Not Admitted – Thankfully

In my previous post, I wrote that I was heading to the hospital for a follow up with the doctor and anticipated being admitted. Thankfully, that didn’t happen.

Instead, upon inspection she decided the abscess in my neck seemed to be reducing so ordered a double-strength dose of IV antibiotics and another return visit Saturday afternoon. 

If all goes as planned, I’ll receive one more IV Saturday and then move to tabled antibiotics for another four days. Hopefully, all does go as planned.

Thanks for the comments and kind wishes shared on the previous post. I will return to more interesting subjects soon!

Heading to the Hospital

Thursday afternoon, out of nowhere, I noticed that the left side of my neck was a bit tender and by the evening, it seemed to be swollen a bit. Considering that I’ve never experienced these symptoms before, I decided to go to the doctor’s office Friday morning and have it diagnosed.

The diagnosis was that I have a “deep neck abscess” – a bacterial infection inside the tissues of my neck. Dead white blood cells accumulate, forming a mass in the tissue. Normally, this is caused by poor dental health or after an infection of the respiratory system. Neither is the case for me.

The doctor wanted to admit me to the hospital right away and get me started on strong antibiotics. A bit hesitant to jump straight to that course of treatment, I negotiated and was instead given IV antibiotics on an outpatient basis with the promise to return this morning.

While the swelling and tenderness haven’t become noticeably worse, they haven’t improved, either. I suspect I will have to cave in and be admitted for what will be the second hospital visit in my life.

Thankfully, it is happening at the start of a weekend, so the timing is only a minor inconvenience. Will have to cancel a trip to the farmer’s market Saturday and brunch plans for Sunday.

What I find interesting is that I never had to be hospitalized until I moved to Thailand. I wonder if it is coincidence, the fact that I am getting into my middle years, or perhaps I am really exposed to more bacteria here in Thailand.

Hospital Snack Box

A few weeks ago I spent the first half of the day at Bangkok Hospital taking care of a few odds and ends. I had an eye appointment in the early part of the morning because my right eye was inflamed (thankfully, not infected – doctor said just too much time working on the computer). An hour later, I had an appointment with another doctor about my back, which had a bad muscle spasm that had lasted a week. He proscribed some physical therapy, which was available elsewhere in the hospital complex.

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When I arrived at the physical thearapy center, though, they were quite busy and the service manager told me I’d have to wait an hour. Since I had my iPod with me, I didn’t mind waiting. Nonetheless, she came over a few minutes later and apologized for the wait and gave me this snack box. I guess they prepare these for patients who have long waits.

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While I wasn’t hungry (I brought the box home to photograph!), the gesture was appreciated. Service in Thailand is generally very good, especially at the hospitals. What do you think of the contents of the snack box, though? Juice and cookies – seems more appropriate for someone who has just donated blood.

 

Somnoplasty to Treat My Snoring

A few weeks ago I wrote about undergoing a sleep test in March to determine if I suffered from sleep apnea. Sleep apnea is a potentially health-threatening condition where you stop breathing for extended periods while sleeping. As it turned out, I did not have sleep apnea – just good old-fashioned snoring. Since my snoring disturbs Tawn (and I also feel that it may keep me from getting a restful night’s sleep), this morning I underwent a procedure at Bangkok Hospital called somnoplasty.

Nasal Cavity and Mouth Annotated
Like the graphic? I made it myself using PowerPoint, then captured and annotated it with SnagIt.

Somnoplasty uses radiofrequency ablation to tighten up the tissues that cause snoring. “Ablation” is the removal of tissue through a variety of means. In this case, a metal probe that looks like a very narrow fondue fork pierces the tissue. Then the heat of very high frequency alternating current burns part of the tissue below the surface. As the injury heals, scar tissue forms, causing the surrounding area to tighten up and shrink. As a result, the area is firmer and less prone to vibration – which is what causes the noise of snoring.

