Saturday, March 20, 2010

Playing with Spiders - A Cautionary Tale of Health Care

It's funny how life can slap me upside the head when I'm thinking of doing something stupid. I learned in January that my insurance carrier, Blue Crap, was going to increase my rates (and thousands of others) by 40% in March, despite the company raking in billions in profits last year. Since I can barely afford it now, I spent February getting checkups... basic blood work, mammary gram, etc. so that I could cancel the policy in March. (California's insurance commission asked Blue Crap to postpone the increase until May.)

Now, all the debates over national health care in the news has me pondering my own recent travails through the system. From the research I've done on the bill that may or may not pass (depending on what news station you watch), the government plan would cost me about the same as I'm paying now. Whooptidoo. But would it provide more? Less? Who knows??? I just know something's gotta give.

The Background
Yes, I got bit by a spider. No, I don't know what kind. I'm not even certain as to when it happened. On February 18th, I was in bed, ready for sleep, when I noticed my left leg felt dry and itchy. I rolled up my p.j.s and put some lotion on and thought it odd that only one leg felt dry. The next day, in the shower, I noticed redness and swelling.

The fact that I was bit by something is a mystery. In winter, I go from pants to pajamas with as little time as possible in between. I often don't bother with lotion out of the shower because I'm cold natured. I'm assuming the spider had to be inside some article of clothing to have bit me in the first place.

Over that first week, I read up on spider bites. I applied peroxide, liquid erythromycin, pure alcohol. The antibiotic or the alcohol never burned which told me they really weren't reaching the problem. I also used cold compresses. None of which did a darn thing.

And the pain in my leg was getting to be horrific. If I casually brush my right leg over the left, the pain would make me scream! Any pressure on the left leg was unbearable. I crawl into my tall bed on my knees. It's habit. Only when I tried to get in bed since the bite, as soon as I put my weight on the left leg, I would fall over on my face from the pain! I've had to teach myself how to get in bed all over again!

I haven't even wanted to post a picture of it because... as a wound, it's soooo unimpressive. I've had much worse from far less dangerous encounters. You would never believe this could cause so much pain! Making It Worse
By the 24th, I'd had enough. I called Mom and got my grandmother's poultice recipe. It was basically clay mixed with vinegar. I took a clay facial mask and mixed it to a thick liquid and applied it to the engorged six inches in diameter. I would let this dry and then apply a hot compress, covered with a towel and a heating pad. I did this several times until I could force an opening in my leg. It drained a pus! But it would close right back up again.

By 9p.m., the swollen, feverish part was now nine inches in diameter and the pain was unbelievable. Knowing I had to fly to Louisiana in a day and a half, I tried to get my little Taiwanese doctor on the phone. She wanted to see me the next morning.

The Cure - Worse than the Disease?
I do have a highly distrustful relationship with her. She is the only doctor I've ever had that discussed money with me. Not only is this uncomfortable, I find it unethical. Several years ago, I had bronchitis, 102 fever, coughing, etc. I dragged my sorry butt into see her for the first time in a year and a half and she opens with, "Why you not pay you bill?"

"Because you didn't send me a bill."

"But you owe me money."

"How would I know that?"

"You pay today?"

"I will call Blue Crap today and verify that I owe you."

"You need to pay today."

I finally got really stern with her and said, "Look, my fever is 102. Can you treat me and I promise, I will straighten this out. Can we just deal with why I'm here today!??!"

So, I've tried to find other doctors at least twice and ... what can I say...she returns phone calls in the middle of the night and I now understand she never will mail me a bill so I have to be on top of things and at least I have a doctor who will see me in an emergency.

She immediately started talking of IV antibiotics... and in my suspicious nature, I suspected this was just a ploy to charge me more. As I pass out any time my veins are played with and I had a flight to catch the next day, I said no way!

But she did lance it. Whatever numbing agent she gave me worked immediately because she kept asking me if I felt that but I had no feeling at all. After she opened it up, she and the nurse sat down on the exam table and pressed on my leg. That, I felt! It was all I could do to stay put. They pressed and pressed and pressed. And when they were done, they had a quart baggie full of orange pus filled gauze! ICK! I couldn't believe all the gunk they got out of my leg!

She cultured it, put in a drain and gave me of the weakest antibiotics on the market.

I left on my trip and on Saturday, I dutifully called into check on my test results. The nurse never came in to check the faxes that day.

Batting 1000 in Baton Rouge
Come Monday, my cell phone was ringing. My culture was not good. It was staph. I would need IV antibiotics right away. I explained I wouldn't be home until the next evening and set out to find a way to get the needed Cipro in Baton Rouge.

I made two phone calls. One to my sister's general practitioner who referred me to an Infusion Center... who knew there were such places??? I called and got an angel named Mary on the phone who immediately asked my doctor's info, placed me on hold to get her pharmacist on the line with my doc and then got my insurance information. Within an hour, they were ready for me! $107 per treatment because my ginormous deductible had not been met.

The family raced me across town in a rain storm and a few hours later, I emerged, one treatment behind me and a line still in my arm for more IV the next day. That night, the swollen feverish area reduced to about three inches. Another round of meds in Baton Rouge and some missed flights home, I was back in LA for my 46th birthday, March 3, feeling old and tired.

Striking Out in L.A.
I saw the doc on Friday. She was impressed with my progress but handed me a scrip that read "8 bags Cipro 400 mg." I thought this was strange.... where do I get that? Will the pharmacy have it? No. Doc wanted me to have EIGHT more rounds of IV. I'm doing the math in my head... 107 x 8 = 856 + the 214 from Baton Rouge... I DON'T HAVE A THOUSAND DOLLARS!!!!

