Friday, May 3, 2013

My Staph Story


This is my 30-day photo journal of a "rash" on my face that turned out to be so much more. Because my symptoms were so common, I tried to self-diagnose via online research and could not comprehend why my condition was worsening. My mystery illness would escalate and send me to the emergency room, where I was diagnosed with impetigo and prescribed two different antibiotics. Just when I thought my face was healing, my body broke down and I had to go see another doctor - who told me I was severely allergic to one of the antibiotics, and that if I had waited any longer, I would have landed in the emergency room again.

It is difficult for me to publish such unflattering pictures, but perhaps my symptoms, drug interactions, and side effects can help someone else not be blindsided like I was. My situation could have been so easily avoided had I known about impetigo and antibiotic allergies. I firmly believe that everything happens for a reason. I have suffered so much this month, but my medical catastrophe turned out to be a blessing in disguise that would profoundly change my life.

This journal is not a substitute for medical advice.




I made an introductory video to my journal:


Before this happened, I considered myself a fairly healthy person:



I was an actress, model, screenwriter, karate black belt, artist, writer:

www.chynachuu.com screenshot

Not to toot my own horn, but I frequently got compliments for my flawless complexion. I loved my skin and tried to take good care of it.

Two months ago, I was on set and the hair stylist had accidentally whacked me on the forehead with a hot blow dryer - leaving a raised burn/abrasion on my forehead that was taking forever to heal. If I went to auditions and put makeup on it, the edges of the wound would break, flaring up with irritation.

Super frustrated to the point of obsession, I tried everything to make it clear up (at home microdermabrasion, hydrocortisone, I even threw antifungal cream on it) - I was not okay with the idea of having a permanent scar on my face. Finally, I stumbled upon a little-known ointment called Brave Soldier Healing Ointment that the biking community swears by to heal and minimize scarring of road rashes and burns.

I applied it to my forehead and went to bed every night praying to see a blemish-free forehead in the mornings. The mark slowly seemed to be getting better when I found out some great news - I was chosen as a test group participant for a two-month confidential fitness program! It would be a big change to my schedule to follow their set food and exercise plan - I would have to wake up at 6:30 am to work out at their facility 6 days a week, drink their powdered shake, take their multivitamin and Omega-3 supplements, and eat their provided food. Free gourmet delivered meals? Yes, please!

And this is where my story begins...


DAY 1: BEFORE

Fitness Program Day 1. Here is my Progress Photo taken on Day 1:

Day 1
My skin is generally healthy, and you can see the mark that was aggravating me so much on my forehead. Looking back, I want to shake some sense into my old self, and say, "Stop it, you silly girl! Be grateful for what you have!"

6:20 am: I wake up groggy, drink my powdered shake, and head over to have my first workout at their gym. I normally wake up at 9:30 am and exercise at nights, so it's a big change, but I think I need to be pushed out my comfort zone if I want to get super toned. I pick up my calorie-restricted bag of food for the day, and take my metabolism formula multivitamins and Omega-3 supplements with my breakfast.


DAY 2: RASH?

The next morning, I see a small rash pop up on my left cheek, on the same side as my wound. I chalk it up to a blemish.

Day 2
Drink my shake in the morning, head over to my workout.


DAY 3

I wake and my face seems a little puffy. The rash on my left cheek didn't go away, and now I have a new red rash on the side of my nose and little hives that look like 5 pimples on my right cheek. They're not super noticeable in the pictures. Yet.

Day 3  
Drink my shake, head over to workout. I'm concerned something is happening. 


DAY 4: SHAKE ALLERGY?

The rashes are growing in size.

My friend posts a Facebook entry about an allergy test that she took. Maybe my face is breaking out because of allergies to the new shake or supplements? I trawl online forums and many people have gotten hives from the same powdered shake I'm drinking. There are a million ingredients in it, but I think the one I'm reacting to is stevia - it can cause hives. I email the food delivery people about stevia in their food - they say they use it sometimes.

She says her allergy test cost $300 with insurance. Hmm. Too pricey. 

I don't like to take medication. At all. But I take Claritin, decide to stop drinking the shake, and hope it gets better in the morning.


DAY 5: SUPPLEMENT ALLERGY?

It is Sunday, my one rest day from the fitness program. I didn't drink the shake today, but it's nighttime, and my rash seems to be getting worse.

I do some research on the multivitamins. My friend says many people have allergic reactions to "fast burners," which are multivitamins with added chemicals to enhance your metabolism. I look up the ingredients, and there are three "L-" chemicals that can cause hives, and other ingredients like PABA which may be giving me a reaction. Ugh. I go back to taking my old One-A-Day multivitamin.

