Pyelonephritis (Or, “When I thought I was being burned alive.”)

In the pursuit of Learning and in the interest of learning how to be present in my body I’d like to share my experience from the last week of my life.

It began before I even knew it was happening, and looking back I see the signs everywhere. Weeks ago I started drinking more water. The only change I noticed? My stomach got bigger. I gained 10 lbs. My lower back started hurting.

It’s amazing what we can tell ourselves and convince ourselves of to keep from overreacting.

I’ve been told my whole life that I’m “dramatic” and “over react” to illness factors; or my favorite one, “It’s all in your head.” And as it turns out, my behavior has changed as a result. I’ve taught myself not to listen to my body.

“It must be water weight.” (I’m drinking a lot of water, right?)

“It’s all the bad food I’m eating. That’s why I’m gaining weight.” (That’s the only reason a person gains weight this quickly. I’m eating really good food, but I must be eating too much bad because I’m still gaining weight.)

“I should stop eating processed foods. That will help.” (The small amount of processed foods we eat.)

“It must be the allergic reaction I’m having.” (That could explain the puffiness of my face & feet.)

“I just need to drink more water.” (That solves everything, right?)

Funny that I didn’t notice the biggest sign. My water intake didn’t match my urine output. My body was fighting something inside and I didn’t notice the signs. I didn’t even think something could be wrong, after all, all those other times, it was all in my head, right?

My stomach hurt. My back hurt, but again, I assumed it was due to unhealthy living. My sedentary life style. And I might not have been 100% wrong. Sure I can walk more. I need to think of my health more. I do need to drink more water—but in this case. None of these things were going to solve the real problem.

Every time Lisa and I went shopping I would buy cranberry juice. I didn’t know why. I don’t let Lisa drink much juice, and as a result, I don’t drink much Juice. Why would we consume that much sugar when we could just eat an apple? Yet, there I was drawn to cranberry supplements & 100% juice.

I didn’t know why, I didn’t question it. I just drank BOTTLES at a time.

Ahhh, The juice! That is why I was gaining weight. Too much sugar. So I stopped buying and drinking it (When really perhaps I should have been thinking, “Why do I keep craving cranberries? What could my body possibly need?”).

Only, again, beverage input didn’t match urine output and I assumed I was doing something wrong.

So, after 2 weeks of this, I was relaxing on a Sunday morning when I fell asleep. Not a bad thing, I’m sure I needed rest, however I was not prepared for what happened.

3 hours after I fell asleep I woke up. My skin felt like it was burning. Imagine putting your hand in a furnace or inside an oven. Instantly I thought, I’m dehydrated. I drank 30 oz of water in 10 mins (which as it turns out, did nothing). I still felt strange and had the sensation that my skin was burning away. Whenever I tried to stand I felt as if gravity was forcing me back down and I’d end up slowly lying myself flat again. The room would stop spinning. I’d take a sip of water. I’d try to stand. I couldn’t open any windows or doors—whenever I tried I felt like my muscles were being ripped off my bones and I’d run out of breath.

“Heat stroke.” That message kept relaying in my mind. Only I didn’t know what to do, and I didn’t know how to find out (I realize now I was delirious). I thought about electrolytes. I ate something with salt. I ate something with sugar, and again with the more water. My sides hurt, my back hurt and I wasn’t urinating (but that part I didn’t notice till around 3am, 12 hours later). I tried to get dressed so I could go outside and get help, somehow that made more sense than just using the phone. All I could think about was, “I need to get to my daughter by 8pm. I can rehydrate by then. I can cool off by then.”

It wasn’t until 7:20pm that I conceded that I might not be able to drive and it might not be in either Lisa or my best interest for me to pick her up that night.

I didn’t eat, but instead lay half-naked, half-dressed to get Lisa, and dozed off every 20 minutes. I woke up every 20 minutes as my body would suddenly become freezing and I would be shaking uncontrollably, I would struggle to pull the blankets over me and warm up only to throw them off of me as the chills disappeared and were replaced by the burning flames I felt licking at my skin.

I normally sleep on my stomach, however, I found that I couldn’t as it caused intense pain in my abdomen. I tried sleeping on my back, however that would increase the heat exponentially and I’d get too hot. I tried sleeping on my left side, but shooting pains were radiating from my side. Eventually I settled on curling up in the fetal position on my right side.

Around 3 am I woke up cool and sweating. “The fever broke!” I thought. And I ran to the bathroom because suddenly I had to urinate and it felt like I hadn’t in hours (I hadn’t). Again input didn’t match output but I didn’t notice.

The rest of the morning was similar to the day before waking up occasionally, feeling the urge to urinate but only low amounts. I went about the day as kind to myself as I could. Walking around was risky and I drove only to get Lisa and visit some Kittens that needed me. Everything hurt in my body. Turning my head caused an intense pain similar to a sensory migraine, walking made my muscles ache and my joints groan. “Heat stroke for sure,” were my thoughts.

Lisa, bless her heart, tried so hard to be understanding of my need for a low key day and covered me in kisses & hugs. I found out those do nothing to fight a fever, in case you were wondering. I also discovered that a 3 year old girl gets bored quickly, and once boredom sets in, a low key day turns into tantrums until the boredom is relieved.

