After an entire day of Holi festivities and everyone walking around with polychromatic faces, I was bound to fall asleep the moment my head hit the pillow. The next morning, I woke up with a tiny lump on my collarbone and immediately regretted all the incessant yelling and the glasses of Thandai (a cold milk-based Indian drink) that I downed. Must be a swollen lymph node (Correct!) due to cold or throat infection (Incorrect!)
The general practitioner prescribed some antibiotics which I skipped conveniently. Did I tell you I’m a believer of healing naturally almost in the same time frame as with medicines? Well, that didn’t turn out well and I caught a fever soon followed by a cough and subsequently I was dragged to a family friend who needless to say, is a doctor. Her face fell as I described my symptoms and she wrote down a list of tests that I was required to get. Immediately.
Panic Mode Activated!
I was rushed to a diagnostic centre at midnight to get the MRI, Chest X-Ray and Ultrasound which was followed by a series of blood tests and something called Fine Needle Aspiration Cytology (FNAC) where they insert a needle in the lump and suck out a small amount of tissue to test, and all the while, my ever chirpy father moved around with a grave look on his face until the reports came.
Tuberculosis, he rejoiced.
Tuberculosis, I cried.
Now I won’t call myself overly optimistic. I was just plain dumb to realize, even after the doctor not-so-subtly trying to prepare me for it, that the only other diagnosis for my symptoms was Cancer. But it made no difference to the devastating news that had hit me. I couldn’t force myself to be relatively relieved.
I got the basic idea about the disease by extensive research on the internet wherefrom I deduced that TB or Consumption (as they used to call it in the touch-me-not times) is a slow-growing bacterial infection usually caused by Mycobacterium tuberculosis which can use our bloodstream as fare-free transport system and spread to other parts of the body.
1. Active – the one where bacteria wins.
2. Latent – the one where immune system wins.
1. Pulmonary – in the lungs (cough, contagious, common)
2. Extrapulmonary – anywhere except the lungs (like lymph nodes, in my case)
Now the disease doesn’t look so bad but the course of treatment is a nightmare. A minimum 6 months of rigorous medication which is divided into 2 months of the four-drug regimen (Rifampicin, Isoniazid, Ethambutol and Pyrazinamide), each drug having it’s individual mutually exclusive set of side-effects followed by 4 months of reduced two-drug dosage (Rifampicin and Isoniazid) which is topped with an extra 3 months to make sure it’s completely out of your system. Bonus! Boo! Cut it short or miss your doses and you’ll have to go through the entire process all over again. You can either opt for Direct Observed Treatment (DOTS) where you go to a medical facility and take the drugs under supervision or just get the prescribed medicines from a drug store.
My treatment started on the ides of March. I was made to press the pause button on everything that I was doing and was medically advised to sit back and relax, to forget about studies and other worldly troubles. The strong medicines called for a protein rich diet which for a vegetarian such as myself meant eating all day. And although extrapulmonary tuberculosis is relatively not contagious, I still marked my territory for the sake of safety.
The problem with Tuberculosis is that you don’t see yourself getting better. It’s just endless months of medication without visible effect, just like beauty creams. You wouldn’t even know you’re sick if not for the side-effects of the drugs. Forget the fanta coloured pee, the weakening of eyesight, the falling asleep anytime/anywhere, nausea and the feeling to punch everyone in the face, the real deal is the itch. Yes! My entire body used to feel like a vampire pushed out to burn in the sun (assumptions made). I have scratched the skin off my calves multiple times. And how can I forget, the medicines mess up your liver without even getting you drunk. I mean what’s the point?
Also, by far there are only indicative tests to verify whether you’re cured of extrapulmonary TB. Although the success rate of the treatment is pretty high, there is no Pass or Fail result to confirm it. There are regular blood and liver function tests to map the impact of the medicines on your body.
So here I’m going to list down the bad and the good things that happened during the entire course of my treatment irrespective of the relevance to the disease.
1. I went through my first major Quarter-life crisis.
2. The four drug tablets were the size of those Fox’s candy and I was required to swallow two of them daily.
3. The lump/abscess on my collarbone burst to form an ulcer which required regular dressing for about 10 weeks.
4. I missed two major exams.
5. My patience went down into the ground and temper shot up to the sky.
1. I went through my first major Quarter-life crisis.
2. I started thehungryskeleton.com.
3. I went on my first international trip to Thailand.
4. I discovered my passion for baking. My Instagram proves it!
5. Books, Food, Movies, TV and all the time in the world.
And today, on the last day of my treatment course, I am writing this post as a little self-pat on my back thinking, “I did it! I did it without completely losing it!” and to share my story with people who can unfortunately relate to it.
Have any questions? Feel free to drop a comment below.