A Whole Week With a Wicked Cough

Edit: I should probably warn you that this post contains some rather gross details about the virus infection I seem to have now. If you don’t like to read about snot and vomit, please don’t continue to read.

By now, I’ve spent a whole week with a really bad cough. It started last Tuesday morning. I felt congested and had trouble breathing. By the end of the day, I was coughing up phlegm, but the phlegm was so thick, it didn’t really get all the way up to my mouth.

On Wednesday, my girlfriend brought me some Robotussin, and of course that helped. I also forced myself to stay hydrated better, but the cough was still nearly incapacitating, especially socially, since people typically don’t enjoy getting spat at. On Thursday, I decided that the cough was coming from so deep in my lung, especially since my rib pain had returned (diagnosed as costochondritis, inflamed rib cartilage, in November 2006 after a similar illness), I didn’t actually want to inhibit coughing, I want to encourage it and try to make the phlegm thinner. So I got a bottle of Mucinex. That, and massive quantities of Gatorade (close to 1.5 gallons) seemed to help a bit. The mucus is thinner, it is productive, although because I stopped taking Robotussin, I cough more often. Thursday night, I was still happy, because my phlegm was clear.

When on Friday morning my phlegm had turned the color of dark mustard, or “pale goldenrod” as House would say, I decided to call Health Services and ask for an appointment. I expected one on Monday or Tuesday, but there was a 4 PM available on Friday. Great. Now I just literally had to hang in there until that late.

I went to the compulsary COMP 600 seminar (which I would have skipped, had it not been for the doctor’s appointment), I was one of only three people in COMP 312, the class I hang out in. I wrote a little on my thesis, and then it was 4 PM.

I breezed right past the people waiting in line. That was nice. The nurse asked a bunch of questions and awkwardly typed them into their still new notebooks. She measured my body temperature after I had said I didn’t believe I had a fever but I did have chills. No fever. I don’t think I’ve had a fever in 15 years. To not spite the odds, I’m buying one now, though.

Then Dr. Jenkins came in and seemed to be a bit in a Friday-late-afternoon-mood, but who can blame him. He’s a great guy and I think he’s one of the best doctors I’ve known when it comes to sports injuries. I repeated my symptoms — sinus congestion, headache, postnasal drip, sore throat, trouble breathing, really thick phlegm, and the recurrence of the costochondritis — and he looked in my mouth, ears and nose, and felt the lymph nodes in my neck. He listened to my lungs from the back, and all seemed clear. He declared it’s a viral infect, there’s nothing I can do, I should just continue taking what I’ve been taking — Mucinex (guaifenesin). And if I want, I can add Robotussin (dextromethorphan), a cough suppressant, because studies have shown no negative impact. On the other hand, I’ve been told not to suppress the cough, and even to spit the phlegm out instead of swallowing it.

This morning I felt like crap again. The mornings and evenings are really bad. Later in the day, it wasn’t so bad. I think it has to do with hydration. Because of the Mucinex, I’m shooting for about 1.5 gallons of Gatorade a day. It does its part in making the phlegm thinner. When I haven’t had any fluids after sleeping, of course the symptoms are worse. This week, on several occasions I have coughed so hard, I made myself vomit — please understand, this had nothing to do with nausea or dizziness. It was just the pressure of the cough. It’s really disgusting and I’m sick of it.

The strange thing is that I had something similar in November 2005, and occasionally during almost the
last year and a half since then. Back then, I went to a doctor after my sputum turned yellow and was diagnosed with a viral infection and not treated, because there was no treatment for viral infections. While in the last year, I was usually able to function quite normally, and even bike at a relatively high performance, I’ve always had the feeling that I never quite recovered. I could usually get by just by not inhaling all that deep, but the fact that inhaling deep sends me, an absolute non-smoker, into a coughing fit and the rib pain located only on the right side of the sternum are still troubling for me.

Now that I have this harsh cough again, and while it has gotten better, no real end is in sight, I’m beginning to feel like I’m being undertreated, or treated in the wrong way: My sputum was and is yellow and the rib pain has returned, and to me, that sounds to me like a bacterial infection. My entire medical history points towards bacterial infections, I’ve very frequently had bacterial bronchitis. I’m against over-prescribing antibiotics, so I didn’t argue, but I’m not sure I’m being treated correctly.

I’m feeling slightly better now, especially during the day, but the mornings are still terrible and the evenings are bad. I also feel disgusting because I’m spewing mucus everywhere. My girlfriend also seems to have caught something, and we’re waking each other up with our coughs.

I think if this problem lingers on again for a few weeks, I am going to get a second opinion and get a chest X-ray. I believe I know my body pretty well, and most of the time, I know what I have, and even what I will get prescribed, before I visit the doctor. During my last three clinic visits, I predicted the correct eye drops I’d get, I self-diagnosed a rotator cuff injury in my right shoulder down to the exact muscle, and I narrowed down the rib pain to either costochondritis or pleurisy. I often get the impression that doctors don’t guess much better than I do. And no, I don’t think I’m a hypochondriac, I just try to inform myself about stuff I do have, and every one of my problems has been confirmed by a medical professional, even though the diagnosis may sometimes differ (viral vs. bacterial) Sure, there’s the “Butterfly effect” and maybe my suspicions get confirmed exactly because I inform myself, but I don’t think I’m Munchhausen either. ;-)

So, let’s hope that this goes away soon. I may have to go to Rice Health Services some time next week, maybe I can get a second opinion from Dr. Ware already, just by directing her how to use her stethoscope. If she can’t give me anything better, then I guess I’ll have to go to a hospital and maybe get a lateral X-ray image or an ultrasound of my lower right lung, and spend some money.

I hate hospitals and spending money…


About Mathias

Software development engineer. Principal developer of DrJava. Recent Ph.D. graduate from the Department of Computer Science at Rice University.
This entry was posted in MS Thesis, Ramblings, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply