Thursday, May 07, 2009


Okay, I lied: I do have something of substance to say, although it mostly takes the form of whining.

My health's been crotchety lately. Until a few days ago, the arthritis in my right knee was really acting up, so much so that I went to Urgent Care one day when the knee had buckled and then started crunching and clicking much more than usual. The UC doc didn't even do an x-ray: just slapped an Ace bandage on me and sent me home. "Yeah, it's just arthritis." As my sister points out, my symptoms could have been exacerbated by our recent rainy spell, which is now -- blessedly -- over. We always need rain here, but I still much prefer sunshine!

Meanwhile, my allergies have been going nuts, and Claritin just isn't cutting it. Gary has gently urged me to go see my doctor, and I should probably do that. I've been coughing a lot at night, and my chest's been a bit tight. My sister said, "You don't have asthma, do you?" which prompted me to do a search for adult-onset asthma. I still don't think I have it, but I certainly have a bunch of risk factors: female, check; menopausal, check; allergies, check; rhinitis, check.

I like my primary-care doc, but he's following the pattern I've seen with a lot of physicians: first they're great listeners and really take their time with diagnoses, but then they succumb to the fifteen-minute my-eyes-are-glazed-because-I-have-ten-more-patients-after-you-and-I'm-running-late office visit, the one where you're lucky if you can get a distracted "uh-huh" out of them. (And this is a guy who started his own practice to get away from all that.) I'm not blaming him -- it's very difficult to practice humane medicine in today's insurance environment -- but it's frustrating, and there's part of me that always takes the rushed-ness personally, even though I know full well that it has nothing to do with me. Plus, I feel like most of what he does is being a gatekeeper for specialists. Plus, I've seen him a few times in the last few months, and I always feel like if I go to my doctor too often, I'll get pigeonholed as "that neurotic depressive hypochondriac," which may already be happening with this doc and certainly happened with the last one. (Intellectually I know that depression's a risk factor for more purely "physical illnesses," and vice versa, but I've had a lot of years of feeling as if any physical symptoms are being chalked up to my depression diagnosis.) This doc is great about answering e-mail -- very admirable, given his hectic schedule -- but I feel like e-mailing him counts as pestering, too.

But if nothing else, I should go see him to get better allergy meds, right? Plus, I've been under real-world stress which could cause legitimate health flare-ups, right?


Meanwhile, today I see the Gum Doc to find out if I need grafts. Oh, joy. At least my dentist told me to see this guy, so I'm there on someone else's authority and can't be accused of malingering.

Also, last night I had another good cry about Dad. I'm not sure what triggered this one, but I guess it's not important. After all, it's been less than seven weeks since he died. And crying's healthy. Right?

On the plus side, I swam for an hour on Tuesday, so obviously my lung function can't be too impaired!


  1. Anonymous2:54 PM

    It's easy to know that the mind and body are inseparable intellectually, but I've found it difficult, myself, to hold to that belief in the face of a medical system that has, historically, treated the two very differently.

    This is a preface to saying that kvetching is, IMHO, a very healthy, honest, and even diagnostic aid given someone who is 1) suffering from allergies and possibly asthma, 2) knows she has issues with depression, and 3) has suffered a terrible loss recently. (In other words, I think that suffering in silence would be a very unhealthy response!)

    Having both allergies and asthma, I have had great results with traditional/herbal remedies -- but because my mother, who gave me half of my DNA and also has allergies, has not been equally helped by some of the same remedies, I am acutely aware that there are genetic variables that affect their efficacy.

    Claritin is hardly the silver bullet for allergies. My doctor maintains that Benedryl is still the gold standard, but states that he prefers to avoid it because of its terrible side effects.

    In other words, don't shrink from the advice I am sure you would give others -- pursue options that work and don't let someone who is overworked shame you into minimizing your own pain.

  2. Ditto the previous poster - the doc's issues about overwork are NOT your problem to resolve, AND it is quite expected to have myriad physical complaints after experiencing a death. I use my email to my doc to outline my agenda for the visit - being as succinct as I can be in describing my issues - so that when he walks in the exam room he already knows why I am there. I've gotten a couple of comments about being wordy, and I try to hear it as "you gave a very clear description" and NOT "you shared too much, again." (Echoes of old voices don't fade out as much as I'd like!)
    If my issues are too much for one visit, sometimes we do the most important or complex one first and I go back another week for the other stuff. That seems to work out so I get enough time to feel I am getting heard (mostly heard) and he gets to bill my insurance for enough visits. Of course, I can afford to do 2 OV copays in the same month, and I know that is a luxury to many. But, maybe some of this strategy will work for you...or whatever will work for you right now, and let it go at that. You deserve to be taken care of! Will keep you in my thoughts.