Doc's nurse was standing behind her and giving me a look of disbelief. As I stood there in sticker shock, Doc takes another patient into the exam room. The nurse pulled me in her office and said, " I don't think you need eight rounds... You need two... but not eight."

"If she had told me two, I would have rolled up my sleeve! Look, I need something... she can't just send me away like this! "

The good nurse wrote out a scrip for Cipro pills and went into the exam room, returning with the signature.

I take my pills for a week. I am exhausted all the time which is apparently normal when your body is fighting a bad infection. When I was down to the last two on the 11th, I called to ask for more.

The nurse quibbled... I needed the IV. OK... How much will it cost? I spent the day waiting on the insurance clerk and then my doctor. Suspecting I needed other options, I started looking for infusion centers in L.A. After all, if po-dunk Baton Rouge had one, surely LA LA land has many... If only!

The one in Santa Monica will only see patients from doctors that practice there. The one in Valencia only sees cancer patients. The one at Glendale Adventist - well... I'm STILL waiting for Kay in accounting to tell me how much it will cost! My leg could've fallen off by now!

I finally heard from my doc... It would cost me "around 400 - 500" ('cuse me but in my underemployed world that's HUGE DIFFERENCE! Which is it? 4 or 5???) PER treatment. For the same exact treatment I got in Baton Rouge two weeks before???? NO. FREAKING. WAY!

So after spending the whole day on the phone, I said to my doc, "Look, for 400 bucks, I'll fly to Baton Rouge just to have my sister hold my hand and get me through it and still have money left over for the treatment! I don't have this kind of money. My leg is still infected and at this point, the ethical thing for YOU to do is give me a refill on the pills!"

And she simply said, "OK."

Second Guessing / Second OpinionBy this point, I was so freaked out and wondering if my leg may actually be falling off! I placed a call to my former production boss who is now a homeopath's assistant. I'm always a little afraid to call when something is wrong because she doesn't have a lot of faith in traditional medicine. I tend to believe in a little of both. But, then again, she's NEVER given me bad advice.

She told me to absolutely stick with Cipro. She trained me years ago to always take probiotics when I was on antibiotics. It prevents the inevitable yeast infection and keeps my stomach upset to a minimum. She told me to up my intake because Cipro was so strong. (I'm not going into dosages here... always see a doctor and don't believe what you read on the net!)

She also told me to add oil of oregano to my regimen. It is believed that oil of oregano boosts the immune system and I've taken it when I have a cold or flu so I had some in the house. I also learned that it's good for the skin and destroys organisms that contribute to skin infections and digestive problems.

The Glory of Icthammol
The last thing she told me about I had never heard of but am I ever in love with it now... Icthammol. Funny but every horse person I know has heard of it and believes in it. The black tar draws poison through the skin.

But since I live in California and this state believes in protecting idiots who apparently can't read directions, I can only find a 20% solution. I'm wondering if I could find something stronger down at the tack and feed...

At any rate... it stinks to high heaven and is so so sticky. My friend also suggested cleaning the wound with Seabreeze as it doesn't damage surrounding tissue. The Seabreeze cuts right through the icthammol making wound care so easy.

I noticed right away that it felt as though someone were squeezing the wound. As the days have gotten warmer, I started pinning the left leg of my pants above me knee to give the bite some "air" time. The second day on icthammol, I was sitting at the computer when I realized the leg was draining!

******THIS IS GROSS!!!***********
Around day five, I was pulling off my gauze bandage in the morning when it appeared a string was stuck to my wound. I flinched expecting the pain that would come when the string released...only I realized that was no string! It was a six inch "string" of pus!!!!!! EW!!!!

The icthammol makes the wound look worse than it actually is. I spread the stuff over all the area that is still "lumpy" as that is an indicator of where the poison is.

It looks even more gross with the bandage on it.
The lumpy part is now about one inch in diameter and I'm now on my third round of pills. I was amazed that they cost more on the third scrip... I have no idea what I'm going to do about insurance come May.


Anonymous said...

Oh my goodness, this is super scary Holly!

Snowbrush said...

It is common for people to get bitten by a spider and not know when.

Through all of the shit I've been through, I've reminded myself a thousand times to at least be thankful that I have insurance. That doesn't keep me from worrying that I might someday lose it, but for now, things are good.

I'm really sorry you've been through all this; I've heard similar tales before. Spider bites are a bitch.

pinkglitterfae said...

What a horrific experience you are going though! I had no idea a teeny little spider could cause this much damage! I'm sorry you had a hard time getting someone to help you out, your doctor doesn't sound all that dependable.

I know the US is in the middle of trying to change your medical system. I only know how it works here in Canada. If a spider bite was giving me this much trouble, I would either make an appointment with my doctor, or simply go to the nearest drop in Medical Centre.
I wouldn't pay a penny to see the doctor, or for him to take care of the problem. Believe me, not having to ever think of money when you are sick is a blessing. I can't imagine worrying about cost when I know I need medical care.

Thank goodness it seems like the worst is over for you!

Lauren said...

OMG Holly! What an ordeal you have been going through!!! I'm so glad you're healing.

CreekHiker / HollysFolly said...

Janel, Yes, it surly is! I'm still concerned!

Snow, I am thankful I have insurance but it only covers catastrophic problems...which is good and bad. But as I'm not really gainfully employed (more like burning through savings at a slower rate than if I were unemployed), I don't think money for something like antibiotics should be so expensive. I mean the 107 in BR hurt but 4 -500 per treatment in LA??? WTH?

Pink - You know, I cannot imagine the security of going to the doctor without worrying about money. I sometimes wish I had been born in a more sensible country.

Lauren, thanks!