October 2nd, 2017

How to fly with a sinus infection without your face exploding

**Warning: this entire post is about my health—whiny, dull, and, in places, disgusting.**

I wrote last week about my glorious adventure in New Brunswick, but I wanted to keep the medical aspects of the trip for a separate post, lest they take over. For in truth, I was rather sick for the events I described. Not as sick as I have been this summer–for truly, this was the summer of illness for me. I started feeling vaguely unwell at the end of July, andwas truly ill for the second half of August and most of September. Starting late last week, I’ve been basically fine for the first time in several months, but not counting any damn chickens.

So in the second week of September, I had a sinus infection plus assorted other things, and was freaking out because I didn’t seem to be getting better past enough to fly in ten days. In case you don’t know, if you fly when your sinuses are too congested you run the risk of the pressure not adjusting properly in your ears (the “pop”) and if it gets too intense and you don’t/can’t take appropriate measures, the eardrum can rupture, which is not the worst thing that can happen to a person but causes you to bleed from your ear and possibly lose your hearing and is pretty bad. The reasons babies cry so hysterically on planes (well, one reason) is that they don’t know how to swallow to adjust the pressure in their ears and they are feeling it really strongly–unadjusted pressure hurts a lot, even if you are well and uncongested. So you can imagine (or I can) what a rupturing might feel like.

I was very worried about this. Not so much the pain, and the possibility of permanent hearing loss, though I was afraid of those things very much, but: here I am getting this amazing professional opportunity and I might have to walk off the plane and introduce myself to Ian LeTourneau, who has been very kind to me via email but whom I’ve never met, and say I have ruptured my eardrum, please take me to the hospital.

So, five days before my flight, a Sunday of course, I panicked and spent two hours in a walkin clinic to get antibiotics. I had tried to get an appointment with my own doctor the previous week, but she was too busy. All my other sinus infections have gone away on my own, but this one didn’t seem to be, and I didn’t have time to see how it panned out. So I start taking the antibiotics, in concert with decongestants, a steroidal nasal spray, a neti pot, and a nasal mister and lo and behold: the day before the flight, the mucus had gone from yellow to clear (yuck!) signalling that the antibiotics had worked but here’s the thing–other than the colour, nothing had really changed. I still *felt* like I had a sinus infection, even if I was no longer technically infected. And there was still plenty of fluid in the exact wrong spot–inside my face, where it could burst out an eardrum at an inopportune moment–even if it was the right colour.

So I read everything the internet said about whether my eardrum was going to burst, which was surprisingly inconclusive. Basically they said, don’t fly if you can avoid it, which was unhelpful–who flies for no reason? The tickets you can change cost twice as much!! But they didn’t say what is the difference between the people who have a sinus infection and fly and go deaf in one ear, and the people who have a sinus infection and fly and are fine. I got the feeling that maybe some people are just more organized and prepared, and also perhaps luckier?? Anyway, in an attempt to put myself in the lucky category, here’s what I did:

1) Keep on the decongestants all day and all night before the flight, and take the max dose half an hour before the flight. I thought these pills just made me feel better superficially by numbing the pain but apparently they actually shrink swollen tissue, making it easier for horrible fluids to escape from the appropriate holes and not have to create new ones.
2) Spend the previous day in a room with a humidifier, plus regular use of nasal mister. This is to thin said horrible fluids, also in aid of their easy and painless escape from my face.
3) Stay super-hydrated before the flight, again with a fluid-thinning agenda. There are also actual mucus-thinning drugs, but I was scared to put yet another unfamiliar chemical into my body right before the flight.
4) Nasal irrigation–only at home and in the hotel of course, because that’s a big project and there are limits to what even I will do in an airport bathroom. This is to evacuate horrible fluids before they attempt to escape on their own.
5) A shot of Dristan right before the flight. The doctor told me I might need to take this *after* the flight, if my ears were plugged but not exploded, but an American website told me to take a different nose-drug before the flight, and that drug doesn’t seem to exist in Canada, so I just took the Dristan. I also forget what this is for. I think it’s another tissue-shrinker.
6) Chew gum on the plane for takeoff and landing but also have two bottles of water, one for each, because gum cannot generate enough spit for all the swallows all the time. Swallow constantly. It feels odd (and probably looks odd) but does help.
7) Earplanes are a pressure-regulating earplug and I half-wonder if I could have just used these and not gotten up to all the other shenanigans above. You put them on while still at normal pressure (on the ground, ideally before the plane door has shut) and you can take them out when you are at full altitude and put them back for descent, or if you are paranoid like me leave them in for the whole flight, taking them out again, after the doors have opened. They worked really well for me, adjusting pressure more slowly and gently than it would have otherwise, though it still hurt.