I take Claritin and decide to stop taking the vitamins as well. I put Brave Soldier Healing Ointment on the rashes. On Amazon it says that you can use it for antiseptic purposes, for shaving purposes, rashes, and burns. I hope it works.


DAY 6

Instead of drinking the shake, I eat an apple so I don't have to work out on an empty stomach. First day of no vitamins, no shake. I pray for the chemicals to leave my system. I continue to take Claritin and put Brave Soldier Healing Ointment on the rashes.


DAY 7: CHEMICAL BURN?

Now you can tell in the pictures that there is something happening to my face. The mark on my forehead has new red dots trailing down my eyebrow. There are new little hives in the middle of my forehead that look like a tight cluster of white mini pimples. The hives on my cheek look like red pimples with surrounding redness. My face is itchy.


I do research online and see that there is something called a chemical burn. Some people get it from anti-acne topical products. This one girl had chemical burns from putting teatree oil on her pimple. Brave Soldier Healing Ointment has teatree oil in it. Uh oh.

I do some deduction - perhaps it is not the supplements after all. Perhaps I have a chemical burn. I've always used the Brave Soldier on my forehead. Why the new rash starting Day 2?

Before: I would wash my face in the morning, put Brave Soldier on my forehead, then wash my face at night after I exercised.

My New Theory: I wash my face in the morning, put Brave Soldier on, and wash my face two hours later. Perhaps my skin hasn't had sufficient time to absorb it, so I am accidentally spreading it around and burning healthy skin.


My skin does look a little red, like it's been overly irritated. I am going with the new theory of chemical burn, but I will not start the supplements again just in case. No more Claritin. 


DAY 8

I decide to stop washing my face. No soap, no moisturizer, no sunscreen. Online posts indicate to just wash with water and pat dry to minimize irritating burnt skin, and let the burn dry and crust and flake away. My friend had a burn and she says that it will turn yellow and brown and it won't be pretty. I was feeling optimistic...


DAY 9:

I am starting to get self-conscious when I see my workout classmates. Now I don't leave the house except to go to this mandatory class. I turn from a super friendly girl to an introverted, eye-averting mute.



The redness increases all over my face. I must have really damaged my epidermis, the top layer of my face.

My face is extra itchy at nights. I start having trouble sleeping at night. I tell myself to just be patient and wait for my skin to regenerate.


DAY 10: HELLO, YELLOW CRUST

I feel a little nauseous and a little dizzy as I wake up for my 8 am workout. I chalk it up to stress. We get weighed. I have lost 1.6 pounds.

The mark on my forehead is starting to get super ridged and grow a yellowish-crust. I read online that the colored crust is typical of second-degree burns - the yellow liquid is serum in the blood, which grows and dries over the burn to form a protective layer. The other rashes are growing more prominent.



I always give my 150% in my workout class - I love to exercise and when I'm lifting weights or doing burpees, I don't even think about my face. It's after class that my stress level goes up because I want to slither out asap without saying goodbye to anyone.

I come home, and the crust gets progressively worse. I can't stand myself looking like this. My friend tells me to take pictures just in case I have to use them in the future. I am not feeling cute. Not one bit.









I have been hiding in the house, but I decide to walk to my favorite place, Trader Joe's. I love being out and about - running errands, leisurely grocery shopping, walking - staying indoors all day makes me depressed. I really need some stress relief so I cast aside my insecurities. The stroll makes me really happy.

I find myself scratching my entire face at night. My forehead annoys me the most, but I can't really satisfy the itch because the yellow crust is like a barricade - it's so hard and affixed to my skin that it feels like I'm scratching rock candy. I feel weird tingling sensations on my face.


DAY 11: THE RASH GROWS...


The yellowish crust has turned brown. I'm kinda happy because that's what my friend said happens when burns are healing, but I'm not happy because my right cheek is swollen and the rash on my nose has merged with the rash on my cheek to form a giant patch now. Sigh.




My skin has definitely lost its glossiness and just looks dry and raw. I read an article about Brandi Glanville suffering a burn on her face from a laser treatment. Her cheeks look similar to mine. I research into chemical peel post-skin care regimens, and how long it takes them to heal. 

I wonder if my skin will scar. I rely on my face for acting. I watch Youtube videos of chemical burns. They're scary.

My patience runs out on me. I have a major breakdown. My boyfriend consoles me.


DAY 12: CHEMICAL BURN + SUNBURN?

The crust is really starting to get raised, hard, and dry. It looks nasty and feels like rough sandpaper. I am starting to get a little bit of a crust on my cheeks too. I still haven't washed my face because I read that it's important to keep the burn dry so it can heal.

