A Tale of Two Tonsils (and Ten Years)

Reader beware, you are entering the FYI (For Your Information) possible TMI (Too Much Information) zone, or as my Mom called it: “Gross, gross and gross!”

She cracks me up, but she’s also right on point. It will take a moment to get there but just remember, when the moment comes, I warned you. Read on if you’re up for a good story with a gross ending.

One year ago I did one of the crazier things of my life by packing up my things and accidentally moving to Alaska and into a house with a total stranger (though I felt that I knew him immediately).

Ten years ago was one of the other most noticeably crazy, or shall we call it “free-spirited” things I got myself into:

Italy.

In both scenarios and settings, a prior break-up was involved as well as a great leap of faith. Oh, and tonsils, tonsils were also involved.

Ten years ago. I was newly 19 and had just been dumped by my high school/partial college sweetheart the night before Thanksgiving. As a girl who loves to eat, this put a real damper on the day. I was too depressed to dive in and the food just sat in front of me as a reminder of my loss all night. One of my five Fairy Godmothers, as they call themselves, noticed my devastation and started talking to me about Italy. She was a professor at the local University and was leading a group of students there.

“There’s no better cure to heartache than Italy.”

O.K. I was in, anything to get away from that feeling. I needed direction and I trusted in her, she was a Fairy, after all.

“Perfect! We leave in June. You should probably start taking some language classes and dual enroll in the local University to start getting credits so you will be accepted to go with us.”

June?!

June was 6 months away. I was in pain in that instance. It was time to leave.

Right?

No. I was so near the end of my Fall Semester and despite heartache, or any adversity, I’ve always been stubborn for school (at least since entering college). I would finish the Semester. I needed a focus, so I decided to try for all A’s to help secure my acceptance into the University’s travel abroad program with my Fairy.

I finished the semester and buckled down, working as much as possible to save for Italy.

Finally the next semester came and I was like a horse to stable just trying to get to June. I was accepted into the University program and started taking Art History classes while simultaneously carrying a full load filled with Italian and other General Education classes for my degree at the local Junior College.

That was when I met my beautiful red-headed friend. A girl in my Italian class had said that her friend too was going to Italy in June. In fact, as it turned out, she wasn’t just going to Italy. She was going to Rome. With the University. Chance? Happenstance? I think fate. It was Kismet. She put us in contact.

It was friend love at first sight.

 

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We bring out the weirdo in one another. I love you L.

 

The first day we met we decided to room together in Italy. We purchased tickets for the same flight and probably spoke some cheesy typical Italian phrases as celebration.

Pasta!

Grazie!

Buon giorno!

Yea, my lessons were paying off alright.

That was when I first made a little leap.

For some gut reason, I added two weeks onto my flight at the end of our month-long schooling in Italy. Six weeks instead of four.

“What will you do? Where will you stay?” My red-headed friend’s mother asked me.

“I don’t know. I didn’t plan on this, it just now came from my gut and…I’m doing it.”

It didn’t seem real anyways and I tucked it away to deal with later. I was sure I’d find someone to travel with and if not, I love to be alone. It just seemed right.

A few months later and we were off. School was amazing (though since Rome was also so amazing we rarely slept more than a few hours a night. We probably could have absorbed more information without the late nights but hey, we got the Roman experience. We would trade-off which of us would get to sleep longer and which of us would go order espresso, though I feel like I often ended up with the sweeter end of that deal than not, thanks L) and I saw and learned things I felt I had been destined to see.

 

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…and ate a lot of things I felt I was destined to eat.

 

A psychic before my departure had even said to me (Rome unannounced) that I had a Roman background and had fought in the Colosseum. Who knows, but I do know that the place struck me down in my bones and still everyday I feel a constant pull to return.

After a month I bid “Adieu” and “See you soon” to my fire haired friend (who is still one of my best friend’s to this day) and started traveling with a girlfriend I met in the program.

 

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Rose and I at the train station, about to board the wrong train.

 

Eventually, after a week or so she had to leave as well and I found myself alone in Amsterdam. One morning I got very lost and unbeknownst to me, found myself in the Red Light District. I sat in a window to study my map and get my bearings at which point I realized where I had stumbled. I felt a presence and looked behind me. The window was inhabited by a naked lady dancing. It was 9am.

Oops, sorry! Blocking the show.

At the end of the week I met up with two girlfriends from home who were embarking on a whole semester abroad in Florence. They had a few weeks before school started and we figured we should go to Croatia because, well, we had heard good things and why not?