So basically I had a mildly painful and highly anxious flight to Fredericton, but emerged from the plane feeling like I had WON THE LOTTERY. The great thing about assuming the worst is that everything else feels like the best! The fact that no eardrums burst and I could resume normal functioning as soon as I hit the ground, and go do all the nice things I had planned around the festival was solid gold. I hope these tips might help other people have as glorious an experience of non-eardrum-bursting as I did!

June 6th, 2016

The Blue Blue Sky

My migraines seem to have a seasonal aspect to them that I have not fully worked out. In fall, winter, and spring, they seem to go into abeyance and I feel I’m “getting better”–the migraines are not gone, but fewer and less severe. Then the weather gets hot and things don’t seem to drastically change, but the potential for a headache to go from unfortunate to catastrophic emerges in a way that just doesn’t seem to happen in cool weather.

Last night I was sicker than I’ve ever been from a migraine–as I maxed out my prescription drugs around 4am I was thinking that if this didn’t work, the next step would be the ER. But it did work and by around 5 I was able to sleep–when I got up at 7:30 I was shaky and dizzy, but almost out of pain. Now, midafternoon, I’m fine.

Actually, I’m sort of bouncy! It is so strange to be in such terrible shape and then back to normal again so quickly–it gives one a new appreciation for walking around and being hugged and looking at the bright blue sky (all things I can’t stand when I have a migraine). Life, while as problematic as it ever was, looks a lot better after trying to vomit from pain quietly in the middle of the night so I didn’t wake my husband (failed, I’m pretty). Whatever’s going on today, at least it’s not that!

I really really don’t like having migraines, don’t get me wrong–I would give up a lot to get them out of my life permanently. But since I have them, it’s worth noting that the bright side is the realization, a few times a summer, that my non-migraine life is AMAZING and I’m so grateful to have it.

 

May 17th, 2015

Pain Diary

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m doing a bunch of stuff to try to improve and control the migraines. One part of the project is that I’m documenting them for the first time in a “pain diary” as per the title of this post. I guess you can’t say “diary” to a writer without her interpreting it as “cache of information I can later mine for stories”–at least, that’s what I’m think. It’s an interesting project, even though it does document some of my lowest moments, physical-health-wise.

Every day I’m supposed to rate the morning, afternoon and evening on a scale of 0 to 10, 0 being no pain and 10 the worst pain. Here is how I am scoring things so far, but honestly I have no idea if I’m doing it right. I’d really love to see other people’s pain hierarchies–any ideas how I would google that?

