Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Mystery Diagnosis

Just when I thought my life couldn't get any more interesting, chaotic or comical, it seems a new saga begins.

It all started Wednesday evening.  I was teaching my evening class at one of the gyms I work at and while doing bicycle crunches at the very end, happened to notice the lymph node behind my left ear was swollen and tender.  As a person who is usually running at a standard pace of ragged, I am no stranger to this occurrence.  Ever since I was a child, whenever I was run down, tired and my immune system was on the brink of disaster, this would happen.

Seeing as how I had just had strep throat 3 weeks prior, my son had a fever on Saturday, my daughter was diagnosed with an ear infection on Sunday and my husband tested positive for strep on Monday, it was no surprise I was fighting something off.

I felt fine and not even a sore throat or stuffy nose to speak of.  Still, the next morning my lymph node on the other side was swollen and both were pretty tender and sore.  I decided to call the doctor to make an appointment in order to be proactive.  After all, I had a jam packed weekend with the kid’s combined birthday party at Chuck E. Cheese, teaching classes, a 10k and a meeting at work.  Tom and I were even going to try and squeeze in a date night.  I was hoping to nip this thing in the bud before it got worse.

As the day went on I started to feel worse, and despite my efforts to lay down and rest before my doctor’s appointment, my children had other plans for me.  I started to feel like I might be running a fever so I checked my temperature.  99.1 degrees.  I was slightly alarmed since I had already taken Advil 2 times that day to help with the pain the swollen lymph nodes were causing.  After letting the kids play outside with the neighbor, we got ready to head to the doctor’s office. 

As luck would have it, it started to rain on our way to the doctor and we got relatively soaked on our way in.  Even more luck, they had the air cranked in the doctor’s office and I sat there shivering in the waiting room.  My true luck was that I still hadn't dropped off the Good Will bags from cleaning out my closet earlier in the week and I had an old sweatshirt in the car.  We sat there for over an hour because the doctor had an emergency and it gave me a chance to think.  It occurred to me that this was a bad case of Karma.  I had made fun of Tom earlier in the week when he first came down with strep throat.  He was being a typical man when he was sick and got to sleep for an entire day-and-a-half and when he was awake he did a lot of moaning and groaning.  He also woke up one night with the chills and was literally rattling in our bed, complete with teeth chattering.  I informed him the next day he was annoying.  Then he was annoyed with me.

So, there I was suffering my payback with teeth chattering, body rattling, annoying everyone around me.  Meanwhile, my kids were climbing all over me and Colin was giving his stuffed animal a ride on the wheel chair in the waiting room, then hopped in and was wheeling around in it himself.  Despite how miserable I was, I was pretty impressed with his upper body strength.  I finally gave him my iPhone to play a game and he used a drawing App to make me a get well card.  He said it was a magic dinosaur that would make it so we didn’t have to wait so long.

When the doctor finally saw me, she must have asked me 10 times how long I had my sore throat and each time I had to explain my throat was not sore.  She finally gave me at throat culture to see if I was getting strep again, gave me two Tylenol and a prescription for an antibiotic for whatever infection I was battling.  I stopped at Little Caesar’s on the way home to get the kids some dinner, threw it on the table for them to have at it and climbed into bed where I proceeded to sweat profusely while I broke my fever.
That evening, Tom picked up my prescription and I could barely get it in me because I was so nauseous and hadn't been able to eat much.  On the second try I finally got it to stay down.  The next morning I felt about the same. My head and neck were sore, I could barely eat and I somehow had to get Maddie fed, dressed and ready for school.  I finally got her out the door to walk to the bus stop with the neighbor. Colin and I snuggled up for some movie time while I napped and continued to sweat.

Maddie got home from school at 11:30 and I had just enough energy to make lunch and then made my way back to the couch.  Maddie had been pouring on the drama queen routine from the minute she got off the bus making me feel guilty that she had nothing to do all day.  You would think that any other day I dress up as a clown and make balloon animals and have pony rides in the backyard to entertain them.  I finally got the chance to sleep and sweat some more in the afternoon and felt a little bit more human.  Human enough, that is to do dishes, a few loads of laundry and make dinner.

I promised the kids that if I felt better after dinner we could go to Party City to get their party favors.  That seemed to perk them up.  As soon as they saw me doing laundry, they knew things must be somewhat back to normal.  Tom came home and after dinner we all ventured to buy bubble wands for 30 kids.