Research on the procedure shows that 85% of patients experienced significant reduction in snoring, with their average “snoring score” (a 0-10 scale measuring the intensity of the snoring) dropping from 8.9 before therapy to 3.5 after. The procedure is significantly less invasive than other available procedures and my doctor was confident that a single treatment should be sufficient to essentially eliminate my snoring.

 

A walk-through of the procedure, in case you are interested:

(Warning – there is a small picture of the inside of my mouth further down the post – something you may not wish to see!)

Once seated in the exam room, Dr. Chidpong placed pieces of gauze soaked in a light anesthetic in my nostrils. He also applied a bitter-tasting medicine spray into my mouth, which started to numb the tissues immediately. Within a minute, my ability to swallow was gone and my teeth were numb. The doctor warned me that I would get the sensation that something was stuck in my throat – and indeed I did – and told me not to panic. A few deep breaths and I overcame that sensation.

After about two minutes, he gave me a series of shots – one in each nasal cavity and then three in the soft palate of the mouth. Along the way he asked if there was any pain. The nasal cavity shots were painless – in fact, I couldn’t feel any sensation at all. The shots into the soft palate were mildly uncomfortable, but brief.

The shots were a medicine that restricts the blood vessels, so that there would not be any bleeding during the procedure. While giving me the shots, he explained that I would notice my heart rate increasing and within a few seconds, that is what happened.

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About four minutes into the procedure he took the probe (the two needles are about a half-inch long) and inserted it into one nasal cavity, then the other. If I understand his explanation correctly, he ablated the middle nasal concha (also known as the turbinate), one of three bone shelves that protrude into the nasal passage. Each ablation took about ten seconds.

There was no pain nor any smell. Along the way, I did hear a few “pops” that reminded me of when a bug dies in a bug zapper. A couple of times, a feeling of mild panic rose and I had to remind myself to focus on breathing through my mouth. Each time the doctor inserted the probe, he first said “excuse me,” which I found very funny.

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(Click for a larger version.)

After the nasal passages, the doctor ablated three spots on my soft palate – left, right, and center. The picture above shows the injuries about twelve hours after the procedure. The resulting injuries look like canker sores.

The entire procedure took seven minutes. The doctor explained that earlier versions of this technology used less power and the procedure took about thirty minutes instead of seven. Thank goodness for advances in medicine!

Post-Procedure

After the procedure, I returned to the waiting room. A nurse checked my blood pressure a few minutes later. It had jumped from 120/65 at check-in to 150/85 after the procedure. As I waited, I noticed that the anesthetics were rapidly wearing off and the back of my throat and my nasal cavities were itchy. Within thirty minutes after the procedure started, I was downstairs picking up medicines and paying the cashier.

Twelve hours later, the sensation is similar to having a bad sore throat. Eating is a bit uncomfortable and I keep clearing my throat, reflexively trying to clear what feels like some phlegm. Of course, the sensation is caused by the wounds from the procedure and no amount of throat-clearing will help.

The pain should subside within about three days. I am taking paracetamol for the pain, an antihistamine for any nasal dripping, and an antibiotic as a precautionary measure. The pharmacist also gave me a medicinal gargle with mild anesthetic qualities. I was also advised to eat lots of ice cream, to help reduce the swelling.

It will take a few weeks to observe the full effects of the somnoplasty as the scar tissue develops and the surrounding area tightens. I will have to ask Tawn for his perception over the next few weeks, whether or not the snoring has appreciably lessened.

 

Undergoing a Sleep Test at Bangkok Hospital

I snore. I snore so loudly that it keeps Tawn awake. After trying various remedies such as weight loss and sleeping on my side, I decided to visit an Ear,Nose, and Throat specialist at Bangkok Hospital. After sticking a probe up my nostrils to inspect that things were roughly in order, he suggested I come in for an overnight sleep test.


(The volume on this video is just a little low… sorry.)

