History #15 – second hospitalization, mid January 02 – skin lesions, or, why I don’t like dermatologists

February 14, 2007 at 6:27 am | Posted in chemo side effects, Diagnosis and treatment history, My initial treatment -- induction, Sam Cantin, Stanford Hospital, TNT | 1 Comment

This post is about a part of my treatment that’s one of my favorite stories to tell to participants in the Team in Training endurance training programs. I like to tell it when the season gets into the longer and more physically difficult parts of the program. I know many of the TNT volunteers who’ve been around don’t like the story, since it is more than a bit gross. But I think it’s a good reminder of the things that blood cancer and chemotherapy patients go through, that maybe their pain is equal to or worse than mile 20 of a marathon.

And I’ve never heard of anyone having something like this. Which proves a point I make: When you’ve heard the story of one leukemia patient, you’ve heard one. Everyone has had something a little different happen to them.

It was a few days into this second hospitalization that a different kind of infectious process started. For some reason, it occurred only on my face and the top of my head.

Day one would start with a smallish pimple. Tiny, red.

  • Later that day it would increase in size. It would turn into a reddish, boil-looking lesion, about as big as the end of your thumb.
  • Day two the red boil-looking lesion would turn green, with pustule-like stuff inside of it. Other new small pimples would begin, increasing in size that first day.
  • Day three the green pustule would turn black. They would have this scaly-looking texture, no longer inflamed or pustule-filled. They would remain that way for several days, and then fall off. New day one red pimples would begin, as would new day two green pustules.

None of this was painful, mind you. But it was a bit awkward to be seen in public, which really wasn’t an issue, as I still had to wear the haz-mat-looking HEPA filter mask and drag an IV pole when outside. (Remember, as I was frequently reminded, the hospital was much worse than the bug-filled deadly home environment.)

Then came the day that this innocuous but ugly condition turned painful. And it wasn’t the pustules themselves that made the condition painful. What made it painful was … a dermatologist.

I now dislike dermatologists intensely. I’m sure they’re nice people, as were the dermatology fellow and resident who came into my hospital room that day announcing they were going to try to diagnose the bug that was causing the pustules. They were two pleasant females, but with a sadistic streak that soon became apparent.

OK, I’m being dramatic. But what they did say was that they had to biopsy one of the green pustules to try and culture the bug in there, in hopes of finding the right treatment for it.

“Oh, and by the way,” they said as they were taking out their scalpels to obtain a biopsy, “while we can deaden the skin around the lesion with xylocaine, we can’t deaden the inside of the green pustule. And unfortunately there are live nerve endings in there. So putting the scalpel in may hurt a little bit.”

So they put the scalpel in. And they pushed back and forth inside, trying to get a good sample.

Later, Sam, who was in the hallway talking to the nurses apparently to avoid the unpleasantries unfolding inside my room, told me that the scream I made could be heard down the entire length of the Hematology Unit.

This was the second time I was aware of being put on a morphine drip in my hospitalizations at Stanford. So, soon after, I felt ok. They never did figure out what caused all that.

As it turns out, this was going to be one of the better days of this hospitalization. I had more life-threatening, if fewer green pustule-filled, adventures ahead.

And by the way, you can see one of the final black pustule remnants in the picture in the header at the top of this blog. Look at my forehead. That was the last of them. If you look closely, you can see some very faint scarring in a couple of places on my face still. Ask me sometime and I’ll show you.

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1 Comment »

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  1. Gee what a story.


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