after all. need help? please, please go see your physician. <--i'm not her. yet. ;-)