A couple of weeks ago I went to my local GP surgery and had to fill out a form regarding travel vaccinations. It turned out it was a very long time since I had a tetanus vaccination, so I ended up having a booster.
One of the questions on the form was “DO YOU HAVE ANY ALLERGIES?”, to which I replied “NO”. However, I have had occasional allergic reactions. I just have never been tested for allergies.
I noticed as a teenager that any shower gels or hand creams or similar products with a jasmine scent would cause me to develop a rash and make my lips tingle and my face and neck become puffy and slightly swollen. It happened once. A year or so later I tried another product with jasmine, only to find I had the same reaction. I don’t think it was a severe reaction, however, as nothing else had ever had that effect on me, I felt it better if I just make sure I avoid any product with jasmine. So I have.
Also, as a teenager (I think I was about nineteen), I had an allergic reaction to some medication. I had a very bad chest infection and I had to go on stage in front of an audience of around a thousand people to give a presentation. I went to the GP and explained I needed to be able to speak on stage and I could not stop coughing. The Doctor gave me a prescription for some antibiotics and also told me to ask the chemist what would help with the cough I had. Now…I can’t remember what the chemist gave me…but I do remember explaining I had been coughing for weeks and I had a hacking cough that was making my voice hoarse. I asked the chemist if there was anything that would suppress my cough. I wonder now if the chemist gave me codeine linctus. I will explain why I wonder that later.
Now on the day of the presentation, I had been taking antibiotics for about three days. I also had some of the cough suppressant the night before, early that morning and at lunch time. I gave the presentation. I came off stage and I knew something was seriously wrong. I went to the first aid station at the venue. I felt so ill. I felt as if I was going to be sick, my head was spinning with dizziness and I was so overwhelmingly tired. I slept for the whole afternoon on a gurney. The first aider told me I should stop taking the antibiotics. They told me to go back to the GP. I did so on the Monday. When I told my Doctor what had happened, he too thought I had experienced a bad reaction to the antibiotics. He gave me a prescription for a different kind of antibiotics. I seemed to improve steadily after that and my chest infection cleared up. I did not mention the cough suppressant to either the first aider or the GP, because I did not think it would have caused that reaction.
Now…some time later (I think I was around twenty-three/four), I had an eighteen month period of illness with several surgical operations. I was very run down at the time. After the first operation I had, I developed an infection in the wound. The hospital had asked me if I had any allergies and I had told them I didn’t think I did, but I mentioned that once I had a funny reaction to some antibiotics. Well, that was enough for the staff to mark me down as allergic to penicillin and put a red band around my wrist. My immune system was thrashed at that time and it was literally one infection after another, one course of antibiotics after another. More surgery, more infections. It was a horrible time in my life and it all happened just after I had broken up with my teenage sweetheart. so I was double down-hearted.
However, during that time, I was also given pain-killers. At the time, I just took whatever the hospital gave me without questioning it. I had some very unpleasant symptoms during those eighteen months. When I was being gripped with infection the fever was horrible. I remember my body shaking and I felt freezing cold. I thought I needed more blankets. The nurses were trying to cool me down by stripping the sheets off me and trying to cool me down. They explained why I felt cold when actually my temperature was high. I had times when I felt extremely sick and I could not eat. I was also confused and disorientated often.
I got used to being ill. I felt like a burden to my family at times because it seemed to be going on for so long. One night I woke up realizing I had to get to hospital as soon as possible. Rather than waking any of my family. I just put a skirt on over my pyjama bottoms, put a winter coat on (it was early January) and a pair of black ballet pumps. I drove myself to hospital. They took me straight into the ward and before I knew it I had strong antibiotics entering me intravenously while I slept like a baby. I was in hospital for the rest of that night, the following day and night, and then the next day, I was allowed to leave with some more antibiotics and pain killers in tablet form to take at home.
When I went to the car park to the car, I realized I did not have any money to pay for my parking. I went into the hospital reception and explained I had driven myself in but had forgotten to bring my purse. The receptionist was absolutely horrible. I tried to make a reverse charges call to our family home. Nobody was in. I tried to make a reverse charges call to a few other numbers, but nobody was answering the phone. I was becoming distressed. So I did the only thing I thought sensible. I started walking. It was freezing. I walked the fifteen miles home in those little ballet shoes. My feet felt sore when I reached home. I let myself into the house and went straight to bed. I was woken up by my sister asking where the car was because she needed it. I explained it was in Southport. My family were so upset when they realized what had happened. But I was just utterly bamboozled. I did not mean to upset them. Ironically, my oldest sister actually worked at the hospital I had been in. Dad told me she would have been devastated if she knew what had happened.
After the last operation I had, there was no more infection. I seemed to be much stronger now. The next time I had any problem was ten years later when I had to have my wisdom teeth out. The dentist gave me paracetamol, ibuprofen and codeine. I was also sedated during the procedure. My friend Suzie came to hospital to make sure I was able to make it back home safely. She said I was hilarious on the way back through London.
Well, that night I slept like a baby and then the following morning I woke up and went to work. Only I felt so sick and dizzy. The mini-bus had to stop and let me out because I could not bear the nausea. They put me in the front seat so I could see the road. Everyone was telling me to go home and rest. Even my manager told me he was not expecting me at work after having had the surgery the afternoon before. Anyway…I was refusing to go home. I worked that day, but I was lost. I was so confused. I was all over the place. I felt so sick and achy (anywhere except my teeth!) For the next three days everyone seemed very concerned about me. My friend Marta was really anxious about me. Then one of my friends who is a nurse asked me what I was taking. She told me to stop taking the codeine. The GP who sometimes worked with us agreed. He wrote out a prescription for Naproxen instead.
Well…the long and short of all this is…everyone seemed in agreement that I am sensitive to codeine. Looking back to the occasions I have been ill, I think it was codeine linctus that I reacted badly to as a teenager, rather than the antibiotics. I was very ill during those eighteen months, but mum said she is sure the hospital gave me codeine.
The next time I had problems was after the head injuries I received. It was now in my notes that I was codeine sensitive. But the hospital gave me other painkillers round the clock. When I left hospital I was given a vast quantity of paracetamol. I took eight tablets a day, two tablets every 4-6 hours as the instructions said to. I did not take more than the recommended dose. But overtime I became more and more lethargic, lost my appetite and started to find I was sick even when I drank water.
I had also had a few other incidents. I kept on having black-outs and fainting. I fell down the stairs three times at my sister’s home. I collapsed a couple of times in the shower. I fell and banged my head several times. I was in and out of hospital when I lost consciousness and had breathing difficulties and intense head pain. But the lethargy and nausea were just put down to problems with my head injuries. It was a very worrying time for my family. All the focus from the hospital staff was on the effects of my head injuries understandably.
Anyway, because the nausea and sickness and lethargy were increasing and I could barely move from my bed, Mandy said she would take me to A&E. I felt a little better for being outside the house for the first time in a week. We waited around the hospital for hours waiting to be seen, during which time I had some bloods taken for testing. One A&E doctor said something really stupid to me. He said that maybe my symptoms were all psychological. He referred to the trauma I had been through. He seemed to think that with mental willpower I could get better. He recommended joining a gym and doing more of what I enjoyed. He insisted I eat a sandwich in front of him. He stood over me looking victorious and telling me if I wanted to eat, I could eat. He also wanted me to have some counselling. (For the first few weeks after I was attacked I had counsellors come to my sister’s home, but I asked them to stop coming because most of them were eeeed-yats, I might one day share my experience of how unhelpful some of them were.) Anyway, he sent me home feeling very discouraged. My sister obviously thought he was right because she lectured me all the way home about being more positive and joining a gym etc.
I went to bed feeling completely dejected. I felt so ill and now I was being told it was all in my head. Anyway, my mobile phone started to ring. It was the hospital. They told me to go back into hospital immediately and not to drink any alcohol. I wasn’t even able to drink water, I had not touched alcohol in months. That night in the hospital the sandwich he had made me eat was desperate to leave my body in any way it could! It turned out that hours after I left hospital that day, the blood test results came back. They showed amongst other things my LFTs (liver function tests) were extremely high, I was very ill. Almost 2000! I was in hospital for some time. The verdict is I can’t handle a normal adult dose of paracetamol. The doctors told me never to take more than half of the recommended daily dose.
Well, since that time, I have preferred to only have NSAIDs like ibuprofen or naproxen. They seem best for my body. Almost four years after my head injuries, and every morning I still wake up with terrific head pain. It am much better when I am vertical than when I am horizontal! But for some time I have found that I can take either one or two ibuprofen and once they have kicked in, I very rarely need to take painkillers again during the day. I avoid napping during the daytime because I wake up in pain. Being horizontal is definitely an issue. Almost all of my hospital appointments have been about my head and some of the damage to my heart. But I have sometimes mentioned to my consultant that I wondered if there was anything else wrong with my kidneys or liver, because I have never been able to drink more than a glass of wine without becoming severely fatigued and nauseous. The horrible effect that codeine and paracetamol have had on me – it makes me wonder why my body does not seem to able to deal with either alcohol, codeine or paracetamol like normal adults.
It turns out that jasmine is the least of my worries!!!