That pretty much tapped all my energy for the evening and I found myself right back on the couch.  I mustered up some additional energy to get the kids ready for bed and shortly after, went up to get ready myself.  While washing my face I looked in the mirror and noticed that my forehead was slightly swollen.  It was right at the spot where I had a minor breakout a few days earlier.  Tom suggested I was growing a unicorn horn.  Then offered up, “Well, it is the summer of the cicadas.”  Great, now I can look forward to becoming the urban legend of the woman who hatched cicadas out of her head.  Then I had a flashback to the summer of the cicadas when I was in junior high.  My family and I went to a family reunion at a forest preserve that was teaming with cicadas.  My darling older brothers told me that the cicadas would crawl into my French braid and lay eggs and then hatch in seven years.  It’s been longer than seven years, but you never know.  On the bright side, if I give birth to cicadas, I only have to take care of them every seven years, right?

I started to get concerned and tried to figure out what was going on.  I began to think of all the things that this could be based on my experience.  My first thought was I contracted something from the Tough Mudder race I did a few weeks prior. Was it a staph infection? MRSA? Was that where my one-night-stand with a cicada took place? It also occurred to me that this could be the result of hairspray.  A few years ago I ran a race with a hat on and developed a sore on my scalp from the combination of hairspray and sweat.  As a result, my lymph node swelled up and eventually went away on its own without any antibiotics.

I rarely use hairspray, but happened to use that hairspray on a whim last week.  A day or two after I used it I noticed a small breakout on my forehead, but nothing to speak of on my scalp. I am generally sensitive to a lot of hair and skin products, so it would be no surprise that something as simple as hairspray could irritate my skin.  That, combined with the fact that I am a massive head-sweater could only make matters worse.

And worse matters got.  I woke up Saturday morning still not feeling great, but better than I had on Thursday and Friday.  My whole head was aching, especially my scalp. I had found substitutes for my cycle classes and tried to rest up until it was time to pick up the cakes for the party and get the kids ready to go.  I was feeling self-conscious about my forehead, and was worried the moms of the kids coming to the party would think I had a bad Botox injection.  I made it through the two hours of Chuck E. Cheese extravaganza and was beat by the time we got home.  Tom went to a bar to watch the Blackhawks game with our neighbors and I sat with the kids while they opened all their presents. I was hoping to lay down for a bit, but by the time I picked up all the wrapping paper, got the toys out of their Ft. Knox boxes they came in and put AA and AAA batteries in everything from a My Little Pony car to a bug vacuum, the kids were hungry for dinner.

Saturday evening at Immediate Care. Fever of 101 and protruding forehead and slowly
 making its way down to the left side of eye. I'll call this look "Bad Botox"
I happened to go into the bathroom and noticed that my forehead was worse.  It was now more swollen and appeared to have traveled down my face and was now just above my eyebrows.  Not to be disrespectful, but I looked a bit like Rocky Dennis from the movie “Mask,” at least in my mind.  I had already Googled a million different illnesses regarding “forehead swelling” and “swollen lymph nodes” and finally thought perhaps I was having a reaction to my antibiotics.  Turns out one of them was swelling of the face, tongue and lips.  I texted Tom that I was heading to Immediate Care and he said he was coming home to watch the kids. 

When I got there, I sat in the waiting room.  Despite the freak show going on with the other people waiting, it seemed even the strangest of the strange were staring at me.  Thankfully I didn't have to wait long and they brought me back to see the nurse practitioner.  He asked me a series of questions and finally told me he was stumped and sent me to see the regular doctor.  The led me back to another examining room and the doctor came in a few minutes later.  She took one look at me and gasped.  She proceeded to ask me several questions and finally informed me that she has never seen anything like this and that my presentation was “very unusual.” I felt like I was on an episode of “Mystery Diagnosis.” She also told me I was running a 101 fever, which I was not aware of.  She told me my next step was to go to the ER where they could run more tests.  I heard her on the phone with the hospital from my examining room as she very dramatically described my condition to the ER doctor.  I started to get scared and felt very alone.  I began to cry just as a nurse came in to give me some Tylenol for my fever.  She tried to comfort me and said it didn't look that bad and just like I had some bad Botox.  What a bedside manner.

I called Tom to inform him that I was on my way to the ER and he said he would get the kids settled in bed and then call me back.  When I arrived at the ER at the hospital down the road, there were even more sideshow freaks, and I was their ring leader.  I thought I would have to wait there in agony with barely any battery left on my iPhone, but as luck would have it, they took me almost immediately.  They drew blood and the doctor didn’t seem overly concerned, but wanted to see the results of the blood work to rule out any major infections or viruses. 