The purpose of the test is to get an accurate read on the quality of your sleep including your sleep patterns, physical movement, brain activity, and breathing. Sleep apnea is a condition often associated with snoring. You stop breathing for extended periods of time (more than ten seconds), which can lead to many health problems including irritability, fatigue, and high blood pressure.

P1200799 I arrived on a Thursday evening at the hospital. After having my vital signs taken, I went for a pair of chest x-rays. (I have to say, before coming to Thailand, I had never had an x-ray in my life. In the six years since, I’ve had close to a dozen. They really like their x-rays here.) Then I headed upstairs to the sleep clinic.

My room for the evening resembled a regular hotel room, but with linoleum floors and bedside equipment that reminded you that this was a hospital. The room was also outfitted with two cameras, one of which was infrared, that would allow the sleep technician to observe me throughout the night.

After changing into my hospital scrubs, the sleep technician started wiring me up. This took about thirty minutes and my recurring thought was that this must be roughly what a condemned man goes through leading up to his execution. Grim, no?

Electrodes were attached to various parts of my body. Having a shaved head made this process easier, I think. A tube was inserted into my nostrils. Straps around my belly and chest held wires and monitors in place. Finally, all the wires were pulled together like a ponytail and wrapped with medical tape.

When it was time to go to bed, I had to carefully position myself on the mattress. The technician stretched the wires across the bed to a trio of small devices, which then fed the data directly to the computers in his hidden control room. After saying goodnight to Tawn, I read for a little while until sleepy, finally turning out the light and shutting my eyes.

Once the thoughts of imminent execution left my mind, I kept repeating the question, “How can this really measure anything useful?” With this number of wires, electrodes, and monitors, my range of motion was limited. Add to that the unfamiliar bed and pillow and the fact that I usually fall asleep on my side before rolling over onto my back, and I was carrying more negative, skeptical thoughts than usual. I had been offered a mild sedative if I thought I would be unable to sleep, but declined it. After not too many minutes, however, I did manage to drift off to dream land.

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Sometime in the middle of the night, I awoke for about thirty minutes. I was thirsty and had to stretch awkwardly to reach a bottle of water on the bedstand. Instead of fully quenching my thirst, I merely sipped because if I subsequently needed to use the toilet, I would need to call the technician and be unplugged first.

I slept a restless few more hours before finally waking at 5:30. It didn’t take long before I decided that I had had enough of this experience and wanted to get up. I was surprised when the technician, perhaps reading my brain waves, entered the room about fifteen minutes after waking to unwire me without me having to ring for him.

Afterwards, I showered and changed into my street clothes, letting the nurse know I would skip the included breakfast and was ready to be discharged. By 6:30 I was home, taking care not to wake up Tawn who was enjoying a peaceful, snore-free night.

A few days later I returned to the hospital for my follow-up meeting. While I didn’t feel like my night had produced a representative sample of my sleeping habits, the doctor was confident of the test results. He explained that I suffer from a condition known as “regular snoring” and that I have no sleep apnea. All of the measures – blood oxygen, brain waves, sleep modes, etc. – we within a normal range. Whether I do anything further to treat the snoring is up to me, but it is posing no health risks at this point.

In retrospect, I have to give the Bangkok Hospital staff high marks for professionalism and attentive service. While I think the package might be a little steep at about US$500 (Why do they need to x-ray me, for example?) the experience was a positive one. My doubts about the effectiveness of the test may linger, just slightly, but at least I know that my health is in no immediate danger.

 

Last Word on the Flooding

Quick (and hopefully final) update to the flooding situation here in Bangkok:

While the waters have started to slowly recede, many areas on the northern, western, and eastern edges of the city continue to be under a meter or more of water.  This water has been there for, in some cases, nearly a month and has stagnated.  Needless to say, residents of these areas are furious and have taken to tearing openings in some of the sandbag barriers to enable some of the water to more rapidly drain away.

