Monday, June 24, 2024

The long Covid nightmare: rashes, nausea, brain fog and rage

Part 1 of this story of the writer’s memories of his pandemic experiences in 2020 ended with he and his housemate, The Captured Tourist Woman (TCTW), searching for a competent doctor to treat her case of Covid-19. In this conclusion, the couple go down an even more complicated road in search of relief from her months of symptoms afterward.

She got over the initial infection, but then long Covid kicked in with a spontaneous rash.

The first doctor she found prescribed steroids for five days. By the end of the week, she was feeling good and the rash had diminished.

But then, three days later, the rash returned with a vengeance, along with several new symptoms — the worst of which was a smoldering rage.

During this emotional period, I spent much of my time avoiding nonessential interactions with her.

recovered long-Covid patient in Mazatlan
The T-shirt says it all.

One evening, we walked a block to get food when we encountered an older woman not wearing a mask. TCTW’s new fury stepped up: she immediately began berating this senior citizen for her lack of concern for others. When I noticed her hands bunching into fists, I grabbed her by the shoulders, spun her around and quickly escorted her away from the bewildered matron.

It was time to try another doctor.

The second physician put her on a different steroid for three weeks. Both her rage and her rash diminished, but when she started having to shave her face, we decided it was again time to change doctors.

Over weeks, two other doctors gave her medications that we later learned should never have been prescribed. Her condition(s) grew worse.

After wide inquiries, TCTW set up appointments to interview five of the most well-regarded Covid physicians in town. Three wanted to put her back on steroids. One said that her several months of misery was due to something she ate (seriously).

But the last one was a winner.

Her new doctor forbade her from taking any more steroids and immediately had her get an elaborate blood test. After reviewing her results, he put her on a number of different medications.

Since this doctor had his office right next to the full Covid ward at the city’s largest private hospital and spoke to her in terms she thought reflected high competency, we had high hopes. The new medications eliminated her dependence on the steroids, modulated her ugly mood and diminished her rash, but a nagging brain fog remained.

Then the nausea began. The doctor wanted a urine sample, along with more blood tests. When we arrived at the lab and she pulled the urine container from her purse, The Captured Tourist Woman and the receptionist both looked at it in open-mouthed horror: it was no longer full.

The assumption that the container was liquid-tight was a pure expat mistake. We then realized that since we had not specifically asked for a liquid-tight container, this predicament was completely of our own making.

As noses in the room began wrinkling with disgust, I quickly relegated her purse to the trunk of my car.

The medication failed to control her retching. Over the weeks, which turned into months, as things got worse, we tried some natural cures: green apples and ginger were the two most touted on the internet, along with cannabis.

marjiuana joints
Medicinal marijuana helped with the constant nausea, but not for very long. Craig F. Scott/Shutterstock

The centro mercado (central market) had the apples and ginger, but the cannabis required a visit to a neighbor who sported brightly colored dreadlocks. The apples and ginger worked at first, but soon lost their effectivity; time for the cannabis.

I fired up the joint, took a hit just to make sure it wasn’t oregano and handed it to TCTW, who took a couple of good tokes and passed it back. Twenty minutes later, her nausea was gone and she was loudly laughing and smiling for the first time in months. It was short-lived, however.

Her nausea returned, and we realized that we would need to become the Mazatlán incarnation of Cheech and Chong in order to fight her long-term illness with cannabis. And neither of us could have kept up with the cost of the Pringles chips she was driven to devour at the end of each session.

She got a new prescription for anti-nausea medication. We had high hopes that she was finally on the road to recovery. However, the medication would not stay down long enough to be effective.

By this time, she had lost about 15 kilograms and had very little energy. She was becoming seriously dehydrated; it was time for the hospital.

At the admitting desk, her doctor immediately whisked her off to a saline drip while I dealt with the inordinate amount of paperwork.

Whenever I need to deal with any Mexican institution or bureaucracy, I am still always stunned by the volume of paper created for even the most rudimentary of transactions. Complex transactions will require your signature, multiple times, everywhere but on the edge of the paper, and will often be festooned with a colorful assortment of mechanical stamps.

As TCTW was being set up in a room, I soon discovered I was involved in a complex transaction with someone who had the demeanor of a low-rent bill collector. He started by handing me a four-page contract for services, all in 10-point font and, of course, all in Spanish. I began at the top of the first sheet and slowly worked my way down.

After about three minutes, the man carefully removed the contract from my hands, laid it on the counter and handed me a pen while pointing to the signature line at the bottom. I told him I needed to read through the whole document just for a vague understanding as to what I was signing.

TCTW had been an attorney in her life before Mexico, and she would give me a right good thumping for signing something unread. So I asked the man to explain what the four-page contract said. I was told that the hospital would need a 25,000-peso deposit immediately and would need to collect a similar amount, or maybe more, every other day.

This employee had just summed up four pages of single-spaced, small-font, convoluted legalese in less than 15 words. Obfuscation with a smile.

I told him that he needed to speak to my attorney, who was somewhere on the third floor. Even in her diminished state, TCTW would easily sort this guy out, plus she had a complete collection of credit and debit cards in her somewhat smelly purse.

Covid patient leaving hospital in Mazatlán
Months later, the recovered and masked Captured Tourist Woman leaves a Mazatlán hospital.

It took eight days of several types of intravenous medication to bring her back from the brink. With the exception of the pushy bill collector, her hospital stay was as pleasant as something like that could be, especially after they moved her off the bland diet and she discovered the hospital’s tortilla soup was superb.

As we have moved through this global event so far — and we know it’s not over — we both learned new things about ourselves and the people around us: our circle of friends has dwindled while at the same time become more authentic; we discovered, to our delight, that having most of our daily needs assuaged by servicios a domicilio (home delivery) was rather sumptuous, and it’s become a convenient routine.

Also: not all doctors are competent, and not all urine containers are liquid-tight.

Get the vaccinations and wear the mask. This can be some serious shit.

The writer describes himself as a very middle-aged man who lives full-time in Mazatlán with a captured tourist woman and the ghost of a half-wild dog. He can be reached at [email protected].

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