1–mild twinges of pain, maybe an incipient headache but could also be just passing through. Annoying, but doesn’t affect my day very much.
2–mild headache, a backround hum of pain. Makes me more tired than usual, but I can usually do what I planned to do despite the headache.
3–real headache, noticeable pain. At this point I would take some sort of med (but I’m starting to wonder if I should take them earlier) and consider whether my plans for the rest of the day are cancellable. If that’s not easy to do, I will continue as planned and probably still have an ok time, but be very tired and quiet.
4–serious headache, unhappy amount of pain. I’ll take the strongest drugs I have and try to just go home and rest, but if I can’t do that, I can usually muddle through whatever I have to do. I might fumble my words at this point, and my hands often shake. The last rung of functional.
5–severe headache, non-functional Rebecca. This is where I actually can’t do anything other than lie still and maybe stagger to get a drink of water. I can’t stand to be touched and I can’t talk very much, though I can say a few sentences. Some nausea, inability to eat. This has only happened to me a handful of times in my life, and thank goodness always in proximity to a bed (except once when Mark had to park the car so I could lie in the grass beside the parking area until I felt better).
6–I’ve never had a 6, but I have been close enough to see it on the horizon. I would probably vomit from the pain at this point, something I’ve never done wrt migraines but have thought about. Ditto crying.
7–I honestly think that if, with all the meds at my disposal, I got to a 7 and couldn’t get away from it, I would need to be under medical care or at least really want to be. The thing is, it is so impossible to do anything when you feel this bad, I don’t know how I could manage to say, walk to a vehicle and sit in it, then walk into a hospital and explain my problem. I’m kind of hoping that if I ever hit a 7, I’ll just lose consciousness so someone can call me an ambulance and I can be wheeled away on a gurney.

Does that sound accurate to you? I haven’t included 8, 9, and 10 because, well, I’ve never had a baby, been shot, or been run over by a car; I’ve never been deprived of oxygen–I imagine those things are what occupies the far end of the spectrum…I think. And yet the pain diary form I’ve been filling out actually specifies 10 as “the worst pain you’ve experienced”, in which case 5 becomes the new 10 for me…but then there’s no room for things to worsen, which in all honestly looks like where I’m headed. Also, it’s kind of disrespectful to those who’ve had those babies and been hit by those cars. My pain threshhold is low and I know it: I’m trouble at the dentist and sometimes if I walk into a door or stub my toe, my eyes actually fill with tears. We have to allow for a certain amount extreme reaction in my pain reporting, even though I don’t mean to do it.

So basically, I’m worried I’m doing my pain diary wrong, but also, the process is very fascinating. I had a 5 yesterday, and of course in the worst of the pain, I was just a trembling ball of nerve endings, but as soon as I started to feel a little better, I was trying examine the pain scale and see where I was. I guess that’s the writer’s instinct–as soon as we’re taking notes on the situation, we can see it from the outside and maybe analyze it a little for use in other writings.

So tell me your pain scales if you want–I’m fascinated and it’s research…

February 19th, 2015

Current Obsessions: Curing (or at least improving) my migraines

Much as I suggested in my last post that the internet has ruined the word brave–it used to mean fighting in a war but now it just means talking about sex–so too has the word “obsess” come on hard times. My beloved Canadian Oxford defines it as “[to] preoccupy; haunt; fill the mind of a person continually” but when someone says (as it seems they say all too often these days) “I’m totally obsessed with that nail polish/salad/tv show” they do not think of their obsession constantly. Rather, they experienced it a few times, liked it, wish to experience it again. I don’t know how obsession came to mean generic positive feelings.

In this little series, I mainly mean “obsessions” in the modern, watered-down way, but with a little edge of my own neurotic tendencies. It’s not an exaggeration to say I look at my Fitbit multiple times per hour for a total of dozens of times per day. And not this week but last, I probably listened to about 10 hours of Tig Notaro recordings.

The migraine thing is less fun and more haunting–I think about it a lot because the pain factor forces me to. There was a period last fall when I started wondering if I was destined to become one of those chronically ill people, pale and sweatshirted and worried all my friends think I’m lazy because I look fine?

I’m feeling better now but even a few days of feeling that bad scared me a lot, and I’m gotten way more serious about migraine prevention and treatment. No more letting things slide, no more organic-hearted avoidance of scary pills. Into the medical-industrial complex I go!