On the bus/train/bus rides there I decided that I wasn’t going to make my flight back to The States in a few days. I called my Mom and made the bigger leap. If anyone would get it, it was her and so she told me to be safe and let her know when I found myself some plans.

Croatia was amazing and we stayed longer than anyone had planned but eventually school beckoned and I decided to hoof it back to Italy with them to see where it would take me.

Well, it took me to the doctor.

Our trip from Croatia was about 36 hours of straight travel. I had debated staying, had debated taking up the offer from a local to live with him but had declined. I had more to see. The moment we said goodbye and got on the bus the girl in front of me threw up all over herself. It poured onto the floor and back towards me. I was able to pick up my feet in time but the smell was overpowering. Everyone opened their windows in a symphony of shrieks as the girl just sat there with vomit from her mouth to her toes.

Maybe I should have stayed?

The rest of the journey begged that question as well. We didn’t sleep or eat much, just traveled and as the day and a half wore on I felt a sickness brewing in my throat.

The vomit girl!

By the time we reached Florence I was so weak I could barely carry my pack. I said goodbye to my girlfriends as they found their housing and went out in the early morning Florence drizzle to find accommodations of my own. Finally, hours and Carabinieri catcalls later, I found a sweet woman with one bed left in her hostel. I fell into the bed and didn’t wake until dark.

She helped me find a hospital the next day after remarking that I “no look so good”.

Thanks.

The “hospital” that I entered was in fact a church hospital.

 

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It did not look like this, it was a bit more ominous but this was my favorite church I saw and now you can see it too.

 

Nuns speaking very rapid Italian gruffly moved me towards a man in the back. I recited my rehearsed phrases:

“Ho un mal di gola, Signore.”

I have a sore throat, Sir.

He jabbed at my tonsils.

That year I had already had at least three episodes of Tonsilitis (an infection in the tonsils) and three episodes of Strep Throat. I even had a little hint of Mono! It wasn’t the best of times.

The man spoke rapidly in Italian (what other way is there?), some of which I gathered to basically mean “Hold up, buttercup. This is going to hurt”.

Just then, all of my 7th grade Science training came back to me as he produced a Bunsen Burner and a wire mesh screen attached to a small metal pole which altogether resembled a larger version of the mirrors a dentist uses to look at your teeth.

“Whatcha thinkin’ bout doin’ with that, Father?” I nervously translated into something less abbreviated and more respectful.

He gestured for me to open wide (which I couldn’t) and so he forced my mouth open a bit, enough to fit the mesh screen he had been heating (unbeknownst to me) over the Bunsen Burner into my mouth in order to burn my tonsils.

Hold up, did he just cauterise my tonsils?

Still in shock the nurses shuffled me off and lay me facedown in a chair, gesturing for me to expose my toosh a little. I gave them one cheek and before I knew it they were jabbing me with a shot (I’m guessing penicillin but I have no idea) and off I went. I was charged nothing and left with two prescription orders.

I staggered to the pharmacy in a haze, still unsure of what had happened and unsure of what medicine I was about to ingest. I crept back into my bed at the hostel to recover. All said and done I was only 10 euros (and probably some skin on my tonsils) out from the day. Oh European healthcare.

But wait. A Bunsen Burner?! I was too woozy to care and simply hoped his Medieval practices would heal me.

Within a week I was feeling better and I was back to my usual antics of late nights and days of art and history.

 

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and Sexy Pasta.

 

I even found a job on a dare at a local bar when I told the manager that I was going to work there while simultaneously hearing the base rate and asking for a raise. I got it and the next day, in I went. Ah to be very young, headstrong and obnoxious. I’m sure I only retain two out of the three today. The day after I enrolled for language school and found a house to rent. I was set.

Until another week passed and the Tonsillitis came back with a vengeance.

This time I went to the “Emergency Room”, a hollow corridor of an empty ancient building. I literally resulted to “yelling” (more of a loud talking voice in my condition) in order to find anyone to help me. They too charged me nothing but thankfully this time my tonsils were left un-singed and I went home with new antibiotics and fingers crossed.

That time did the trick and the rest of my what ended up being almost a year in Italy instead of 6 weeks was relatively sickness free.

When I returned to The States my tonsils struck again and this time I asked for them to be taken out. At that time (woah, that statement makes me feel old) doctors were hesitant to take tonsils out for fear of them bleeding without stop and because they were and are supposed to be the body’s first line of defense against infection (except some, like mine, harbor that infection instead of process it, leaving me again and again with Tonsilitis. Oh joy).

