Wednesday of last week, I went in for what I thought would be my final ultrasound of this pregnancy. Although it was only hump day, I’d already had a strenuous week. I woke up Monday morning with severe pain in my left ear. I was staying home with V because she still hadn’t gone 24 hours fever-free. I texted my stepmom and begged for her to come help take care of V, then waited for my doctor’s office to open at 9 so I could request an antibiotic. I started on a Z Pack that day with high hopes it would clear up my infection.
Tuesday, I struggled through work half-deaf, taking Tylenol every four hours just to make the pain bearable. My stepmom stayed home with V (who STILL could not give us 24 hours under 101 degrees) so that neither Odie nor I had to take yet another unpaid sick day, despite the fact that I clearly needed it.
Wednesday morning, I woke up with fluid draining out of my ear. My ear drum had perforated some time in the night. The pain was bloody awful. I heard nothing on the left side but the throbbing of fluid against my tympanic membrane in time to the beating of my heart. On the bright side, V had a terrific day with her step-grandma and was ready to return to school. I dropped her off on my way to another miserable day of work where I counted the minutes until my next dose of Tylenol, even though it gave me almost no relief.
I considered canceling my ultrasound appointment in favor of a trip to urgent care, then decided I would just go after the appointment. This was just a routine growth scan, and I knew that Pringles was growing fine.
But it’s always SOMETHING at these appointments. This time, the doctor detected that my baby’s cranial artery and umbilical artery readings were on the line of abnormal. He said this suggested the possibility that my placenta was getting tired (I always knew that bitch was lazy), and it could be a sign that it would begin to fail. There was increased blood flow to my daughter’s brain, which is how her little body compensates for my languid placenta. He ordered me on immediate 100% bed rest and twice weekly non-stress tests.
A non-stress test is just like the name implies. Very non-stressful. Especially at my doctor’s plush office. I sit on a cozy table in front of a flat screen tv in a dimly lit room and listen to my baby’s heartbeat on a monitor for about half an hour. I push a little Jeopardy! button every time I feel Pringles move, then the technician types up a report and I’m out.
I’m in shock about bed rest. That means I go on maternity leave immediately. I will never again stand in front of this classroom of students and be their teacher. Ever. My heart pounds with joy and relief. I didn’t know how I was going to drag myself through the remaining days anyway. Then, the trepidation grips me. It also means no money. Nothing matters but me and my baby’s health, I decide. We’ll figure out the money thing somehow.
The wait at urgent care isn’t long in the waiting room, but once they put me in an exam room, I have to wait for an hour. Why do doctor’s offices do this? They call your name in the waiting room and you get so excited. It’s like winning Bingo! My turn! It’s MY TURN! Some nice young person in scrubs takes my blood pressure and temperature, asks me about allergies to medications, then tells me the doctor will “be right in.” And it’s a damn, dirty lie.
After an hour had passed, I poked my head out the door, saw no one, then walked down the hall to the front desk where I found three people sitting and chatting jovially with a woman in a white coat who stood over a laptop on the counter.
“Sorry to bother you. I was just wondering if maybe there was a mix-up and no one knows I’m in room six,” I said politely.
All joviality fell away from the face of the woman in the white coat, “I’m coming to you next. I’ll be right there,” she barked at me. I tip-toed back to my room.
Five minutes later, the lady came in and introduced herself as a physician’s assistant. I felt a wave of disappointment that I wasn’t seeing a doctor. She asked me why I was there and what was wrong. She asked me all the same questions I’d already answered in written form when I checked in, as well as told the assistant who took my vitals. Doesn’t anyone talk to each other? Read charts? Instead of immediately looking in my ear with the scope, she kept flashing it on and off in my face like a fucking detective interrogation technique.
“Your chart says you took codeine. WHY?” she snapped at me.
“Because my ear drum ruptured and I’m in terrible pain,” I responded. I felt like somehow I had become a drug addict, and my trip to the UC was to trick this PA into giving me drugs. I felt nervous and defensive.
“Does your OB know you took the codeine?” Flash, flash, flash with the scope.
“Well, no. I mean I didn’t call her and tell her, no.”
“Mmmmhmmmm, that’s what I thought. You know what I’m going to say now, right?”
“You’re expecting aren’t you? You know your baby gets some of that drug, too?” Flash, flash, flash.
“But, um, my OB prescribed it to me. It’s in the cough syrup she gave me. SHE certainly knows I’m pregnant.”
“Oh.” Pause. “That’s true.”
At this time, she ACTUALLY looked in my ear for about a millisecond, then flashed the light in my face again. “Do you know you have a ruptured ear drum?” She asked the question in a tone suggesting here was yet ANOTHER thing I was being devious or duplicitous about.
“I assumed so, but I didn’t know.”
You see, all I wanted from this UC experience was some ear drops with benzocaine in them. I needed relief from the pain. I could hardly think. The “doctor” turned and walked out and said something about ear drops as she left. I love the show “House, M.D.” as much as the next person, but I am not keen on having medical personnel see it as some sort of primer on patient care. I was so mad and confused and in pain that I burst into hysterical tears as soon as she left. I lay on my side on the tiny exam table, sobbing and filling the paper cotton disposable (I hope, for the next patient’s sake) pillow with mucus and tears. The assistant came back in with a bucket of water and proceeded to do a “warm water lavage” on my ear while I cried. She actually looked in my ear for an extended time and said, “I don’t know why she’s having me do this; there’s nothing in your ear to flush out.”
At the pharmacy, I continued to cry against my will as I waited for the drops. As I paid for them, the woman at the counter asked me what was wrong. I told her I was in tremendous pain from my ear infection. She told me that she had a bad ear infection once. It turned out to be a tumor.
Just one person after another thrown in my path that day by Providence with words of love and comfort for me.
When I got the meds home, I went through the product information. FDA pregnancy class C (like codeine), which meant that it was not recommended in pregnancy unless you and your doctor decide the benefits outweigh the risks. That bitch who lectured me about taking codeine prescribed me a class C medication without even so much as mentioning the fact. Then I realized that the medication did not contain benzocaine or any other kind of pain control. It was an antibiotic ear drop designed for an OUTER ear infection (mine is obviously behind the ear drum).
And the final punch to the head? “Not to be used in case of ear drum rupture or perforation.”
Thanks a lot, Dr. House.