I’ve been here before. I’ve had migraines since I was a child–my mom and borther do too, my brother’s far worse than mine. When he was a little little kid he would just sob, that’s how bad they were. We all took some fairly strong prescription painkillers during that period, and they worked quite well. Then in my early twenties I lost some weight and the prescription I was on started being too strong for me–it made me high. I got freaked out that I was taking such a serious med and I went back to plain old Tylenol.

It’s a bad medical precedent but that actually worked for about 10 years. Things started getting worst after my jaw surgery, after I went on other prescription meds, and I think honestly with age or who even knows? Migraines are very mysterious. Until the nadir (well, I hope it was the nadir) last fall.

Migraines are weird in that, unlike most medical conditions, pain is the disease itself, not the symptom. Like, if you have a crushing pain in your chest, as bad as a migraine but in a different location, that pain is a signal to you to get to a doctor immediately or that pain will likely do you permanent damage or kill you. However, with a migraine, as far as I understand it (not positive how well that is…?) there’s no real possibility of permanent damage. Once a migraine’s over, it’s over–the pain abates, and you’re as fine as you ever were. There’s no reason to seek medical treatment except because the pain is unpleasant. It’s not actually doing anything to you.

Isn’t that weird? And random? And frustrating–because if the pain isn’t because of something else, there’s nothing to fix, exactly. Migraine treatment, as far as I can tell, can only work in two ways 1) trigger avoidance and 2) pain management. Either you don’t get a migraine, or you find a way to cope with it until it goes away.

Anyway, in the past year or two, here is what I’ve done to improve the migraine situation–mainly in category one. Please note that this is not advice–migraine triggers are different for everyone and I have some extra issues with my jaw, and lack certain others (I don’t drink).

  • almost (not quite) eliminated caffeine from diet
  • almost (not quite) eliminated aspartame from diet
  • eliminated gum (except on airplanes) (all three of those can be a trigger for me)
  •  eaten protein every morning for breakfast (apparently lack of protein can be a trigger)
  • taken large doses of B2 twice a day (I admit, I forget what that actually does, but a neurologist told me to do it)
  • made an effort to improve sleep–not just amount but steadiness. My terrible habit of waking up multiple times a night for no real reason is a potential trigger. To this end, I’ve been taking big doses of magnesium citrate at bed time to help me sleep more soundly and trying to avoid naps (but I love naps!)
  • bought a new shower curtain and had the gap behind my bathtub faucet filled (apparently mildew and mould that accumulates in damp recesses in bathrooms can be a trigger)
  • made a bigger effort to take some medication at the earliest sign of headache. I was trying to tough out milder headaches, which worked for years, but recently they just got worse until it was too bad for the medication to be effective. Now I’m trying to be proactive, though I do find the sheer number of pills I’ve been taking alarming.
  • taking whatever the doctor prescribes. No more over-the-counter stuff for me, sadly. I have an “everyday” bottle of painkillers, and another one for true catastrophic headaches. I had a different catastrophy prescription, but the only time I took it I feel asleep almost immediately. The neurologist told me if I was reacting so strongly to a “baby dose” I needed something else, so now I have a new, as-yet-untried prescription. We’ll see.

And that’s it–all I’ve thought of to do so far. The neurologist I see is really smart, but I think I might be in the least worst shape of any of her patients, so she doesn’t always have a lot of time for me. Ok, never. I’ve had a good few months recently, but I’m still very nervous. Migraines are such an inexact science, and within reason I’m will to experiment to see if I can feel better. So if you have any suggestions to feed by obsession, please do comment–I would love to expand my defenses…

October 1st, 2012

What I’ve Been Up To

I was doing so well at the regular posting for a while there, but seem to have fallen off last week. Do I have excuses? Not really, but here’s what I was doing instead of blogging:

1) On Tuesday night, I went to the Bibliobash, where my fellow Biblioasis authors were reading. I was late, because of my evening class, and so missed all the actual readings, but still managed to a) get Alice Peterson’s excellent collection signed, purchase CP Boyko’s new one and c) chat up the authors. I meant to buy the new Chekov translation by David Helwig, but due to a miscommunication, didn’t–next time!