I checked my temperature throughout the day and it stayed at 103.5 for quite some time and I began to be concerned when my temperature was still at 103.5, 24hrs since the first time I woke up with the fever. I called my Medical Assistant for my doctor. I waited for her call back. In the meantime I called upon a dear friend who I value for her knowledge and rationale (among a plethora of other reasons). She agreed to watch Lisa to give me time to rest and brought me electrolyte liquids & tips to cool down. She also took my keys. The reasoning behind it was, at the time, not necessary but it was a smart move on her part. I probably would have tried to drive. After all, I did drive myself to the hospital when I was in labor.

The Medical Assistant called and advised me that if the temperature went down I’d probably be fine, however if the temperature continued at this temperature for much longer it would prove risky for my health.

I was in and out throughout the day dozing and awakening with the same pattern as the day before. Around 1030pm the heat was at its worst and yet I was shivering to the point of my teeth clattering. I could no longer safely justify my methods for ridding myself of the fever or letting it burn out on its own. I check the temperature, 104. I gave in.

I called my friend and she took me to the ER.

At the time of admittance my temperature was 102.7, my heart rate was elevated (141 Pulse), my blood pressure was off the charts (132/83) I was having difficulty breathing and talking and It wasn’t easy to walk.

It took 3 saline solution bags via IV, acetaminophen, antibiotics, and ibuprofen to get me to a baseline they felt comfortable letting me leave. During that time they took blood tests, an X-Ray of my lungs, a CAT scan of my lungs & heart and even with it all it took 4 ½ hours before I could urinate. Interestingly enough it wasn’t until my urine test that they discovered the problem.

Urine test results showed blood in my urine with both red/white blood cells as well as bacteria, indicating a UTI primarily afflicting my kidneys, or pyelonephritis. They didn’t say in the hospital but the paperwork they gave me suggests that the infection may have started elsewhere in my blood and been passed into my kidneys through the cleansing process, or it could have been passed through my bladder. They have no REAL way of knowing. .

So, we still don’t know where the infection started, but they discovered where to focus their efforts.

The antibiotics they prescribed for me to take at home made me nauseous and I vomited popsicles many times throughout the next 24 hours. My only goal was to avoid returning to the Hospital, avoid dehydration, and avoid the return of the fever.

I found myself sitting in the tub numerous times over those 24 hours eating popsicles and drinking cold water trying to cool my body down. I found that cold water burns when your body has a fever, and it’s best to start with lukewarm water even though it warms you up more at first. I learned that when cold water is sensed as cold water that means my body’s core temperature was also adjusting and cooling. I learned that I don’t vomit if I am the proper temperature when I take medicine or eat. I also learned that even if you don’t experience the burning and stinging when the infection is present, you will feel it on the way out. The same pain I felt over my entire body I felt all the way from my ureter to my urethra — I just hoped it meant this whole debacle was almost over.

Lisa came home, and although a lot of our time was spent resting, we played and made new games that we could play while I laid down. We ate when she was hungry and she helped me change out my ice packs and would bring me wet washcloths. She doesn’t know how to wring them out, but it was sweet watching her try. The last two days have been me taking it easy and reading. I’m on anti-biotics for a total of 10 days, with caution to remain out of sunlight and intense heat. My neck still hurts and it’s hard to turn it to the side. I’m stretching, drinking water, eating fruits and vegetables and in general trying not to let this experience lead to a blood clot.

I learned so much from this week. Including the need to ask for help, the need to let my stubbornness go, even if it’s just for a little bit. I learned that for a properly functioning machine to work, the input needs to match the output, and if it is not, odds are you are not listening to the machine. I learned that other commitments can be excused and that people don’t expect everyone to be Wonder Woman or Superman, and ultimately, everyone gets sick and needs someone to care for them.

I learned that there is a group of people, my people, who have become my family and proven their willingness to be there for me if they can. People who were long distance showing concern and inquiring to my health. Friends more local willing to run errands for me or bring me Gatorade. Friends willing to bring me ice packs and fever reducers and help with washcloths. Friends willing to drive me to the ER in a moment’s notice. I feel my friend would quip something along the lines of, “God provides.” Another friend would say it is serendipitous. However you say it, I discovered I am blessed by MY family that I have made here in Washington. Blessed by my community I have founded.

I even took this opportunity to begin eating better (except the fudgsicles, they don’t count). Already my stomach looks smaller (from loosing all the water I was consuming) than when I had my fever and I’m starting to get energy back. I tried to drink coffee today and it kicked me in stomach and made me want to vomit. Maybe that will be a good side effect of this change. Less coffee consumption. I went a week without it.

There were two side effects of this scary experience that leave me nervous about my future health.

One: It was discovered that the protein that causes blood clots is elevated in my blood. This is common in people who…have blood clots. Although they didn’t find any blood clots, the ER doctor suggested I speak to my general doctor about addressing the potential for a blood clot. This got me thinking about all the tests they have done on my leg trying to discover the cause of the pain. It caused me to start thinking about how they “discovered” that my circulation in my legs is “different” and less in my feet. I’m putting together a notebook for my doctor. She needs to know everything I know. I’m tired of this “mystery” happening in my body.

Two: Because of the chronic pain I experience in my back and neck, and now in the “mystery” injury of my leg, I’ve taught my brain to ignore pain and power through it. Could this experience have been avoided if I had listened to the pain, and recognized the difference between kidney pain and back pain? What does this mean for future injuries or future times I need to listen to my body? Can I retrain myself to listen to the pain instead of numb myself to it?

Thankfully I’ve started reading one of John Sarno’s books, “Healing Back Pain: The Mind-Body Connection.” I’m hoping I’ll find some tips to getting me in tune to listening to the messages of my body because I think it’s talking and I need to listen.


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