I cancel two upcoming acting auditions. I had been holding out in hopes my face would clear up, but I have to face reality.

I've never gone this many days without washing my face. I don't even splash it with water. I'm surprised the healthy parts of my skin still look good.

I am obsessively researching every day about other people's experiences on chemical burns.


NOT CUTE. NOT CUTE AT ALL. 

Thank God it's Sunday and I don't have to go to the workout class.



My right cheek begins to swell. My boyfriend studies my face and thinks it's not just a chemical burn. He suspects my forehead and my cheeks are two separate causes because they look different.

He thinks that I have a chemical burn and a sunburn on my cheeks, because the chemical burn damaged the outer protective layer of my skin and I haven't been putting on sunscreen. It's definitely a possibility. I have generally been avoiding the sun, but I do have to go to work out in the mornings, I did take that one afternoon walk, and my laptop is right by the window. Sigh. He thinks I should go back to putting on sunscreen.

My boyfriend tells me that I have to keep the wound moist - he says there are opposing arguments to "wet vs dry wounds" but he sides with keeping wounds moist for better healing. He does research on aloe vera jelly for my sunburn, and goes to Whole Foods right before they close to buy me a 99% Lily of the Desert Aloe Vera Gelly. 

My friend sees the pictures I send her of my face and tells me to go see a doctor.  She recommends an urgent walk-in medical facility on La Brea that only costs $85. I told her I'm going to wait for my boyfriend to come back and try the aloe vera gelly. If it's a sunburn, then a doctor couldn't do anything else for me anyway - to a certain extent I'm so weary of dealing with my face I don't even care anymore.

My boyfriend comes back with the aloe vera moisturizer. It irks me that they brand it with a nonsensical word "gelly," like a mutated offspring of "gel" and "jelly."

I wash my face for the first time in three days. I can no longer use my usual skin care regimen of Josie Maran Argan Oil products because they sting my face. I switch to a Simple Cleansing Non-Drying Face Gel that I got as a free sample by mail. I put the aloe vera gelly on, which stings a little bit. After ten minutes, my overall redness fades.

We're optimistic. My inner copy editor officially retract her disdain. Who cares about liberal spelling choices? Their product works! Yay!


DAY 13: THE SH*T HITS THE FAN

I wake up PUFFY. My entire face is swollen. My entire undereye area is filled with fluid. In the morning, I wash my face, put on the aloe vera gelly, and SPF 40. I wear a huge visor as I walk to and from my car. I stay in the house after I come back from the workout class.

This is my morning progress photo at 8 am:


My face is looking WONKY. I look like the poster child for Plastic Surgery Gone Bad. 

This has been the progression of my face over the past twelve days:

What the eff is going on? 


My swollen cheek is pushing on my right eye. I email the fitness program and tell them I am taking a sick day tomorrow. I'm a Type A Teacher's Pet and it kills me to miss a day. I tell them I don't think I should go to class if my eye is swollen shut and I can't drive. They ask me what is going on and I tell them that I think it could be the shake, supplements, chemical burn, or sunburn. The program contact forwards my account to the nutritionists and asks if they think it could be an allergy to the food or the supplements. They tell me to stop the supplements immediately and to go see a doctor. 

I pray that my face will get better with the aloe vera gelly, but it no longer seems to be helping with the redness. This is me at 1:35 pm:



Look at my face 7 hours later:



I don't recognize myself. I read that burns can cause swelling but it's one thing to read about it and it's another thing to see it happen to your face. I feel so hideous. My boyfriend says I'm not hideous and gives me a hug. He's the best.

I try to sleep, but I'm tossing and turning. As it hits midnight, my face begins to turn even more red and swollen. My boyfriend looks at my face, and says, "This is not a sunburn. Your left cheek has always been the good one. It hasn't been swollen, and now it's swelling up more than the other one. This is something else." 

Soon yellow pus begins leaking, dripping down my face from my forehead, my cheeks, faster than I can wipe it. If I leave it on for five minutes, it crystallizes into a sticky, hard stalactite on my jawline. EWW.

I decide to go to the urgent care walk-in facility my friend recommended. I read the profiles of their doctors, and they all seem highly qualified. It opens at 8 am. I am literally counting every minute because at 6:27 am, my face looks like this:




I look in the mirror and I make a very self-evident observation:
"Holy sh*t, my face is big."

My "good" cheek is now more swollen, so swollen to the point where I can barely see out of my left eye. I can't put in my contacts. I have -7.0 vision in both eyes, so I have pretty blurry vision without my contacts.