2) Following that, I had a migraine for 48 hours (unrelated…I think). For those familiar with migraines, mine are not the worst kind–some people see auras, throw up, and basically have to be alone in a silent dark room until things improve. My migraines are usually of the sort I can function through, albeit not cheerfully. The worst-case scenario is fairly serious pain, shaking hands, nausea, and an inability to concentrate, which is where we were on Wednesday, a day on which I slept for close to 16 hours. It was sort of glorious, in a way. The worst of the pain had abated by evening, but it took another day to shake it completely.

3) On the weekend, we went to stay in a fancy hotel, a treat given to us as a very lovely wedding gift. Since the hotel was in Toronto, we figured we didn’t need to bother with tourism or posh restaurants, so we spent the whole time in the hotel. Swam in the pool, examined the fancy piano bar, then ordered pizza and watched 4 hours of televisions–we don’t have TV at home, and the lost art of channel surfing is sorely missed. The best part was re-watching *Edward Scissorhands* after an interval of 20 years. It’s still so gorgeous and moving, but the ending???? SPOILER ALERT: Winona Ryder decides their love is too difficult so she leaves Edward all alone in his house at the top of the hill. Then she returns to her normal surburban life for FIFTY MORE YEARS, with only a slight tinge of regret. Why is she not a really horrible person??? Why????? Ahem.

4) Throughout all of this, I was reading Pasha Malla’s People Park, an extremely overwhelming experience. Were it not for my abiding love of Malla’s first book, I would not have touched *People Park*–500-page alternative realities are not my friends, normally. Just a personal preference, not a judgement. So perhaps it was for lack of context that I was so overwhelmed by People Park–so wildly ambitious, so diverse and imaginative, so *weird.* I don’t know if it was brilliant or terrible or what. I’m leaning towards brilliant, but I would really like to talk this through with someone, only no one I know has read it yet. I tried reviews online, but seem to stick with effusions or excoriations without much explanation or examples. I know, I know, reviews aren’t tutorials, but you’d think someone could help a girl out here. Did *you* read People Park? Any thoughts?

January 9th, 2011

Good things to do

Some helpful suggestions you might want to consider:

Nathalie says back up your beloved blog and she’s right–if you don’t understand how the internet works (and I believe that would be most of us here in the blogsphere) you need to protect yourself against it doing something you don’t understand and eating your blog. If you follow the instructions on the site Nathalie links you to, it’ll seriously take less than 2 minutes, and then you can email the file to yourself and sleep better. I know I will.

My friend R. says do the Ontario Health Survey (if you live in Ontario) and she’s right too! It’s a little weird to be telling all this personal stuff to the internets, but it is helping medical scholars to have this huge bank of data, and don’t you want your personal medical quirks to be counted? There is one depressing question about how many hours in a day you spend sitting, but I’ve moved past it.

I say roast some chickpeas! They are nice crunchy snack full of protein, and you can put whatever spices you want on them. I can’t find online the exact recipe I used as my new recipe of the week, but this one’s close–

December 30th, 2010

2010, I hardly knew ye

Tomorrow I plan to spend lying on a couch (possibly, in the course of the day, several couches) reading, napping, possibly eating candy–happy new year’s to me! So I have to wrap up 2010 tonight, blogwise, anyway.

Blogwise, 2010 was an excellent year, with my lovely new site from Create Me This and many lovely friendly readers to comment on, discuss, refute, and reassess my rantings. Thanks to all who did any of the above, or simply read the blog. I write Rose-coloured because my thoughts get lonely in the quiet inside my brain. Thank you for being friends with my thoughts and, in many cases, with me.