In the past few weeks, what had just been piles of sandbags in the Sukhumvit area (where I live) has turned into more extreme defenses against the likelihood of flooding, a vote of no-confidence in a government that has continued to be incapable of communicating useful information in a timely manner.  Thankfully, by this point it seems unlikely that we will see any water but nobody is removing the defenses yet.

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Outside an office building in the Ploenchit area, two rows of sandbags with a wall of boards sealed at its base with silicone or tar to hold back water.  Of course, vehicles are unable to enter or exit this building so, like many buildings around the city, business is being impacted.

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Along the road leading up to the international airport, mega-sandbags were laid out and pumps installed in case the road itself needed to be turned into a canal to channel the water out of the city.  The airport’s retaining wall was increased to 2.5 meters (almost 9 feet) and, despite having been built in the midst of a natural flood plain, the airport has thus far remained dry. 

Don Meuang
Photo courtesy Bangkok Post

Not so the old airport, Don Meuang, which before the flood was being used as an air force base and for limited domestic service.  It is still closed with more than a meter of water covering the entire airfield.  It will cost millions of dollars and take at least two months to bring this airport back into service.

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As of last week, walls and other barriers were still being constructed.  Here, a view from the inside of the Villa Supermarket near Sukhumvit Soi 33, looking outside to the street.  A wall of concrete blocks and sandbags was built, necessitating a climb over the wall with your groceries.

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The subway stations, exits at a few of which were closed because of the flooding, had flood barriers installed.  These were new additions but were added very quickly that I imagine they must have been prepared in advance and stored for such an event.  I’m unclear why there’s a gap at the corner but I guess they would close it with sandbags?

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Finally, while at Bangkok Hospital this past week, off Phetchaburi Road, I noticed the wide range of flood protection they had put into place, including concrete walls around the base of escalators so water wouldn’t damage the machinery.  Kind of awkward to climb the wobbly wooden steps to get over the wall.  Perhaps it is part of their plan to treat more slip-and-fall patients!

Here is a short video showing some of the other flood preparations at Bangkok Hospital.

As mentioned above, I’m hoping this is the last entry I write on this subject.  The amount of damage and suffering in Thailand has been immense – 594 deaths as of this morning – and yet I’m not sure that there’s anything more I can add to the subject after this point.  I’ll return to other subjects from this point onwards including an update on my attempts at container gardening.

 

Reflections on Hospitalization

Friday morning I had a followup chest xray and appointment with my doctor at Bangkok Hospital.  After my third dose of radiation this month I learned that everything has cleared up nicely.  No more antibiotics or other pills for the time-being.

This xray shows my lungs at the start of the infection, the inflamed and congested area in the left lung indicated by the circle.  How anyone can read these things is beyond me, but someone can and that’s the diagnosis they made.

I had expected that my stay in the hospital, my first since being born, would have elicited some insights about mortality, death, the brevity of life, etc.  I expected to sit down and write a few of the “open when you are 18” letters to my nieces with all sorts of nifty insights drawn from the experience of staying alone in the hospital.

But, really, none came.  Maybe I’m just deceiving myself.  Maybe I’m just naive.  But over the past decade I think I’ve already arrived at a realization about my own mortality.  I don’t dwell on my eventual death, mind you, but I am very conscious that my life, and the lives of all those around me, will come to an end.

The summer before I turned sixteen I lost the first of my four grandparents.  My paternal grandfather had a protracted battle with what began as prostrate cancer (yes, I recognize that that is likely the battle for my life I’ll face and I do get screenings) and I cried deeply after losing him.

The same thing happened with two of my early relationships.  When they came to an end, I was devastated, too, certain that I would never love again.

From all this, I’ve recognized the pattern.  All things come into being, grow in maturity, age and decline and eventually die.  People. relationships, possessions – it seems to be true of everything.  And at some level I have made peace with that, so nothing new to report from staying in the hospital.

Of course, I hold out the possibility that I haven’t really learned anything yet, that I am kidding myself when I think I’ve recognized and made peace with this reality that all things go away.