Luckily, everything came back negative and I waited longer for him to contact my primary care physician than anything else.  He thought that I had suffered dermatitis from the hairspray but was not related to my swollen lymph nodes.  He also used the word "irregardless," so I didn't take what he said too seriously being as irregardless is not even a word. His explanation didn't seem very logical or conclusive, but at least my blood work was good.

They sent me on my way and finally arrived home at 10:30 p.m.

Sunday: Avatar Day

The next morning I woke up and found that the swelling had slipped further down my face.  Now I went from looking like Rocky Dennis from the movie “Mask,” to one of the blue creatures from “Avatar.”  I skipped my 10k run, but had agreed to sub a class at a local gym.  Despite my looks, I felt fine and needed to get out of the house.  I also felt the need for a disclaimer sign around my neck saying, “I don’t usually look like an Avatar.”  I went to teach the class and since I had never met any of the people at the gym that I was teaching at, I felt obligated to explain the way I looked.  The whole time, the song “You’re So Vain” kept running through my head.  I taught the class and felt better afterwards, but still had to go on with my day which involved taking care of the kids, picking up and cleaning the house in order for our real estate agent to come over for a meeting.  Much of my usual duties had fallen at the wayside due to my illness and the kids had all their new birthday gifts strewn about the house.  Needless to say, crawling into bed was not an option.

We got everything done, had our meeting and then it was time for me to make dinner and then head to an all-staff meeting at one of the other gyms I work at.  By the time I got home I was ready to just go to bed.  I was able to enjoy a brief moment of rest and relaxation after the kids went to bed, but soon found myself hitting the hay wondering what my face would look like in the morning.

Monday: Battered Wife Day

On Monday morning I awoke to find my swelling had moved slightly further down my face and was now around and below my eyes.  I looked like a battered wife.  I’d have to change my disclaimer sign around my neck to, “No, my husband does not beat me.”

I had a guy coming to give an estimate on our windows and then took Maddie to the bus stop.  Once she was off, I had to get Colin to the neighbor’s house so I could go teach a class.  In the midst of all this other nonsense, I developed yet another infection that is common for women on antibiotics and we’ll leave it at that.  I got the proper medication for that phenomenon and returned home to get Colin from the neighbor’s house, get Maddie off the bus and make lunch for the kids.

My regular doctor who I had seen on Thursday called me to follow up and requested I come in later in the afternoon for an appointment.  Once again, I had to drag the kids to the doctor, but at least this time our visit was limited to about a half-hour.  She offered absolutely no answers and asked me what if I thought I should stay on the antibiotic and if I wanted to see an allergist.  Last time I checked, she’s the one with the doctorate, right?  I told her I’d prefer to stay on the antibiotic and I didn't think seeing an allergist was necessary at this point.  Mainly because my children were, at that point, scaling the walls and I had no desire to see drag my kids with me to see another doctor.  She prescribed a steroid and sent me on my way. I decided that frozen yogurt would be a good post-doctor activity since I clearly needed some active cultures in my diet. Good thing I’m not a doctor because that would be what I would prescribe all my patients!  In the meantime, I got a call from another window place I had called and was ready to come out to give me my estimate.  We arrived home in time for the kids to play outside with the neighbors and for the window guy to measure my windows.

I fed the kids dinner and we were off to the gym where I had to teach my Monday evening cycle class.  I had to open class by explaining why I looked like I had been hit by a shovel and took solace in the fact that the cycle studio is dark. 

Once I put the kids to bed, I finally decided that after five days of having at least 5 swollen lymph nodes, 3 days of fever, 2 trips to the doctor's office, 1 to the Immediate Care, 1 to the ER, 3 different medications and a deformed face that has had me looking like everything from Rocky Dennis from the movie "Mask," to an Avatar, to a battered wife and do diagnosis, I would pour myself a glass of wine.  Seemed like the best medicine to me.  Yet another reason it is a good thing I'm not a doctor.

Tuesday: On the mend.  Must be the wine.


  1. Hi did you ever find out what caused this? My brother is experiencing the same thing at the moment and I found your photo on google which shows pretty much the exact same swelling on the forehead

  2. YES!!! Did you? I literally have almost identical pictures to yours at the same progression rate. I'm awaiting lab results but they tested me for staph. Curious if you figured yours out??