Week 4: Tonsillitis

This is not my typical post, because unfortunately my last 7 days have been plagued by a super severe case of tonsillitis. I haven’t had strep throat since I was in middle school, maybe? Perhaps elementary school? As I started feeling a little punky, I just thought it was a bit of cold: sore throat and congestion. I figured I’d need to lay low for a few days, but it wouldn’t slow me down, not too much anyway. Well…

I’ve: been to two different clinics and a laboratory; had four appointments and seen three different doctors, one of whom was an ENT specialist; been on two different kinds of antibiotics and a steroid; taken three different kinds of pain killers (not at the same time, don’t worry!); had my blood drawn; and got opinions from three doctors in the States and one in Australia. When I wasn’t at an appointment or updating and consulting with family via FaceTime and iMessage, I was in bed, reading or sleeping.  

For a holistic nutritionist who prefers herbal and natural remedies to any drugs, this wasn’t ideal. But there was no other answer for the pain and the severity of the infection. I was truly alarmed and horrified when I looked at my throat that first time and realized what it looked like. I wasn’t the only one. Each doctor had their own reaction. The French doctor who saw me on Sunday said, “woooow, wooooow, BIG, BIG, BIG, tonsillitis.” The Khmer doctor who saw me on Tuesday turned her head away in empathetic disgust as soon as I opened my mouth and said, “I have never seen anything like this.” The German-trained ENT who saw me on Wednesday and Friday said, “oh my God, I haven’t seen anything this bad in a VERY long time.”

It’s been a physical and emotional roller coaster. I hadn’t experienced prolonged pain this terrible in my adult life. I had never seen my body react to an infection in such a horrifying and dramatic manner. The uncertainty of what it was, how best to treat it, why it wasn’t improving when it should be responding to the antibiotics, all while navigating the Cambodian health care system made it down-right scary at times. I’m grateful for the team of people I have here (and on the other side of the world) helping me out!! Having James here in my corner encouraging me, accompanying me to appointments, and making grocery runs for me was a huge comfort.

I’m still not out of the woods yet, but I can finally say I feel improved. The pain is easier to manage, and I see visible improvement, which is certainly something to celebrate! My follow up with the ENT confirmed it was bacterial and she extended my course on antibiotics so as to avoid any relapse. I felt so much better at my follow up and was able to have a great, insightful conversation with the ENT. Her father is Chinese and mother is Singaporean, and she was born in Germany. She’s been working in Cambodia for about five years now. The clinic she works at was the first in Cambodia to recognize the value of an ENT, and they offered her the position. She was drawn to practicing in the developing world. She talked about the dichotomy between the challenge of, and the surprising things you can accomplish with, limited technical support. She said most of her job centers around education and nutrition. She sees many farmers who come from the countryside. Even in five years, she said the increased cancer rates from the agricultural chemicals is staggering. Of course, you have to factor in that detection rates are higher, but still, she says, with the greater potency and increased use of agricultural chemicals, rates are rising. We discussed my work at ODM (she was familiar with ODC and ODM) and discussed Climate Change and local school projects that are focusing on it. In the midst of my appointment, her phone rang. She picked up and conversed in German with her boss, a Swiss woman, who has dedicated her professional life to opening up donation-based surgical centers in Phnom Penh and Kampot. It was a fascinating conversation; a silver lining to an otherwise less-than-ideal scenario.

My sister Kathryn arrived for her visit this week! Unfortunately, with my tonsillitis and recovery, we had to cancel the trip we had planned to Siem Reap and Angkor Wat. Instead, this weekend, I will be striking the balance between showing her the city and continuing my rest and recovery. As you might guess, I don’t have many pictures to share from the past week. Below are the matching good luck bracelets Kathryn and I each received. I’ve had mine since Day 2 here, but I’m convinced my good luck blessing left out the one that was supposed to protect me from bacterial tonsillitis! 

Good Luck

Happy Buddha