So you know how I’ve been so sick, and just getting sicker? Well it took 39 vials of blood to get there, but we’re pretty sure I’ve got brucellosis. No wonder I’ve been feeling so awful… walking around with a massive systemic bacterial infection for the past 19 months. Good grief.
So here’s a little background on brucellosis:
According to the New England Journal of Medicine: “Brucellosis, like tuberculosis, is a chronic granulomatous infection caused by intracellular bacteria and requires combined, protracted antibiotic treatment.”
Basically, the bacteria live inside the cells of the immune system — namely macrophages, which are the cells normally responsible for destroying invading bacteria. The Brucella bacteria multiply inside the macrophages and then further invade the body when their numbers are greater. And because they live inside cells, and are very slow growing and hard to eradicate, treatment requires many months of a combination of antibiotics.
Unlike tuberculosis, though, brucellosis is not normally passed from human to human. You get it by consuming raw or undercooked milk or meat from infected animals (goats, sheep, cattle, bison, elk, caribou, dogs, and others) or, less commonly, by coming into contact with their secretions or carcasses. Nice.
It’s rare in the United States — only 100-200 cases are reported to the CDC each year; however it’s thought to be an underreported illness here and is much more common in other areas of the world that don’t have effective public health and animal health programs. Brucellosis is also known as Malta Fever, Mediterranean Fever, Bang’s disease, and Undulant fever, as well as several other names including my two personal favorites — ‘Satan’s fever’ and ‘Fist of mercy’ — which describe it well indeed!
I had never heard of brucellosis in my life, except that on our trip to Argentina last year I was reading the label on some cheese we bought, which said “Le Serenisima products are officially free of Brucellosis & Tuberculosis.” I remember saying out loud to my Hubby, “Brucellosis — GROSS! What’s THAT?” …and then taking a picture of the label, below! Little did I know I already had that exact illness as I was speaking those words! (I was already sick by the time we went to Argentina, so I’m pretty sure I didn’t get it there; however things got a lot worse in the months after Argentina, so I still can’t be 100% sure.)
So actually, there’s a lot more to this saga than I’m going to write tonight. But I do want to write it because I’ve learned a lot thus far from this crazy experience (and it’s not over yet, to be sure). But for that, I’ll wait until I’m feeling better and can sit up at the computer for a bit.
Anyway, the short story is that I’ve tested positive 3 times for brucellosis. Why I wasn’t treated for it after the first positive is part of the longer story. But 10 days ago, I went to see a new (and better) Infectious Disease doctor at the urging of my family. We did some some blood cultures, I turned down a bone marrow culture (still hoping that was the right choice), and he started me on the standard treatment of two antibiotics — doxycycline and rifampin, which is a strong and toxic anti-tuberculosis drug. I’ll need to get liver bloodwork checked every 2 weeks while I’m on that one.
The big bottles are blood cultures. Don’t worry, that’s not ALL blood in there! Only about a teaspoon of blood in each bottle, and the rest is the culture medium.
Both arms get poked for blood cultures. The upside of all this is that blood draws don’t bother me a bit anymore!
The drugs may take several weeks to kick in according to the leaflet that came with them. What I’ve noticed so far is that my symptoms are more intense; it feels like there’s a war going on in my body. All my lymph nodes and lymph channels hurt even more than before, including thymus pain (weird!). Hopefully it’s one of those things where you get worse before you get better. But stuff’s definitely happening; Hubby thinks my body’s gearing up and kicking this crap out, and we both feel like it’s a good sign, somehow. I hope so. But it’s been a very rough week to put it mildly, and I’ve just been hanging extremely low in bed. The drugs make me nauseous on top of the way I was already feeling (like I have a mega-hangover that never goes away). It’s not fair, is it, that the diseases that are already making you feel really awful are the ones that require strong treatment that makes you feel really really awful. I’ll be glad when the barf bucket next to the bed is a thing of the past.
But the nausea does seem to be calming down a little bit, and I can actually look at the food in the refrigerator again — instead of grabbing my bottle of applesauce while trying not to look at anything else in there, and shutting the door as fast as I can! I seem to have lost my taste for any and all tea at the moment, which is sad since I just got my big order of wonderful teas from Mountain Rose Herbs…but I expect I’ll want tea again once I’m feeling better. Man, I hope so!
The real treat was yesterday at Thanksgiving! I feared I would only be well enough to eat pretzels and baby food at Thanksgiving, since that’s what I’d been eating for several days. But I actually felt well enough to want to eat, and was able to eat little bits of the delicious feast my mom and dad cooked up! Bites of stuffing and mashed potatoes have never tasted so good.
And another really wonderful thing is that a good friend has been giving me the gift of 30-minute reiki sessions from a distance for the past 3 mornings in a row. All I have to do is lie there in bed and soak it up; it’s heavenly!
I’ve got lots of love and support around me, that’s for sure, and it makes such a huge difference. I’m eternally thankful for that.
(March 2014 health update HERE)