Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Health problem, my right leg

First I would like to preface this post by warning you that this is fairly graphic and the pictures, maybe some of the description, are not for the faint of heart. The pictures, for that reason, will not be linked with reduced-size images as I have done in the past, but rather text links you can click at your own risk.

Back in November 2006, driving to work one night my leg felt rather stiff, but it was OK. When I got the chance, I examined it, and my leg appeared to have a rash on it, or perhaps a case of poison ivy/oak. It itched a little, but I found the skin to be tough, unlike either a rash or any skin infection I'd had before or heard of. Over the next couple days, it grew and began to welt up, and it hurt to walk on. One day Jen drove me to work, and when my shift ended, she took me to the emergency room at Pitt County Memorial Hospital, for my first experience there as a patient.

Here's what it looked like a day or two before we went to the ER. This image isn't graphic, but it is a little disturbing.

PCMH was quick to diagnose it not as a rash but as something called Cellulitis, which I won't even try to explain here. You can click the name there to read up on it on Wikipedia. Basically, it's an infection and it can be fatal if untreated. I was put on an IV drip and sent home with a 2-week supply (Jen remembers 1 week, but I remember 2) of two different antibiotics.

After the medicine was up, the redness had receeded to a smaller area, but still about 4-6" high and 4-5" wide. This actually opened up, as you can see in the next picture. Click here to see it. Note that this picture is pretty disturbing. I used various dressings to keep it covered, figuring (correctly) that it would heal. I learned the hard way that regular gauze would stick to it and hurt to remove (although it was easier to remove in the shower). I discovered J&J's triple-layer non-stick gauze pads and have been using them since, not just for my leg, but for Jen's condition as well. After a while, the area scabbed over, and when the scar began peeling (with my help), it left behind a dark spot, like a birthmark. (A doctor told me this is normal, and it will fade over time.)

In late December of 2004, I got what appeared to be a bite on my leg. It was about the size of a quarter, perhaps a centimeter or so deep, and filled with this thick mucus. I treated it with alcohol wipes, eventually got all that crap out, and kept it covered. Neosporin, which I swear by for minor scrapes and cuts, did nothing. However, the bite did have the tough skin around it, and I think tried to redevelop the cellulitis, but I'd been able to treat that with Hydrocortizone. I would have gone back to the ER, but I had no health insurance at the time, and didn't get it until much later.

Even after I had the insurance, though, I didn't seek medical attention. I'm not really afraid of doctors or even needles (though I used to be), I guess I just thought I could treat it on my own. In June I decided to do something about it, and had Jen (being that she knows the area better) pick me a doctor and make me an appointment. (I love being married. I don't like making appointments.)

I saw the doctor this past Monday, the 16th. She said that what I have is no bite, nor a relapse of the cellulitis, but an ulceration (ulcer) caused by poor circulation, which she said is common in the private security industry, caused by standing a lot. (My friends at work will laugh at this, because I don't stand much, but overall I guess I do stand more than some other professions.) She prescribed me one of the same antibiotics I had before, and something that will help to reduce and eliminate the fluid in my legs (the left leg even has some). My mother will be relieved to know that I also got a prescription for the asthma inhaler I used in CA, the Maxair Autohaler. (She didn't like me using the regular Albuterol-based stuff like Proventil and Ventolin, so she asked about an alternative - apparently Pilbuterol as used in the Autohaler is a modification on Albuterol which does much of the same thing without the "hyper" side effect.) My doctor actually didn't know what pilbuterol was (she wasn't an allergist, just a general physician, so it's forgivable) but did recognize it by the trade name of Autohaler. I can't afford to fill that prescription until tomorrow, though, when I get paid.

I actually don't need an inhaler, really. It's just that I should have one. My asthma hasn't bothered me much since I've moved to the South, despite the more aggressive environment and allergens - maybe I've grown out of it. Actually, the doctor should have checked to make sure I have asthma rather than taking me at my word. But albuterol (and much less pilbuterol) can't be abused, so using it would be almost harmless if I didn't need it. And I won't use it unless I need it. I was carrying around a Primatene Mist inhaler, and those are downright evil. They contain a steroid of some kind which raises the heart rate temporarily. One could kill oneself with one, if one used it enough times in rapid succession. I don't like putting my heart health at risk to relieve another problem. As soon as I got the prescription note for the Autohaler, I tossed the Primatene one. I should have held onto it until actually getting the Autohaler, maybe kept it as a backup, but no... Those things are bad news.

I should have taken care of both of these problems, if not right when I got out here, at least when I got the insurance. I get decent insurance ($20 office visits, $10 prescriptions) through Jen's work - my job doesn't offer insurance. It's not the best insurance I've been covered by, but it's affordable, I guess. So if you have insurance and you have a health problem, learn from my mistake and get it taken care of.

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