I am rarely sick. Whether it be because of all the dirt I ate as a child or because I am terrible about washing my hands despite spending 50% of my time in hospitals, I haven’t been laid-up-in-bed sick since elementary school. The last time I was significantly ill was when I had walking pneumonia four years ago, and I crushed that nonsense like a champ.
People like to feel smug about all sorts of health-related things–trust me, I hear about this all the time. Being regular, being more constipated than you’ve ever known, having the most sensitive skin/the heaviest flow/abnormally low blood pressure, having a high tolerance to pain. Incidentally, everyone you ask has a high tolerance to pain. It’s always “Oh, I usually have a ridiculous pain threshold but this pain is really bad.” No one’s ever like, “Yeah, I admit it, now can I have some Oxycontin?”
Anyway, my smug thing is never bellyaching about my belly aching–heck, never having my belly ache in the first place. Headache? I take some ibuprofen and sit the eff down. Period cramps? I ask myself, is this worse than giving birth sans epidural? Nah. Perhaps an interesting attitude from someone who intends to go into healthcare, but let me assure you I am very sympathetic to my patients.
But anyway, this weekend I had a pretty raging hangover both Saturday and Sunday morning (and in typical Joceline fashion, I never get hangovers). I assumed it was because I had sweated out considerable amounts of body water the nights previously and completely failed to rehydrate. So I washed some ibus down with water and forgot about it. Come Monday morning though, I woke up with the same hangover symptoms as Saturday and Sunday…without drinking the night before. Splitting headache, fogginess, and most concerning of all, nagging muscle pains (myalgias) that wouldn’t go away no matter how much stretching I did.
Well shoot guys. This was the first time in a long while I’d felt bad without a clear cause–no period or alcohol to blame for my symptoms. Also, ever heard of Med Student Syndrome? It’s when you think you have every new disease you read about, from Ragged Red Fibers to leishmaniasis. We’re armed with a beautiful thing called A Little Bit of Knowledge About a Lot of Scary Diseases, and when you say myalgias we’re primed to come up with a list of any possible diagnoses that have the slightest association with muscle aches. My thoughts included:
- the flu
- an STD prodrome (ohGodpleaseno)
- Lyme disease/other tick-borne illness
- lupus (should be on every differential, don’t you watch House?)
- epidural abscess in my spinal cord causing back and leg pain
- polymyalgia rheumatica
- chronic migraines (despite never having had one before)
- lead poisoning
- MELAS (Mitochondrial Encephalomyopathy, Lactic Acidosis, and Stroke-Like symptoms (okay a congenital disease so I definitely don’t have it (but the name is so ridiculous I had to include it)))
- PMS (just when you think you’re an adult and have this PMS crap under control)
- fibromyalgia (oh no am I one of THOSE people?!)
It was scary. And thus I realized the shittiness of being sick. It’s not that you feel bad and everything hurts–yes, that sucks, but it’s not the worst part. It’s that, until someone figures it out, you could have anything. A whole host of diseases that you know are bad, and then maybe there’s something out there that’s even worse that you just don’t know about yet! Especially when your symptoms are as vague as “headache” and “muscle pain”. And I have to say, being in med school definitely exposed me to a bunch of knowledge that makes being vaguely ill pretty bad. Not only do I know obscure conditions that can make it on the differential, but I am also constantly around sick people. Maybe it’s time to start washing my hands…
Oh, also, I’m pretty sure I know what it is now. Turns out I was suffering some severe caffeine withdrawal over the weekend. A large coffee with dinner pretty much eradicated my symptoms. So much for not whining about silly things…