Wednesday, May 20, 2009

A rather odd day

In preparation for my impending trip to Uganda, I visited the travel clinic on Monday to discuss vaccines and malaria tablets. The school gives each of us 200 pounds to spend at the travel clinic, and if we go over that, we have to pay out of pocket. The nurse and I discussed vaccines, and it was recommended that I get the yellow fever vaccine, Hepatitis A vaccine, and a polio booster. I decided to wait on all and see if my GP would give them to me for free. Turns out, they charge more for yellow fever, but they'll give me Hep A and polio vaccines for free (thanks, NHS!) So then we discussed malaria prophylaxis. For those who don't know, malaria prophylaxis, which helps protect you from getting malaria, is notorious for side effects. They are very unpleasant drugs to be on, but the idea is that malaria sucks a lot worse than the side effects of the drugs. The nurse recommended against the cheapest ones, Mefloquine, because of my history of depression and anxiety. (Also, my friends were telling me that this one can cause delusions.) She recommended against the second cheapest one, Doxycycline, because of my ongoing stomach problems. So I got sent home with the most expensive malaria pills on the market, Malarone. Nine weeks' worth of Malarone costs roughly 200 pounds, which ate up my entire budget for travel meds. I'll have to pay for the yellow fever vaccine out of pocket. On the plus side, Malarone has the fewest side effects, so maybe my body won't hate me too much for taking it.

So, here's where the fun begins. Yesterday, I went back to the travel clinic to get the yellow fever vaccine. People had said the needle was really big and the vaccine can make you sick, but I was determined not to get freaked out. I stayed calm through the whole process, even as the nurse set the needle down directly in front of me. I thought, "I'll just look over at these insect repellants sitting here on the desk," but she the needle was in my arm and out again before I had the chance to. And it wasn't big. It was totally alright! I felt fine. The nurse sat back down and started to write, and I just sat and waited.

Hm, my arm feels a tiny bit funny. I'll just flex it so it doesn't get sore.

Okay, now it feels really funny. Just keep flexing.

Within seconds, a wave of nauseau flooded over me. "I don't feel so good," I said.

"Do you want to lie down?" the nurse asked.

I remember answering "yes," but after that there's a blank spot in my memory. When I came to, the nurse was struggling to keep me in the chair with my head between my legs, telling me to take deep breaths and calling for backup. It occured to me that I had fainted, which I found fascinating. It also occured to me that my head hurt, and that I must have hit it on the table on the way down.

The aftermath was, in a word, ridiculous. They asked me if I was afraid of needles and if I had eaten breakfast. I answered "yes" to both, but they decided to check my blood sugar anyway. Right, prick the finger of the girl who just fainted because of a needle. So the nurse pricked my finger, but couldn't get the machine to read correctly, and wanted to do another finger prick. I decided to put my foot down, as I was in no state to be stabbed again. Luckily, another nurse came in and got the machine to work, so they were able to use my first prick. Once I stabilized and felt better, a doctor was called in to look at the cut on my head. She was slightly worried that I might have a concussion, and she asked if I lived with anyone who could watch me for the next several hours. I said I lived alone. The phrase "because you live alone" or "because she lives alone" was then repeated several times. They decided that, because I lived alone and they didn't have the capacity to keep an eye on me, they should send me to the emergency room. The hospital with the emergency room is located about 500 yards from the travel clinic, and though I could walk just fine, they decided to call an ambulance to drive me over. I sat in the waiting room for 20 minutes waiting for the ambulance, enough time for me to have walked to the ER and back 10 or 15 times.

As no wheelchairs were available, I walked with the ambulance drivers down to the car. It was really less of an ambulance and more of a van with individual seats on either side. They drove me the two minutes to the hospital, then took me to A&E Minors (minor accidents and emergencies). The travel clinic said that Minors was expecting me, but they weren't. They had no idea what to do with me, so they stuck me in a bed and told me to undress and put on a gown. A nurse took my vitals (including another finger prick for blood sugar). Everything was normal. After a while, two doctors stopped and looked at me. The first explained what had happened, and the second asked how I was feeling. I said I felt alright, so she said, "She doesn't need to be here either," then they both walked off. A nurse came a couple minutes later, so I asked her what that meant, and she said it was just a manner of speaking and that I should lie back and relax. I did this for a few more minutes, then decided to do a urine sample. When I came out of the bathroom, the second doctor was standing in front of the door holding my clothes and my purse. "We needed that bed for someone else. You can get dressed. You don't need a bed." She practically threw my stuff on the floor of the bathroom and walked off.

When I came out of the bathroom, the doctor called to me from 10 feet away to go wait in the waiting room. I wasn't sure what waiting room she meant, but she was far too busy to answer stupid questions like that, so she waved for me to follow her as she took off down the hall.

"Go through those doors and wait to be called," she barked. I walked up to the doors and pulled the handle. Nothing happened. As she walked away from me down the hall, she called, "Push the green button" as if I was an idiot.