“Plus”, the doc said “we don’t really have proof that you’ve had all of these incidents, since they occurred abroad.”

Umm, I beg your Physician’s pardon? Call the strange church I went to, or the emptiest Emergency Room that’s ever existed. They will tell you (rapidly in Italian so maybe pull up Google translator. Oh how I wish I would have had that) that my tonsils looked the size of strawberries and were just as red and bumpy.

Proof my patooty. Just look at my BBQed tonsils, that seems proof enough, no?

So I gave up for the time being. The doc wasn’t budging and I certainly didn’t want someone who didn’t have faith in the operation getting near my tonsils anyway. They’d been mistreated enough for that decade.

And you know what? That was very close to true. I never had another problem with my tonsils again.

Until now. Almost one decade later.

**Warning, if you thought anything earlier was gross, you might want to get out now. If not, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Here we go:

Alaska is currently experiencing its highest pollen count on record. That being said, new to the flora about these parts I have been having some symptoms. The whole town has. Sore throats from pollen abound and a few weeks ago a sickness started to sweep through town.

My sore throat persisted but I felt I had dodged the sickness. No cough, no mucus, just a painful throat. Nothing to write home about (who am I kidding, I still call my Mom when I have even a sore throat, but you know what I mean).

Until one night, talking outside of our house with a friend who was helping us with our truck (our Jack in the Box went on the fritz two weeks ago and we haven’t been able to remedy it since) I felt something shift. The sore throat was suddenly gone but my right tonsil (consistently the worse side, if I remember ten years ago correctly) was swelling and swelling fast. We said goodbye and I immediately did a salt gargle. It hurt. I put myself to bed with get well thoughts in my head.

I awoke to something else.

My right tonsil was even more swollen than the night before and my right ear was throbbing. I felt a familiar feeling but couldn’t quite admit to myself that I might have what I thought I might have. The T word.

 

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My tonsils we pocked and craggy like the clouds in this sky. Except they were the sunset version.

 

I buttoned up and buckled down with my Ibuprofen at my side and off we went to work. The Chief had somehow re-injured his neck earlier in the week as well and so we arrived at work (now in major Go Mode as the restaurant was set to open that week) looking like Frankensteins who couldn’t turn to look at you without turning our whole bodies and one of us who could barely speak.

Sexiest couple of the year award goes to…definitely not us that day. Stiffest maybe.

As the day wore on I felt more and more dragged down. Swallowing became something I tried to avoid and then it happened:

I didn’t want to eat because it was too painful.

My girlfriend later said “I knew you were sick when you weren’t eating. That’s your favorite hobby”.

I know girl, I know.

Being the friend that she is, we made a makeshift tongue depressor and used our flashlights to look down my throat.

“Oh man, can you breathe? Your right tonsil is so swollen it looks like it’s blocking your airway”

I had tried to ignore it but when she mentioned it I couldn’t any longer. No, I couldn’t really breathe well.

I got the You Probably Should Go To The Hospital look from my co-workers and so after 8 hours, I went home to rest.

You see, the funny thing about going to the Hospital is, well, it’s twofold:

  1. Our car just broke down so I have no way to get there and there is at least 4-5 hours away.
  2. I don’t have insurance in Alaska. Apparently, MediCal only covers expenses in California, a tricky loophole I found myself diving into upon realizing I might need aid.

Add to all that the fact that even in the past with health insurance and a Hospital 15 minutes away I still have avoided going to the doctor like the plague so having these challenges just made me shy away from it even more.

The next day I woke up in excruciating pain. I could barely open my mouth and swallowing or drinking was torturous. This was beyond anything I had experienced before. When I spoke it sounded like I had a mouthful of marbles. I decided to head into work with The Chief to see if a co-worker’s husband (The Paramedic) could look and see what he thought.

Hospital.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

I called around and found where I could get care if I could find a ride and just then The Paramedic said “I’m going to town tomorrow. I’m leaving early though. You should come.”

We decided to meet at the 5 mile marker of The Road at 4:30am the next morning. The last time I was up at 4:30am was probably because I was going to bed at 4:30, not rising. I thanked him and left.

I slowly walked the 3.5 miles home (since we are car-less and had driven the fire truck to Town which needed to stay in Town for that night’s training) and arrived home exhausted and in increasing pain. I knew I needed to call about my insurance but I was hurting so much and was so tired that I literally couldn’t.

A nap later and groggy as can be I got through to the Hospital and Clinic and after getting all the information I was thoroughly confused.

I could either go to the Clinic and pay out-of-pocket or go to the Emergency Room and potentially be covered. Key work: potentially. If not, I would end up with a much bigger out of pocket.