  3. Thank you both! Anon, can you tell me which traditional/herbal remedies have worked for you? A woman I met who's both an MD and an Ayurvedic practitioner recommends turmeric and honey for allergies and sinusitus, and today a friend at work gave me a recipe for a hot ginger (and cloves and peppercorns and lemon juice and honey) concoction she claims will cure all ills known to man.

    I know that both ginger and turmeric have anti-inflammatory properties, so both of these prescriptions make sense, but I'd be curious to hear about others.


  4. Anonymous7:29 PM

    I use nettle tea to great effect, but have read that there is a distinct connection between its efficacy and an Anglo-Saxon heritage (which I got from my father but not from my Dano-Germanic father -- as I said, I understand some remedies to be very closely linked to some rather stringent genetic tendencies).

    I have also used mullein, though less successfully -- but my mother has gotten better relief.

    Mustard plasters (don't even consider using an American brand -- recipes are widely available, but I tend to use enough Dijon mixed with flour to make a stiff paste) are almost universally successful for lung complaints, but care must be taken to avoid burning the skin of your chest (speaking from painful experience).

    When the air is dry, I wear a surgical face mask while I sleep because it humidifies my sinuses without encouraging the growth of mold (which is one of my most violent allergies), as a humidifier might. It takes some getting used to, but I notice a powerful difference in the number and severity of the sinus infections I get.

    Neti pots (when you look them up, I hope you don't squik over the details -- it takes a bit of courage to try them!) have also helped me, though care must be taken to sterilize the pot and ingredients and to completely drain the fluids from your sinuses (again, to avoid the risk of bacterial infection).

    I hope that at least one of these options will help.

  5. Anonymous8:03 PM

    I probably should have mentioned that one mustn't even consider using a mustard plaster unless you are wearing something that you don't care will be inevitably and irrevocably stained.

    And while I'm at it, mint tea (in whichever form you like) contains a cousin chemical to regular aspirin, making it both an anti-inflammatory and a pleasant way to warm enflamed sinuses.

    For sinusitis in general (but not a specific for allergies), food (and tea) that has sage or thyme as an ingredient can be useful. Care must be taken re: dosage (too much isn't a good thing, but enough is, as with all things, dependent on your body chemistry and the quality and freshness of the ingredients).

    Then there's the true "I shall overcome" approach -- eat enough food high enough in capsaicin to cause your sinuses to cleanse themselves of any nasty allergy-causing molecules. Capsaicin also has the benefit of being a powerful anti-inflammatory, which, used either internally or externally, can greatly reduce pain from arthritis. Again, dosage is an issue and is idiosyncratic.

  6. I agree that all the stress you've been under makes it almost inevitable that your body would be run-down and needing help. The poster above, who said that your doctor's overwork is not your problem, is right, although operationally that might not make a difference. Do take care of the lungs, and you already know that swimming is wonderful care for arthritis. It sounds as if you're pressuring yourself with the possibility of what the sawbones might say and that just makes it worse. I know how it feels though... It can help to have someone with you at the doctor's; could Gary have that role? I've done that a couple times, one person is the patient and the other is the keeper of the question list and writer-down of answers, and it helps the patient not get overwhelmed with the doctor's busyness. And, as I ramble unhelpfully on, I have paradoxical reactions to antihistamines which cause my depression to worsen. Claritin is an ix-nay for me for that reason. Just thought I'd share. I can mostly do allegra though and it is out in generic.

  7. Anonymous2:41 PM

    Dear Susan,

    I don't know about arthritis, asthma, or allergies (although my current streaming nose suggests that perhaps I should learn something about at least one of these soon!) - but I do know from experience that ginger tea with honey is great for mitigating the symptoms of the common cold. In France, I once learned to make garlic soup for snuffles (saute garlic, simmer with water, vegetable stock, or chicken broth as you see fit). Perhaps these will work equally well for at least some of what ails you.

    Good luck with the doctor and the gum doctor,


  8. Hey,

    It's possible that you have hyperreactive airways (which is sometimes called a varient of asthma; the lines do blur somewhat). Stress, infection, allergens, etc. can cause the airways to tighten and become more reactive. The treatment is usually a combination of inhaled steroids (to reduce the inflammation), brochodilators, and oral medication (Benadryl, Singulaire, etc. to reduce the allergic symptoms). If you're symptoms aren't severe, once the inflammation has gone down and you aren't as reactive, you can consider discontinuing the meds.

    Once your airways are sensitized, it takes a fair bit to calm down the reactivity. Exercise can help, as can deep relaxation (I love yoga for this). But right now, I'm puffing on my steroids for all they're worth. :) Better living through chemistry.


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