Feeling completely confused, disoriented, and abused, I sat down in the waiting room to wait for I knew not what. I waited for this Great Unknown for about 20 minutes, when Alex texted me to say she had finished her exam. I asked her to come pick me up, then I went to find the doctor to tell her I was leaving. I tried going back through the same doors I had come in through, but of course, those are locked to keep people like me from harassing the busy doctors. So I went to the receptionist and explained that I didn't know why I was there, and could I leave? She said I hadn't been discharged, that a doctor was supposed to talk to me at some point, but that I could leave if I wanted. So I did. I figured I probably didn't have a concussion, but even if I did, I had planned to spend the whole day with friends, anyway.

So Alex came to pick me up and we went to Oxford Street to buy make-up. I mean, that's what everyone does after fainting and spending the entire morning in the ER, right? After that, we went to T-Mobile, where I switched from pay-as-you-go to a cheaper, non-contracted plan wherein I get unlimited text messages. Why did I wait until now to do this???

Towards dinner time, I went to Carina's to study (which I didn't do, but it's okay, because I've been working really hard lately and could afford to take a night off). Last week, Carina decided she wanted a massage, and found a guy advertising free massages on gumtree (the equivalent of Craigslist). He claimed he was trying to build up a client base. Everyone thought Carina was insane for emailing him. He was obviously: a) a prostitute, b) a rapist, or c) an axe-murderer. But Carina is smart, and she arranged to have a friend get a free massage with her (that friend was not me, by the way). I showed up at her house unaware that the free massage was taking place that very evening. And Carina was right to trust him. He really was just offering free massages. Or maybe he was an axe-murderer, but didn't want to take his chances with three girls in the house, one of whom was on her way to hockey and thus sporting a hockey stick. But he gave Carina and her friend massages while I watched Britain's Next Top Model over his shoulder.

All in all, a very surreal day. And now it is time to polish off my Tropical Environmental Health essay, which, if I manage to finish it today, will be done two days before it's due date. I rock this term (that's not to say I'll get a good grade, though).

Saturday, May 09, 2009


I just finished the third week of my final term of classes. I have two more weeks of classes, then three weeks to hard-core study for final exams, then I'm off to Uganda! (plane tickets not yet purchased, visa not yet acquired, project not yet figured out)

My classes this term are AIDS and Tropical Environmental Health. In other words, I spend the first half of the week talking about sex, and the second half of the week talking about poop. One of our professors in TEH is hoping to win the world record for saying "shit" more times than anyone else.

I have decided to take it easy this weekend. I've been sleep-deprived (and therefore, cranky and depressed) for the past two weeks, so I decided to give myself a rest. Having said that, though, Carina is headed tonight to a club I've been wanting to go to, and I seriously considered going back on my promise to myself to chill out. But then I took a quick nap, and once I tasted the sweet, sweet rapture of sleep, the thought of getting gussied up, going to Camden, dancing, and then having to find my way back home was just too much. So home and sleep it is. Tomorrow is a bridal shower in the park, so that shouldn't interfere with my plan.

Speaking of sleep, I FINALLY saw a doctor yesterday. Let's recap the timeline:
October: asked GP to refer me to sleep specialist
December: appointment with sleep specialist; referral for overnight sleep study
February: overnight sleep study cancelled due to record snowfall
March: microspirometry test replaces overnight sleep study (a tiny machine I take home and clip to my finger to measure oxygen levels in my blood)
April: receive letter saying microspirometry is negative for sleep apnea; appointment scheduled for June; I call to move appointment sooner, since June is more or less when I leave the UK indefinitely

So yesterday, six months after starting the process, I saw a doctor about test results. I had to wait an hour in the waiting room (lucky I didn't have class). He started by saying that I didn't have sleep apnea, my oxygen levels were a flat line. He looked at my file, which says that nothing I've ever tried has worked, then he said that they can't do anything more for me except repeat the same tests I've already done multiple times. He said he could refer me to a neurologist to confirm a diagnosis of narcolepsy, but as it could take a couple months to get an appointment, I told him not to bother. I'm leaving for Africa at the end of June, then may or may not come back to the UK in September (and may or may not have health insurance, depending on whether I get a job). So we decided together not to pursue this anymore for now. He did put a referral letter on my file, so that if I do come back to the UK, I can go see a neurologist immediately.

So that was a bit disappointing, until I remembered what my original objective was back in October: I really just wanted to know if I should be using my CPAP machine (I haven't used it in almost a year). According to the microspirometry test (which I'm not sure I trust, but whatevs), I don't need to use the CPAP. Yay!!! Now I can continue to not use it, but guilt-free!

Wednesday, May 06, 2009


I should probably just give up the ghost and shut this blog down. I never even think about blogging anymore. It's pathetic.

Why I love my friends (and professors):

Tanya: "I thought that was a pancake and I got excited, but it's just a crab."

Holly: (in reference to partying at the Leicester Square Wetherspoon's) "I'd rather have bowel surgery in a wood with a small branch."

Professor Sandy Cairncross (Guru of sanitation): "A virus is like a P.S. at the end of a letter. 'P.S. Double-helix, when copying yourself, could you make five copies of me?'" Personally, I think this needs a "kthxbye!" at the end.