Oh health system woes.

I’ve never been much of a gambler, not with my money at least. Big life choices? Sure, roll those dice but not for money.

Overwhelmed and in ever-increasing pain I tearfully called The Chief. “Please have someone else run training tonight. I need you.”

He was home within the hour and I was calmed though not convinced that the insurance situation would be any sort of breeze the next day. A hurricane maybe but not a breeze.

It’s one thing to be sick. It’s another to be sick and to be worried about going to the doctor for fear of financial ruin. It’s a tale that’s often told and yet still persists.

The Chief tried to quiet my worries and made me a smoothie so I could eat something and we cuddled into bed to rest.

Nope.

In the potential 5 hours of sleep we could have gotten I slept a total of maybe 30 minutes. Every time I was about to fall asleep I would have to swallow and the searing pain would wake me up. Or, as I was drifting off my ear would start pulsing from the pressure. The Chief is thankfully a very good sleeper and was able to knock out a few Z’s before his big day ahead of him (opening day at The Restaurant) but we both awoke at 3:30am groggy and in pain.

I “awoke” so puffy I couldn’t even feel my jawbone and touching my neck felt like I was scorching it with fire (or wire mesh heated on a Bunsen Burner). I felt like something was growing and growing in my throat and it became harder to breathe and more awkward and painful to swallow.

The Chief drove me to meet The Paramedic and the Ibuprofen finally started to work a little since I had upped my dose. We were able to talk a bit, get to know one another, that is when I wasn’t drifting off mid-sentence.

Finally, a stop at his Brother-In-Law’s to drop off something and pet his pet donkeys later and we were in Valdez. I smelled the Ocean which I haven’t really smelled since November (and as a coastal kid, I’ve missed it) and it felt like all would be fine.

 

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I forced myself to take a walk along the pier with a girlfriend.

Eventually.

The clinic would take walk-ins from 9-11. We arrived around 9:30 and a friend of The Chief’s who happened to be working that day greeted us. He explained the different avenues I could go and so I checked in with the front desk of the clinic who sent me to the Emergency Room to see my options. Once at the Emergency Room they sent me to Billing. Once in Billing they told me I had to cancel my MediCal because it only works in California.

I hadn’t realized that of course, resident or not, your insurance needs to be where you are. I’m in Alaska more often than not these days and I need to be able to be seen there. So I spent the next hour on the phone cancelling and confirming and watching the clock for the Clinic walk-in time limit so that I wouldn’t miss that opportunity if the Emergency Room still ended up sending me away.

Nothin’ like stress to help the healing process.

Within a few minutes of me explaining my situation ((I have MediCal but through Kaiser so I apparently am in a weird situation that ended up (hopefully) being to my benefit)) the whole office was working on it. I love Alaskans. They are so quick to get in there and help to figure things out. Three ladies were making phone calls and the rest of the office were debating the pros and cons of my visiting the ER versus the clinic.

In the end, since my insurance would only cover the ER we found out, I went in.

I was already exhausted but still needed to be an advocate for myself, ask the right questions and get the help I needed.

My tonsil and ear were throbbing. I cuddled into the crinkly paper and closed my eyes to rest as I waited for the doctor.

When she arrived she asked if I was the friend my friend at the Clinic had mentioned. I immediately felt taken care of and safe.

Knowing that I live in the woods and that any need to change medication (if it didn’t start working in 72 hours and thus was for the wrong strain) would be very difficult she did all the leg work to make sure that medications could be flown out to me.

The whole staff made sure I was O.K. They were wonderful. I left about 4 hours after entering with a prescription and with hope.

I eventually found the pharmacy in town, collected my meds and hit the grocery store just in time to get picked up by The Paramedic after his awards ceremony. We then headed to The Sister Restaurant of The Restaurant to see some good friends, have some marble talk and head home.

5 hours later, we arrived at the opening party of The Restaurant. I was exhausted and in more pain than I thought I could handle but I had watched this place go up over Winter, watched my friends and my Chief work in the below zero cold, and worked with my own hands on it. I was not missing this.

Plus, that’s where my ride was going.

Everyone was so happy as was I but it was hard to show through the stabbing ache. They sent me out food and it took me over an hour to eat a small stuffed pepper. Every bit was agony (but also delicious) and I was starving so I kept on. Finally, I hit my wall and drove myself home.

 

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My tonsils felt about as calm as this swimming spot in the sea at Capri.