For some reason, while we're counting down the minutes to leave for the urgent care, I tell my boyfriend to google staph infection. I don't know what made it pop into my head. I have many similar symptoms - the rash, crust, hives, swelling. Sigh, it's just another possible theory to add to the pile because my symptoms were so common. I'm tired of wondering. But something's going on. I'm really scared.


DAY 14: EMERGENCY ROOM

As we leave, I put on my visor and decide to fashion a protective hat of some sort. I don't have SPF on my face, so I don't want my face to get burned by the morning sun.

I hang a towel around my visor, and tuck it into place underneath the headband. I'm really proud of my DIY beekeeper's hat. It's solid. Not only am I protected from the sun, my deformed face is entirely hidden from other humans, who may not recognize me as one of their kind and accidentally banish me to Roswell.

My boyfriend doesn't enjoy my hat as much as I do. He's usually cool and calm, and I can tell that he's worried. At the moment I realize I'm taking any little pleasure I get from my hat because inside I'm totally freaking out.

We get there at 7:30 am. We wait inside the car. Slowly nurses begin to trickle in one by one. At 7:45 am a guy goes up to the door and waits. Frick! I thought we would be the first. My boyfriend goes outside to hold our spot.

Finally at 8 am, we all sign in. A guy who came after me gets called in. What gives? It's finally my turn and the nurse asks what happened. He says he's going to find the doctor.

The doctor comes in and he's concerned. He thinks I have some sort of skin infection and it looks really serious. He says that I should go to the emergency room.

WHAT?! I'm totally thrown off guard. I thought this doctor would prescribe me some medicine, maybe give me a shot, and send me off on my monstrous, but merry, way. Damn! The emergency room? I don't have health insurance!

I ask the doctor if he could prescribe me medication. We start going into the history of my wound, but he cuts us off. "It doesn't matter what it used to look like! This right now could be really serious!"

The doctor starts freaking out. I don't have my contacts on, but he's flailing his arms enough for me to tell.

"It could be erysipelas, it could be another skin infection. If you go to the emergency room now, they can treat it more aggressively, they can give you an injection, they can treat it with stronger antibiotics. Listen, I am a little doctor's office. I have my antibiotics that I could give you, but it would take 24 hours to see if they work. In that 24 hours, if it gets worse, you may end up going to the emergency room anyway - you may have to be admitted and hooked up to an IV for days. You can choose to go with my medications, but you will sign off that you accept the risk of whatever happens."

I don't want to be treated by a doctor who doesn't seem confident of being able to help me. I know emergency room bills can run into some serious money even with insurance, but I just don't want to spend the next 24 hours gambling with my life. He recommends for us to go to Cedars-Sinai, which is about ten minutes away.

Along the drive, I call my brother and my sister and fill them in. My brother is surprised. "I thought you just had a rash." Yeah, me too. My other brother is overseas. I get to the ER, they take my temperature (I don't have a fever, thank goodness), and I get a wristband. While I'm waiting, I email all my siblings and tell them I just wanted them to know that I love them. I'm scared I'm going to die.



This is me in the lobby of Cedars-Sinai ER. I never imagined I would have to go to the emergency room. Unresolved issues from my life flood my mind all at once.

I finally get ushered into a room. The doctor comes in, we explain the entire history to him. He thinks it may be impetigo. He brings in a specialist. They are puzzled because it is a bacterial infection that usually affects babies and children. 

Impetigo has a distinctive amber, honey-colored crust. 

I recall the yellow crust on my forehead that I thought was my body healing my burn.  

But I didn't have a chemical burn. 
Or a sunburn. 
Or allergies. 
Or hives. 

I had impetigo, finally matured, squirting nasty amber goo on my face. Ugh.

The impetigo extends all the way to my scalp, and it now covers almost 3/4 of my face. The specialist advises for me to take two different antibiotics - one is specifically to treat MRSA. He tells me to wash off the crust gently, not to pick, not to scratch. I am given an informational packet on impetigo.

I ask the specialist what my skin care regimen should be. He says gentle soap, and that's it. 

Does it have to be a special soap? 

No. 

Can I use moisturizer? 

He shakes his head as if he's surprised I'm asking these things. 


FINALLY AFTER 13 DAYS I HAVE A DIAGNOSIS!!

Diagnosis:  Impetigo - a contagious skin infection caused by staph or strep bacteria

Treatment: I am prescribed three medications:

                  Two oral antibiotics:

                     1) Keflex 500mg, 3x a day for 10 days

                     2) Bactrim, 2x a day for 10 days

                   Topical ointment:

                     3) Mupirocin 2% for 7 days


My sister, who is an ER doctor, says for mild cases of impetigo, they prescribe just the topical ointment, and otherwise she would just prescribe Keflex. I didn't tell my sister about my face the whole time because I thought she would just push me to go see a doctor. 

