It’s Like an Episode of “House”

Season 7, Episode 9 – only less dramatic. A couple of weeks ago I was dog sitting for Sharkbait. I noticed some pain on my left cheek and behind my ear when I went to bed that night. I thought ‘Oh crap, maybe I’m getting swimmer’s ear.’ When I woke up that Thursday morning, her sweet golden retriever Roxie looked empathetic and alarmed. A glance in the mirror and revealed that I looked like I got a sock in the jaw and bump growing on my forehead.

I made a beeline for the urgent care and explained that I was going on vacation in a couple of days. The physician’s assistant diagnosed me with either an infected cyst or blocked salivary gland. “The treatment is the same, and I’ll give you some antibiotic cream for that rash on your forehead.” She gave me a prescription and for good measure, ordered an antibiotic shot in the you-know-where. I explained, “I bumped my head on the shower door last Saturday. It feels like a bruise more than a rash.”

Since Todd and I were about to go camping in the Grand Canyon the following Monday, she wanted to see me the next day before I left town. She stuck to her diagnosis and ordered another antibiotic shot in the you-know-where. All the while keeping me at a good distance away where she didn’t really get a good look at the disputed rash. (Note to self: next time make the doc/P.A./nurse take a closer look even if it’s not pretty.) She told me to eat sour and spicy foods to unblock the salivary gland.

Friday night I lay in bed very uncomfortable. I Google-d “blocked salivary gland” on my iPhone and discovered that a dentist might be able to unblock the gland. My dentist saw me on Saturday morning. He double-checked to see that it wasn’t a toothache. And pleaded with me not to leave town without seeing an oral surgeon. "The location of your infection is like a super highway to the brain. You don’t want to be out in the middle of nowhere and have things take a turn for the worse. Eat spicy food and suck on limes,” he said. Like a good patient, I ordered Buffalo wings a degree hotter than my normal liking and sucked on a bag of limes all weekend.

Saturday night I had a splitting headache and a fever. And it wasn’t from tequila. Todd raced his mountain bike the next day and came in second. Then he raced back to take care of me. I was still in denial and packed as best I could for the camping trip to the Grand Canyon. I’ve never been. He looked at me that night and said, “I don’t care what that oral surgeon says. We’re not going to the Grand Canyon.” I was bummed and relieved at the same time.

We just hung out on Monday and thought of something special to do that was vacation-like in town. For lunch we ate Mexican and Todd dared this East Coast wimp to eat a Habanero pepper for the first time. Anything to avoid the pending oral surgery. If I wasn’t going to be eating much for a couple of days, this girl decided she wanted a filet mignon with béarnaise sauce at Café Lafayette for dinner – something I haven’t indulged in for ages.

The next morning as I settled into the oral surgeon’s chair sans my morning coffee or anything to eat, prepared to hear “You need surgery.” He took one look at me and said, “You have the chicken pox.” I asked about the bump on my forehead and explained that I hit my head really hard on the shower door. “You were exposed to the chicken pox at some point in your life. It was dormant in this branch of your facial nerves. When you hit your head that hard combined with being stressed or worn down, it saw an opportunity to break out. You can stop taking antibiotics now.“ he replied with a chuckle. Yes, in this episode, the oral surgeon was House, only he didn’t get it all right. He said I was no longer contagious.

I called the urgent care and told them to tell the physician’s assistant that I had the chicken pox. No one told me I needed to be on any medication.

A couple of days passed and I started having major eye pain. I reluctantly went to one long meeting because my ad client’s client swore he had already had the chicken pox and needed to meet with me. Awkward.

On Saturday, we were trying to figure out when it was safe to expose myself (did I say that?) to Todd again. “Research it!” he said cheerfully. The guy has never had the chicken pox. When I did I was horrified at what I learned. This is the PSA portion of the story. When the chicken pox become ocular chicken pox (affecting the eye), it can cause loss of vision months or years later in a pretty high percentage of patients. And if medication isn’t given to those patients within 72 hours of the initial breakout, it is considered an opthalmoligical emergency. The adrenaline surged through my body that night as I kept the information to myself.

The next morning, I waited until Meet The Press was over (a polite hour) before calling my trusted optometrist. Miraculously, my call went through to him while he was up in the mountains. He referred me to an opthalmologist I met once before who was also out of town in San Francisco. When he returned my call, he said, “Amelia, you need to be on anti-virals right away. Since it’s a holiday weekend, I think you’re going to have to go the hospital.”

The guys in the E.R. were totally cool. The examined my eye, fed me a sandwich and gave me some really strong drugs to reduce the swelling in my eye and make the chicken pox not last quite so long. Of course, I asked the normal tri question, which makes me giggle a little bit now. “When can I work out again?” “You’re not going to want to be out in the sun with this medication. And you need to give your body rest to fight off the illness, “ the doctor replied. “And yes, you’re still contagious. Stay away from people for at least a few more days, but see your opthalmologist within 3 days.”

The opthalmologist said my eye looks like it is in good shape, but I can’t wear my contacts or swim for another two weeks. All of this might sound like a bunch of TMI, but I figure if any of you or a loved one ever experience symptoms of a blocked salivary gland or chicken pox/shingles as an adult, you’ll know what to do.

I’m lucky the complications weren’t much, much worse – like the episode of House in Season 7.