If you haven’t read part one, please do so now, I’ll wait…………
So there I was being seen by a nurse and she was shocked that I was a bit on the yellow side. She told me that according to the symptoms (and my lemony complexion), it looked like I had Hep C. After this came a very delicate discussion in which the nurse tried to probe carefully but not insultingly into my activities. I caught on right away and bottom lined it for her. I told her I don’t drink, use drugs, smoke, or do anything that would make me resemble a Simpsons character.
She was sure it was Hep C, and ran a blood test to confirm. The test came back a few days later and it was negative for Hep C (and all the other Heps). Her course of action was to run the test again because as she told me sometimes Hep C doesn’t present right away. Second test came back negative, and so of course she ran the test again. They brought a doctor into the mix and his suggestion was (wait for it….) to run another test.
By this time I had enough needles stuck in me to achieve pin cushion status, yet still had no answers. I was getting more yellow (or yellower if I used correct grammar), and couldn’t hold down much food because my liver had a tiny “out of service” sign on it. I knew it wasn’t Hep C, but whatever it was, it was doing a number on me (that line could be a lyric from a really weird song)!
On my birthday (November 7th for those of you who want to send a card), I got a call from the health center. It seems the latest test came back with results that were off the chart. Specifically it was the bilirubin level in my system (bilirubin by the way is the yellow pigment found in bile – eww). In normal adults, the level of bilirubin is around 1. In my system the level was at 53! The nurse said they had an appointment set up with me at Mass General with a liver specialist. I asked when they said in a few hours because things were that bad.
So I spent my birthday getting the same 3rd degree about my life style and the same poking and prodding, only this time done by a doctor who was top in his field of study. The blood work came back negative but really messed up. Instead of running them again however the doctor put me through a series of tests to figure things out. I had a CAT scan, and MRI, an endoscopy, a colonoscopy and some other fun medical procedures .
Now you may be wondering how I could afford all these tests when in part 1 I had mentioned I was bereft of health insurance. Well in a stroke of good fortune and great relatives, my cousin actually at one point ran the very health center that had a “Hep C or Bust” philosophy and found a way to get me free treatment from Mass General. I am not naming names, and I am sure no one connected to this tale will read this and know who I am talking about, but in any case I wanted to thank her, because without that help, I would be still to this day telling stories to pay medical bills!
Back to our tale….So after a bunch of tests and getting drained of more blood than the main course at a vampire buffet, I had one of the best liver specialists in MGH look at me and say “We don’t know what this is!” He decided to do a liver biopsy because whatever it was, was getting worse and until they knew what they were dealing with, they didn’t know how to treat it. A liver biopsy is a very scary procedure involving needles the size of javelins. I was very nervous and for the first time a bit scared.
To calm me, the doctor made small talk and we chatted about this whole crazy thing. He said “Are you sure you didn’t do anything different in the last few months and I said “No”. As he was prepping the giant needles, I offhandedly mentioned that I had taken some medicine for an ear infection in August. He looked at me with the dumbfounded look my wife gives me when I do something horribly stupid. He asked why I never mentioned that before, and I told him I thought it didn’t matter (yes in hindsight I realize it did matter, but at the time I didn’t think there could be a connection – yet another reason no one calls me Dr. Big Joe).
He went into a medical database and found that indeed the drug I took had a one in 5 million chance of causing liver damage in people who took it (never won the lottery, but take a pill and I hit the jackpot!). He told me that he would run the results of the biopsy against this new information, but the odds were good that was the culprit.
Sure enough the ear medicine and my glow in the dark complexion were related. So now he knew what it was, but stopping it was another matter. We had a very deep conversation in which he told me they had a plan and were going to try some medications to fix the situation, but if that didn’t work they would have to do a liver transplant. He said the problem is that even with the transplant my system may be so damaged that it may not take and…..At first I didn’t get what he was driving at, but then I got the point. If the drugs or transplant didn’t work, I would soon be telling stories in Heaven (or Hell, it really could go either way with me). I am a man of great wit and many jokes, but in that moment staring at my own mortality, I didn’t have anything funny to say.
I asked him what the plan was, and he laid it out for me.
To Be Continued