If You Never Tri, You'll Never Know!

Terrified of Strep

The first sign of swelling. My knees eventually became unrecognizable.
The initial fever...
Rare. Life threatening. Complication. Death.
Words that consumed me for weeks and terrify me to this day...

Most of us are familiar with streptococcus (strep throat). But did you know that left untreated, it becomes rheumatic fever? Very dangerous. Don't worry, the doctors missed it too! And that's how I found myself literally dying in 2012 and left with getting a shot of antibiotic (the one in the butt that feels like peanut butter is being injected into your muscle ~p.s., PTSD has left me anxiety ridden over medications...) every month for forever.

Ya see, what had happened was... I had qualified for the Hy-Vee National Championship triathlon to be held in Iowa. I talked a few buddies into going and we made the 16 hour road trip north. I was so excited that I actually won a slot into such a "prestigious" race. Heading up I didn't feel right but disregarded it to traveling and anxiety. In no hurry, my friends and I made tons of stops taking photos at Graceland and silly sites. Stopping at a little antique shop I felt very uncomfortable. I asked a little old lady to feel me if I had a fever. "You're burning up darlin!" No biggie! Stopped at the pharmacy for some vitamin C and took a few Tylenol to break the fever.

Arriving in Iowa and preparing for the race I was back and forth fine and not fine. I was trying to talk myself out of being sick; I've got a race to race! But the fever was relentless. Keeping my friends and family up to date, I kept detailed reports on my Facebook...

Sept 1: 2012, "Update: after holding a 102* fever for way too long, coach insisted I go to Urgent Care. Test results stumped the doctor there. Since I had such a high fever and the threat of West Nile (it was a threat in the south at the time) he sent me to the ER. After more tests and exams, lots of questions, several doctors, PA's, and lots of nurses they settled on a "viral illness". They don't normally run into West Nile so in order to do a test, lab work is sent to Minnesota. The results would take too long so it was pointless to even attempt the test. We all agreed to focus on breaking the fever and staying hydrated. Fortunately my nutrient content is good (considering I haven't been able to eat...). Will I race depends entirely how I feel tomorrow morning. My fever broke last night and has stayed down for several hours now. I am going to continue to rest, hydrate, and prep as if I'm racing. Thank you so much friends for all the well wishes, prayers, and good thoughts!!"

Later that day, "Thank you for all the well wishes. I've kept the fever down all day. My bike is in transition and my bag is packed. As long as I wake up with a little bit of energy, I'm racing. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger!!"

A miserable pain in my lower back woke me up at 3am the morning before my race and a raging fever. It was certainly TRYING to kill me!!

The pain in my back was diagnosed as an ovarian cyst that burst. I have a hard time believing that everything going on wasn't related and even to this day find reports of lower back pain from others who have gone through rheumatic fever. Regardless, the fever was of more concern. I was reaching 103, 104, and peaked at 105*. The ER docs (3 different ER docs) insisted on the initial diagnosis, a viral illness. Aren't ALL illnesses viral!? Viral and bacterial, yes!? I don't understand!! With a fever that high I couldn't even think of an argument... More drugs please...

Tylenol with codeine and a near overdose of Ibuprofen I finally broke the fever long enough to be released from the ER, pull my bike from transition, and half way function. When my one buddy finished the race we all acknowledged that we needed to get on the road and get back home QUICK. It was during this time that I started to notice my knees swelling. It was also at this time that I started making phone calls to my buddy back home who is a doctor. The inflammation went from my knees to my ankles. And later in my elbows, wrists, and fingers. I'm not talking about a little bit of swelling, they were BALLOONS! Back to the ER... so here I am sitting in the ER (AGAIN) all inflamed and swollen, high fever, excruciating back pain, and literally DYING and they have nothing to say except that I've already been diagnosed with a viral illness and there was nothing more that could be done. We loaded in the van and hauled ass to Mississippi. 

Upon arrival, my doctor buddy brought me in immediately to draw and send off blood. It wasn't but a few hours later that he called me back in for a double dose of antibiotic - RHEUMATIC FEVER. 

Rheumatic fever is an inflammatory diseases that comes from leaving strep untreated. While the doctors in Iowa did do a throat culture for strep, they didn't check my blood for it. It wasn't in my throat, but it was in my blood. The link between strep and rheumatic fever isn't clear but what doctors (scientist?) think happens is the bacterium "plays tricks" on the immune system. Rheumatic fever is your own antibodies attacking... The strep bacteria contains a protein similar to one found in certain tissues of the body (commonly heart, joints, skin, and central nervous system). Since it is your antibodies job to attack the bacteria, it also attacks the same particular protein in those tissues. The immune system reaction results in inflammation. Painful inflammation. Usually strep is detected with a sore throat and prompt treatment of antibiotics eliminates the bacteria. Without the treatment, the strep continues to circulate through the blood and all antibodies onboard attack, thus...rheumatic fever. Thanks to Doctor Kerby's quick find the bacteria hadn't yet traveled to my heart (where it destroys your heart valves and usually ends in death of the patient). 

It took months to work all the scar tissue from the inflammation out of my joints. And by months, I mean I'm still dealing with it... I experience almost arthritic type symptoms now. I'm on a religious daily glucosamine and chondroitin regiment as well as my monthly antibiotic shot from a team of Infectious Disease Specialists. Yes, a team; I'm their little rare "study" over there.

So why am I telling you all about this? Well I found myself in the ER Tuesday night with similar symptoms. I had a sore throat, fever, achey lower back, and my joints were once again swelling. I have been under the impression that with my monthly shots I am immune to the strep bacteria and/but/so/can rheumatic fever re- FLARE UP !? I feel like a medical mystery...

Once again, the ER docs diagnosed me with a viral infection. Oh no, not again!! They were going to send me on my way with nothing but given my history I INSISTED on some antibiotics or SOMETHING !? Please don't send me home to die!! 
He ended up "against his better judgement" (<------WHAT!? You are going to send me home with medicine "against your better judgement" !? I don't even understand!! What do you mean AGAINST YOUR BETTER JUDGEMENT!? I promise you I will NOT go back to Garden Park) prescribing me an antiviral, an antibiotic to go on top of what's already patrolling my body, and some magic mouthwash stuff for my sore throat. I woke up the next morning feeling better; even went for a bike ride. I don't know people! It's a medical mystery to me too!! By the end of the day (last night) I could tell I overdid it but like I always say, what doesn't kill me makes me stronger!

So my BIGGER reason why I'm telling you all this (besides just sharing my story to perhaps save someone else the mystery...). LISTEN TO YOUR BODY. And treat your body like the temple it is. Being active like I am has helped me get through all the joint issues I have had (and will have for the rest of my life). Being persistent and honest with doctors ensures (medicinally) that I retrieve the care I need. You know you better than anyone else in the world. If something doesn't feel, look, or sound right...don't ignore it. Take care of yourself. And by God, if you have a sore throat, do NOT leave it untreated!!!