 

The next day I awoke not to feeling better but worse. I had started the antibiotics but felt no shift. They said to wait 48-72 hours so I tried to distract myself. All this time we’ve been working day in and day out and suddenly, I was finally home, without plans, where all of the things we’ve neglected due to busyness lived and I couldn’t do any of them.

The next day I awoke, certain I would feel better and for a little while I did. I got in the garden and the dirt in my happy place. I did some chores and then suddenly the pain came back something fierce and I was exhausted. I laid down to nap for a while and suddenly it was 6pm. Time to eat something, woman, no matter how much it hurts.

I made sweet potatoes and mashed them up like one would for a baby and then added some avocado and tomato and lemon. It looked delicious and I’d psyched myself up to deal with the pain in order to finally eat it.

I took one bite and immediately almost threw up.

(You guessed it, the grossest part is NOW).

There was a foul taste in my mouth, dingy and dark and tangy and utterly disgusting.

What is that?!

I smelled everything in the bowl. I couldn’t tell. My sense of smell was screwy. The sweet potatoes had seen better days but nothing seemed wrong with them.

The taste kept coming. I felt like a cat with tape stuck to her feet, I couldn’t get away from it. I was revolted.

I rushed to the sink and threw down the bowl of food I was so desperately excited for and grabbed my toothbrush to scrub and scrub as much as one can in a mouth that won’t really open.

I spit out the toothpaste and suddenly the white turned to brown and red.

I almost started vomiting from the taste. It’s back! That putrid taste. But how? Then, I truly did start to dry heave and the pressure on my throat produced more of the taste and more of the foul liquid.

I realized then that my tonsil had popped or more specifically, that I must have had an abscess on my tonsil and it had popped.

I had read online about abscesses of the tonsils and had asked the doc if that’s what she saw but when she said “no” I let it go, sort of. In my gut I knew this wasn’t just the normal run of Tonsillitis I was used to.

This was it, the abscess was expelling the infection inside of it.

I gagged and cried as it was by far the worst pain of the last few days. It kept coming and I was choking and gasping to get it out while still breathing. Crying only made the pressure worse but I couldn’t help it.

Finally, the waves of expulsion slowed and I knew I needed water. To be in water, specifically. I got in my robe and headed to the shower. Showers heal all when I’m sick. I checked the propane, the battery and the water level.

Good. Good. Bad.

Great.

I went to the generator, fired it up and braced the hose in the water reservoir so I could distract myself by throwing grass seed to build our lawn while the 55 gallon drum filled. Ten minutes later I finally got in the shower.

Sweet relief.

I kept coughing and spitting up bloody brown until the last few minutes of the shower when finally, it stopped.

My ear was no longer throbbing, I could swallow without excruciating pain though I still felt some and my tonsil (though it still felt misshapen) had shrunk.

It was by far the best and the grossest thing that’s ever happened to me medically.

I texted The Chief: “The grossest thing just happened to me. I can’t wait to tell you about it.” I felt like a different person. I was still exhausted and still in some pain but I was drinking water in gulps like a human. I was eating grapes by actually opening my mouth and chewing. It felt like a miracle.

A disgusting putrid miracle.

The Chief returned home and we spent the next hour catching up while I made a paper bouquet for my girlfriend on her birthday, needing to distract myself, afraid that the tonsil would somehow just fill itself up again and my freedom would be taken away.

But so far it hasn’t.

We went to the party, though I was so exhausted from the infection and the day’s events that I only could stay for a short while. In that while I spread the gospel of the disgusting tonsil explosion, thoroughly grossing out the guests as I went. What can I say though? People need to know these things.

So now (if you made it through the gross gauntlet) you know. If you live in the woods and your car breaks down, find a ride and get yourself to town. And if your tonsil suddenly feels like a rectangle instead of a ball, you might have an abscess, actually, a Peritonsillar Abscess, if we are being medically correct. Resist from Googling it, just trust me on this one.

Oh, and the doctor should drain it for you. That’s how that’s supposed to go. But hey, who knew?

Lessons learned.

Cheers to the woods and the sweet small simple world they create and cheers to help getting out of them swiftly when that world gets a little more complicated.

Cheers to you, getaway driver. I owe you one, if we can ever get our car running again.

Cheers to my tonsils, making (I hope) one last-ditch effort to get my attention before quietly calming themselves forever.

Cheers to leaps of faith, even if they get us into a little trouble here and there.

And cheers to you if you made it through this nastiness. You’re a toughie, you.

Love,

Beneath The Borealis.

 

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Nature’s ombre. She’s so fashionable.

 

 

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