Obviously, I am exhausted and have a stupid cold; otherwise the above might have made a little more sense. Thus, I am going to refrain from making a top books–or a top anything–list for 2010. I read 73 books this year, which is a lot for me, so I’m content to brag about it and let it go at that. Counting is a lot easier than rating. Back before I got sick, though, I did make a couple contributions to Maisonneuve’s Best Books of 2010, which is a great list overall, and one I urge you to check out.

At some point in January, I will make some resolutions. That’s a process I usually love, but maybe I’ve overdone it on the introspection with Reverb, or maybe it’s just the cold stomping on my morale, but I am not feeling to resolution-love this year. I hope to make a comeback on that front shortly.

Other 2010 stuff? Well, Best Canadian Stories 2010 is out from Oberon now (but not on their website), including a reprint of my story “Sweet” from Canadian Notes and Queries summer issue.

And, um, it really was a great year–I had a good time, it’s only tonight that I feel lousy. Here’s to good times and good health in 2011–see you on the other side!!

December 20th, 2010

Reverb 19

What healed you this year? Was it sudden, or a drip-by-drip evolution? How would you like to be healed in 2011? (Author: Leonie Allan) (www.reverb10.com)

Oh, crunchy! I actually had a very healthy year in 2010–one cold and assorted headaches and that’s about it. I feel lucky for that–all I really hope for in 2011 is that it continues. I promise to keep up my end of the bargain (sleep, gym, decent food, not eating my weight in Nutella, etc).

December 16th, 2010

Reverb 16

How has a friend changed you or your perspective on the world this year? Was this change gradual, or a sudden burst? (Author: Martha Mihalick) (www.reverb10.com)

This story is so sad and common it’s almost hackneyed, but I’ve had three acquaintances diagnosed with breast cancer in the past year or two. I don’t know those women well–two wives of friends, one a roommate of a friend–but it’s just really shocking to see something like this penetrate my social circle. By “something like this” I don’t mean cancer specifically; just any kind of major sickness. Isn’t that supposed to happen to people who are very old, who have already had all that life has to offer and raised their children and loved their partners and accomplished all that they wanted? It’s so baffling that these women could be so sick when it’s blindingly obvious that they need to live so much longer and do so much more stuff. As far as I know, all three have stayed pretty strong and are getting on with all the stuff they need to do, but I bet you think about a to-do list a little differently once you’ve had cancer.

I don’t know exactly how this has changed me, but I would file it in the “maturing” folder.

December 27th, 2009

Still festive, mainly

I had an awesome Christmas, and I hope anyone else celebrating did likewise. I was given a new watch to replace the one that broke a month ago, so everyone I normally hang out with will now stop being plagued by me reaching for their wrists every (approximately) five minutes. I also got a zillion awesome books, peanut-butter bonbons, pickled carrots, a scratch-n-win Bingo that won me $3 (which I immediately blew on a second card, which won me nothing), slippers, a cloche hat (just like Virginia Woolf!), a tiny table, and dozens of hugs.

I also got another sinus infection!! This was not a gift but rather, I suppose, just payback for so much awesomeness. I still resent that I spent most of *Sherlock Holmes* yesterday a) sleeping or b) trying not to vomit (I didn’t–win!), and thus have no idea what happened. But I still think it was a very good movie anyway. And the more I consider it, the more I actually think that this incident was the result of my over-the-counter sinus medication, because as soon as I stopped taking it the desire to puke and lose consciousness went away. So now I’m medication-free and largely functional, and if I can just get on a plane and travel across the country, I am pretty much guaranteed more hugs, plus naniamo bars. So that is today’s goal.

So I gotta go pack, instead of writing a year’s end list of best somethings or worst somethings, but I was likely not going to get around to doing that anyway. Thank goodness Maisonneuve did one of books and let me contribute.

I hope you guys have a great fake-boxing day tomorrow, and who knows–if I have a little downtime in my travels, I may yet get you a list of best/worst somethings, or possibly a picture of me in a cloche hat.

RR

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