Saturday, January 20, 2018

THAT ZINKING FEELING – My Losing Battle To Avoid The Creeping Crud

Like just about everyone I know, I’ve been under the thumb of some crazy sinus/respiratory bug the past couple of weeks. Some, I hear, have been there for a couple of months.

I don’t know if it’s simply a cold or some other, much tougher virus. Either way, I’d been living in deathly fear of catching it. Because every time I’ve done so in the past six years or so, it’s turned into full-blown, chest-rending bronchitis. Those repeated assaults have permanently damaged my bronchia.

So in late December, knowing I’d be spending Christmas in Boston with a couple of prolific little carriers—not to mention flying back and forth in a veritable flying sick ward of sneezers and hackers—l bolster my defenses as never before.

I wash my hands every time I’m within walking distance of soap and water. I carry a little bottle of Purell in a holster on my belt. I hydrate like it’s going out of style. I even wear a serious N-95 surgical respirator while on the plane.

PHOTO: James Gatheny / CDC

Despite my best efforts, a few days after I get home I come down with a sore throat. So I employ phase one of the emergency-response plan my ENT and I devised. First, it’s a five-day course of the steroid prednisone. I also start on Zycam, the homeopathic remedy even my ENT doc agrees can fend off, or at least shorten, the common cold.

For now, I hold off on phase two, the antibiotic tablets I keep with me at all times like someone allergic to bee stings carries epinephrine. (I’m nearly as afraid of becoming antibiotic resistant as I am of getting bronchitis.)

But a few days later the disgusting globs I’m coughing and blowing have turned a muted gray-chartreuse. Damn, my cue to start the doxycycline.

   It makes my tongue feel strange, like someone’s
   stapled a tiny sheet of aluminum foil over it.


All this time I’m also taking zinc. Lots of zinc. Not just the usual 25-milligram supplement I normally take daily, but 50 milligrams. Now I step it up even further, popping zinc-rich Airborne chewables like candy. Plus the Zycam, both lozenges and nasal spray, which I’ve now been taking every three hours, round the clock, for two weeks.

One interesting side effect of taking Zycam, whose instructions call for its being dissolved slowly on the tongue, is that it makes my taste buds feel strange, like someone’s stapled a tiny sheet of aluminum foil over my tongue. Nothing tastes right.

Flash forward to last Sunday morning. I’m on just my second day of the doxy, still inundating myself with zinc. I wake up to a wave of nausea, run to the bathroom and vomit.

The spewing continues all day. While any thought of food is a non-starter, I know I at least have to stay hydrated. But even sipping a quarter cup of water is like adding fuel to a fire; I erupt.

Around 6:00 PM, I assume the position yet again. Oh, my God, there couldn’t be anything left to throw up; this is going to be just dry heaves. Nope. I heave about two  quarts of clear, colorless water.

Now my wife gets concerned, even more than I. We’re wondering what has hit me. The flu? Everything we find online says that usually involves a fever, not vomiting. But I don’t have a fever, nor any of the overall body involvement one expects with the flu. Food poisoning? But I haven’t had anything at all to eat since last night.

Out of ideas, I ask her to Google “zinc, poisoning.” Turns out Wikipedia and most reputable medical websites acknowledge the metal’s toxicity, but only in massive doses—about twice as much as I’ve been taking. Symptoms include vomiting and several other effects I, thank God, am not experiencing.

Almost all the articles refer to “a metallic taste in the mouth” and possible deadening of the taste buds. Some say the Zycam nasal spray can permanently damage one’s sense of smell.

     Is the presumption that one can have any 
     control whatsoever over one’s health perhaps 
     a little arrogant?

With night approaching—a Sunday to boot—and no certainty one of those storefront urgent care services would administer intravenous fluids and electrolytes, we head to the Regions Hospital E.R. After a series of brief interactions with various nurses and technicians over a six-hour period—believe me, I understood that auto accident, gun-shot and drug overdose patients were outscoring me in triage—I finally get my I.V. and some anti-nausea medication. Within an hour, I’m headed home.

So what did I learn from this miserable, memorable day? That I didn’t have pneumonia. That I probably had gastroenteritis, quite likely unrelated to my sinusitis. That zinc, while it may have contributed to my nausea, probably wasn’t the main culprit. (Nonetheless, I'm in no hurry to start taking it again.)

I’m happy to report that my sinus/respiratory infection feels like it’s on the way out. I celebrate that I’ve managed to avert another case of bronchitis.

Still, I’m left wondering: Has my less-than-stellar experience with zinc proven not only that my obsessive efforts to stave off colds just don’t work, but that they might actually hurt me? Is wearing a surgical mask while flying even worth the discomfort and embarrassment?

And, perhaps the most important question: is the presumption that one can have any control whatsoever over one’s health a misplaced hope, perhaps a little arrogant? What does this say about one’s faith? These thoughts are just beginning to percolate in my mind. What do you think? 


jean said...

I sure hope you are feeling a lot better now, Jeff! I carry around a spray bottle of EverClear and water and spray down everything at the studio that I can! I would spray down the people who should have stayed home and didn't if I could! So far so good but around me, they are dropping like flies! Spring is coming and we getting ready to enter February, a month closer to April!!!!!

Jeffrey Willius said...

I am finally feeling better, Jean. Thanks. Not been a very fun January, but I'm grateful to be past the worst of it, and look forward to a healthy spring and summer. Sounds like you're doing all the right things, so here's hoping you escape unscathed!

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