Going Nuclear with a WMD
A nurse turned up, dutifully took my temperature and announced, “Thirty-seven degrees.” It took a bit of effort on her part to identify a suitable vein for installing a peripheral line on my arm, though. The line would serve as a gateway for feeding antibiotics into my bloodstream. “I guess your veins don’t protrude as much, because you’re somewhat slender,” she said, after she’d settled on a spot about six inches above my left wrist.
I could hear another patient, an adult lady, crying in the next tent, which wasn’t very comforting. Anyhow, I simply clenched my fist as instructed and turned away till the nurse would get it over with. No point witnessing acts of savagery.
“I wonder why they’ve chosen not to admit you to the hospital, if they’re going to repeat this for five days,” my son remarked in the course of the intravenous therapy session.
“Well, there are a number of reasons why that makes sense. First, hospital beds and attendant resources, including nurses, are a very limited resource everywhere. So, doctors will normally admit patients on an absolute need plus resource available basis only. Second, many patients tend to respond better to therapy when they aren’t resident in the hospital. Thirdly, patients sometimes contact secondary infections which are traceable to the hospitals they were detained in and finally, it makes economic sense to minimise the cost of care for each patient in this and other ways, to conserve economic resources and so, maximize our access to healthcare services. There may be other reasons why they do this, but its common practice in most countries. It offers benefits to all sides,” I replied. “By the way, you’re going to have to use the rubbing alcohol in the bathroom cabinet to disinfect the door knobs in the apartment and the car. Make certain you vacuum the car also and disinfect any other things I may have handled since Saturday.”
When the therapy session ended about an hour later, by my reckoning, the nurse taped the peripheral line in place, explaining that it is preferable to keep it there and reuse it, than repeat the installation process during each visit. It was imperative that I keep it dry at all times though, which seemed reasonable and doable to me.
Dr. Khorenian returned to inspect the peripheral line and to reassure my son again that he didn’t have to worry about the pathogen, so long as he washed his hands after every contact and followed the commonsense rules of hygiene.
I slept much better that night, didn’t have any hallucinations, didn’t experience as much pain as I had in the previous days and by morning, could see marginally better than the night before. Kudos to the ER of Burnaby Hospital for going nuclear on neisseria meningitidis by using intravenous therapy, I thought. The pathogen may have a good strategy in forming basic clusters of two bacilli each, to maximize impact on the tissue it invades, but it obviously was no match for this WMD.
We returned to the ER in the afternoon of Tuesday, December 12th for a second intravenous therapy session. Dr. Byron Morton introduced himself and after some forgettable small talk, stepped aside for a nurse to take my temperature; which routine was again followed by the proclaimation, “Thirty-seven degrees.”
“I haven’t heard from the ophthalmologist this far. Do you have any indication as to when I may see him? My own ophthalmologist is Dr. Richard Cadwell.”
“I’ll find out once we get you started,” Dr. Morton replied. The therapy session itself went on uneventful, but somewhere in the middle of it, my son broke the silence with news from the US.
“Oh, Roy Moore lost the Alabama Senate race to the Democrat.”
“Well, isn’t that good news? Steve Bannon can go back to his home state with his tail between his legs and leave the people of Alabama alone.”
Dr. Morton chuckled.
“You didn’t hear that.”
“No, of course not,” he replied.
He walked us to the hospital’s reception and there, obtained details of the ophthalmologist’s address and the time for my appointment with him the next morning, which he recorded on a prescription slip and handed to us. As we parted company, he said, “Just a heads up; you may receive a call from another agency, because of public health concerns about this pathogen. Its standard procedure.”
“Thanks and you have a good evening.”
We drove to Dr. Philip Dubois’ the next morning, Wednesday December 13th, for the appointment arranged by the ER. The doctor had me try the standard chart reading test to assess my visual acuity, but it was hopeless. Then he took a look at my eyes through his microscope and became settled in his mind.
“I’m going to arrange for you to see Dr. Yong as soon as possible. She’s a cornea specialist and is better qualified to deal with the lesions which have developed on your right eye, as a result of the infection.”
“But that’s crazy, it used to be my good eye.”
“Then you must see her immediately.”
Immediately was in fact, the same day. We went to see Dr. Yong in Vancouver, after leaving Dr. Dubois in Burnaby. This would of course, be the sixth doctor I’d seen since the neisseria meningitidis invasion four days earlier. Yet, counting by consultations consequential to my relief and allowing for the fact that the second ER doctor substitutes for the first in that case, the number would stand at four.
We found a roadside parking slot close to our destination and thought to take advantage of it, but discovered we’d have to pay fourteen Dollars for an hour there. “No, that’s a rip off,” I said, so we drove off to the car park beneath a building nearby. That turned out to be a classic big mistake made by motorists visiting Vancouver city. How could I have forgotten? We ended up paying sixteen Dollars, instead of fourteen.
There were quite a number of patients waiting to see one, or other of the doctors who work together at this clinic in Vancouver, so we had to wait quite a bit before I could see Dr. Yong.
Some things about the neisseria meningitis invasion will remain with me for quite a while.
- We’d agreed beforehand to visit my elder daughter on the very day the invasion started. This would be the first time her mother had seen her new apartment and she was keen to have all four of us visit for a family reunion. She was very disappointed to learn that I wouldn’t be coming, because I was unwell and pleaded with her mother to convince me to at least come and rest there for the afternoon. At the time of course, we none of us had any idea about the nature of my ailment. We wrongly assumed that it had something to do with the surgery I’d had twelve weeks earlier. Nevertheless, I declined to attend the event, knowing full well that her plea meant that it was very important to her. The intense pain I was experiencing on that first day made even the 23 km drive to Richmond seem frivolous. When I did learn about the nature of the pathogen, I was especially grateful that I’d limited the exposure of others to it by refusing to keep the prior engagement.
- When I was informed that the pathogen was neisseria meningitidis, I remembered a close friend of mine who died of meningitis some thirty-seven years earlier. The thought of him left me on guard against possibilities of spreading the pathogen, but also appreciative of the attention I was receiving under the province of British Columbia’s single payer Medical Services Plan.
- I missed the online community I’d assembled. I interacted with its members frequently through WhatsApp and less frequently, by email. They included high school year mates and others from more junior years, college mates, friends I’d made in other settings and close relations. They are of diverse nationalities and reside in different countries, but I’ve had offline interactions with majority of them, in times past. As happens in social media groupings these days, much of the time we exchange light hearted satirical materials on different aspects of life between us. Sometimes though, more serious materials like links to important reports, blog posts and other published material come to our attention through these exchanges. The pathogen’s invasion so deteriorated my eyesight from the first day, that I couldn’t read. It left me feeling cut off from what had become an important part of my social life and I grieved for that loss. While I’d taken the online community seriously, I was for the most part unaware of its contribution to my wellbeing, until the invasion prevented me from interacting with it.
[To be continued …]