Since everyone I know in real life is sick of hearing me moan about my throat and give updates on whether I can swallow or not, I thought I’d inflict some of the grossness on you (even though some of you know me in real life and are going to complain that this throat stuff is going too deep. Ok bad pun).
When people ask me when the throat saga began, I tell them that I’ve had it for five weeks. This is the problem with not being able to count. I decide on a number and stick to it with scant consideration to the fact that as time passes, “five weeks” will no longer be valid (kind of like when I found out that my youngest cousin was eight years old, and for the next ten years continued to tell people she was eight).
In the interest of historical accuracy on this blog, I took a closer look at the calendar to date my illness. I know it started about two weeks before my sister visited. Which means that – get this – I’ve had a sore throat since around mid-May. Which makes it TWO MONTHS since I have had a sore throat.
Who has a sore throat for two months, I ask you? Except people who have cancer. So don’t blame me for suspecting that my few years of smoking had come back to bite me in the ass (well, throat).
Apart from the possibility of the Big C, I also routinely contemplate how doctors in HK are wholly incompetent. Can it be a coincidence that in this super-developed city, they are unable to knock off a common cold or sore throat in, let’s say just to be generous, two weeks?
I am no stranger to illness. So I pretty much know on average how long I will suffer from X, Y, Z common ailment. I also know what antibiotic I should be taking and at what strength (nothing below 500 mg works on me anymore). Now, I understand that HK is bit like a greenhouse and if you catch something it takes forever to go. But still!
To give you the history of my sore throat (so you can leave sympathetic comments and kind suggestions at the end), I’ve had chronic tonsillitis as a kid. Septic tonsils, fever every 15 days, no grapes and oranges, pepsi sticks, gola or playing Holi throughout childhood. As my pediatrician promised my mom when he refused to lop off my tonsils, I outgrew it. Then, I had sinusitis but that’s another story.
I haven’t had a serious sore throat till I came to HK. Then, in 2006 there was a stage where I would get one every month. Weirdly, fever rarely accompanied as it used to when I was a child.
Here, doctors are fond of dismissing everything as a viral. If it’s a viral, there’s no need to do anything about it. They give you painkillers and hope it will go away. It doesn’t. They reluctantly give you a mild antibiotic. Given that you are practically immune to anything milder than 500 mg, this only serves to subdue the symptoms. If you bother to go back, they will not up the antibiotic dosage. Rather they will give you a painkiller again. Now three weeks have gone by and you are still not completely ok. But you decide you’ve spent enough time at the doctor and your throat isn’t that bad so you don’t go back. The sore throat comes back the next month.
It doesn’t really occur to the doctors, who have your records on their computer and all, that there’s something weird about a person who has a sore throat every month. Yours truly finally suggests to them that maybe it’s due to the period (yeah, my period doesn’t bring enough horrors, I have to have a sore throat as well). Eureka! Because your immunity is low, you’re prone to catching viruses, says doctor. So what do I do? Err, exercise and eat healthy. Right.
Somehow I managed to evade a sore throat for a whole year. My friend introduced me to this Chinese medicine thing and if I felt one coming on, I’d start taking that and manage to stave it off.
However, I was a little careless this year. I tried the herbal stuff but the sore throat came and stayed. Now, given my attitude to doctors in HK (and can you blame me? I’ve so far been to at least five and none have managed to effectively deal with any ailment I’ve had… whether it’s a cold or a skin problem) I didn’t want to bother going.
However, my sister was flying in from San Fransisco and given the paranoia about swine flu and the fact that my symptoms sounded scarily similar (I had a tummy upset by then too), I decided to go to the doctor. Basically, I wanted a record that I had these symptoms before my sister came.
Thus started the usual painkiller, mild antibiotics, painkiller routine. Three weeks passed. My throat was slightly better, though not fully fine, so I didn’t bother going back. A week of peace and sore throat returns.
Fed up of Western medicine docs, I decide to see a Chinese medicine doctor. He can’t speak English and someone has to come in to translate. He tells me I have a cold. I don’t. But maybe in his wisdom he knows best. He gives me some disgusting concoctions. I drink it twice a day for four days. My tummy is slightly better for the first two, then not. The throat is the same.
I go back to the Western medicine doc. Another three weeks of painkiller, mild antibiotics, painkiller. I am now immune to the painkillers.
Somewhere in between, a friend (on Facebook, if you please) suggests that the problem could be in my nose. If I have a stuffy nose (even though I don’t have a cold), I will breathe through my mouth. This will make my throat very prone to infections. I do have a stuffy nose. I never realised noses were for breathing until I was in primary school and we learnt about it in class. Till then, I thought they were just a rather unfortunate occurrence on one’s face.
After (what’s it now?) six weeks, the doc raises the possibility of it being my nose. Eureka again… but, isn’t it strange that a totally unqualified person could diagnose this on Facebook and not someone who’s been through years of med school? Despite the doc prescribing something to unstuff my nose, I get worse.
Finally, a friend shouts at me. Why are you wasting your time with these stupid GPs. Go to a specialist. In order to have insurance cover the specialist, I have to be referred by my GP. So I go back to her and tell her I’d like to see a specialist. “I was just going to suggest that. I won’t keep you tied to me if you don’t think I can help you.” Um, but that’s what you did.
Go to an ENT. He takes one look at my throat and diagnoses a fungal infection. Having high glucose levels or diabetes could make me prone to this (nooo! How will I survive without chocolate). I do have a problem with my nose but it’s not the cause of this. A bonus is that he puts a camera down my throat and I get to see the goop there. He calls it “cheesy”.
He prescribes some drops, which are entirely painless (compared to antibiotics which make me want to throw up. I’ve taken to resorting to taking B complex with them, something my GP in India used to insist on and which I hated doing because it’s one more tablet and it leaves a nasty taste in my mouth. But they do help with the nausea… again, HK docs never prescribe B complex though they do prescribe lozenges. Go figure). I feel better in two days.
Luckily, my glucose level is normal. But I am slightly anaemic. I now have to test for that and thalassaemia. I suspect it’s the latter. The throat infection has not gone. But the good news is I don’t have cancer. The doc told me this after I asked him if he was sure it was just a fungal infection. He said if I had cancer he’d see stuff around my voice box. It’s clear so yay.
I am on antibiotics (yuck!) now. The saga continues.