Sunday, May 1, 2016

Spending My Childhood on Antibiotics

I complained of stomach aches a lot as a child, from as early as I can remember until I was in high school.  As much as I loved seeing my friends at school and socializing, the idea of inadvertently doing something wrong or getting in trouble terrified me.  I approached almost every school day terrified that I'd forgotten to do some piece of homework, or that something had been assigned during one of the many hours I'd spent zoned out and daydreaming without even realizing it, or that I might get scolded for something I didn't mean to do wrong.  In hindsight, my stomach aches were probably a combination of stress and my looking for any excuse to get out of school.  In most cases, my mother wouldn't let me stay home unless I could produce physical evidence that I was ill -- either a fever, which I ran only a few times in my life, or vomiting.

My mother took my temperature rectally until I was at least six.  When I asked why I couldn't use the oral thermometer like everyone else in the house, she said I would bite down on it.  I promised I wouldn't.  I don't even know what the problem would have been if I had -- it was a plastic digital thermometer, not one of the old style ones made of glass and mercury.  When I asked why we couldn't get one of the digital thermometers they stick in your ear at the doctor's office then, she told me they aren't accurate enough.  I wonder now how much of her insistence on using a rectal thermometer was as a punishment for my daring to ask to stay home.  I think it was at least a little bit punishment.

On the rare occasions that I was allowed to miss school, my mother took me to the doctor without fail.  I remember her saying something along the lines of how, if she let me miss school, I wouldn't be allowed to just stay home and lie on the couch watching TV all day like she did in my absence.  If I didn't go to school, by god, we would spend the day at the doctor's office.  She wasn't going to incentivize my sicknesses by letting me lie around at home all day.

No doctor ever found a source for my stomach aches or proposed that they might be stress related.  With few exceptions they told us instead that I had an upper respiratory infection and prescribed antibiotics.  I also had strep throat a lot, for which they injected me with penicillin and I was allowed to rest at home for 24 hours without being treated like someone who was trying to get out of something.  Getting a positive strep test was like winning a small lottery to me and always made me happy. 

Once when I was eight or so, my mother found an open packet of Sweet Tarts candies on a file cabinet in the family room.  I don't know how long it had been there -- it was a hoard house after all -- but she mistook them for antibiotics and got very upset at me for not taking them.  "Those are candy," I explained.  They weren't even mine.  Dante might have left them there, but they were from one of the communal baskets of candy my mother left scattered around the house, so it's anybody's guess.  I always took all my medicine though.  It never would have occurred to me not to take a dose of the medicine she gave me, let alone leave them scattered on top of a file cabinet.  To this day, I have never stopped taking a course of antibiotics before they ran out.

I was also about eight when I got my first vaginal yeast infection as a result of the antibiotics.  My entire vulva felt like an inflamed mosquito bite, and it itched so badly I writhed on my bed and cried.  I didn't know what was happening, but my mother did.  When she took me to the pediatrician and announced that I had an yeast infection, the nurse asked, "Oral yeast infection, I assume?"  When my mother said, "No, vaginal," the nurse raised in eyebrows in surprise.  When she left the room, I asked my mother why she had done that.  "Vaginal yeast infections are normally just from having too much sex," my mother told me.  "But yours is from all the antibiotics." 

She bought me Monistat antifungal treatment from the drug store later that day.  I didn't need the vaginal suppositories, she said, just the cream, but she insisted on applying it herself.  When I asked uncomfortably why I couldn't just do it myself, she argued that I wouldn't be able to see where to apply it.  "I don't need to be able to see it," I told her.  "I can feel where it itches."  She denied my request and rubbed in the cream with her fingers while I laid on my back on my bed hoping she would stop soon.  Not knowing how to explain the creepy, skin crawly feeling that was upsetting me, I told her, "I don't like it.  It doesn't feel good."  "It's not SUPPOSED to feel good!" she barked.  "If you liked this, there would be something wrong with you!"

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