If I had known about impetigo when my yellow crust first appeared, I could have caught it in time and my face wouldn't be in this state. Sigh. I can't dwell on my past choices - I have a diagnosis, and I have treatment. 

I'm glad they're erring on the safe side and giving me two medications. I've never taken antibiotics before. I can't wait for the bacteria to die swiftly and mercilessly.

I pop the pills into my mouth as soon as I get home.

Washing my face, however, is super traumatic. When I lean over the sink, my gigantic face feels like a distended balloon about to break - there is so much heavy fluid in my face stretching and pulling my skin downwards. The yellow crusts had hardened so much that they are almost impossible to wash off, even though I try the warm washcloth method that the doctor recommended. My jaws are so swollen I can feel the fluid sloshing around as I pat my face dry.

My left eye is really swollen and I notice there is a yellow blob of pus peeking out from the corner of my eye. Ew. It looks like a gobby piece of phlegm. I use a Q-tip to try and pull it out, but it's incredibly viscous. I ask my boyfriend to take a look at it, and he can't believe I used a Q-tip to poke the surface of my eye. He tells me it's probably because my eye is so swollen that it's causing the surface of my eyeball to squish. He shakes his head in frustration and tells me that I need to think before I do things, because I could end up infecting my otherwise healthy eye. He's totally right - I have a hard time not panicking when it comes to my health.

The Mupirocin ointment stings badly. I feel like my face is on fire. I fantasize about the bacteria being broiled to death, cornered by vigilant Mupirocin soldiers wielding branding irons marked VOIDGo, go, stamp them out!  My expectations for recovery go through the roof.

I'm relieved to finally know what's going on with my face. I google impetigo. I am not surprised that I misdiagnosed it because my symptoms were so common.

I have the least severe type of impetigo, non bullous impetigo, which account for 70% of cases. It is usually caused by staph, although it can be caused by strep.

Staph bacteria are more commonly found in gyms and locker rooms, and other places of close quarters where a lot of people gather. The bacteria enters via broken skin - either an insect bite, burn, scratch, bitten fingernails, etc. I suspect I got the staph infection from the facility of the fitness program, and it entered my system via the wound on my forehead. My sister says I can't know for sure where or how I picked it up, since we all pass germs from one person to another.

I read online that bacteria can live harmlessly on your skin until they enter via a cut or a wound, but in some children they can enter even without any damage to the skin. My immune system was probably low because I was tired and stressed dealing with a new schedule (maybe that's why I got a strain that was common in babies and children). My boyfriend's theory is that normal adults are probably strong enough to ward it off, like him, who has been exposed to me this whole time.

I update the fitness program on my condition and they tell me no one else has it and that they sanitized their entire facility. The program director calls me and tells me she had a similar situation years ago. Her face had swelled up, but she had waited too long to seek treatment, and she had to be admitted to the ER for her staph infection and hooked up to an IV for five days. Yikes.

After hearing that I'm worried about not being able to shop for food because I can't put in my contacts or leave the house, they generously pay for 5 extra days of continued food delivery service for me. I am released from the program, but they tell me to get better soon so that they can try and put me into another test group asap. The food delivery is organic, nutritious, tastes great, and I'm so grateful.

My expectations were too high. After 6 hours, I don't see any improvement:



I am supposed to take the Keflex 3 times a day. The crazy thought occurs to me that if I take the other two pills now, won't I get better faster? My boyfriend has to restrain me and talk some sense into me. My sister tells me that I need to space out medication so I can have a steady state in my bloodstream - Keflex and Mupirocin every 8 hours, Bactrim every 12 hours.

I need to learn patience. I feel severely depressed thinking about the ER bill. Is my health worth spending thousands? Tens of thousands? 

I realize my actor's income is not supporting the type of life that I want, and it hasn't been for a long, long time now. My sister emails me and tells me she cares about me and wants me to take better care of myself. She says that I really should get a job so I can get health insurance. At the hospital, she has seen unforeseen health circumstances wipe out people's entire savings. 

I realize she's right. 

I graduated early with a Bachelor's and Master's from MIT in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science and I used to work at Apple as an International Software Support Engineer - but I left it all to be an actor. My sister says I have great qualifications, and she can help me look for a tech job.

Something has to change. I start reevaluating my life and reflecting on my past seven years as an actor...

I came down to LA to pursue a dream, and have been on a journey of self-discovery ever since - I've learned so much about myself and grown so much as a person. Acting allowed me to discover my real passion in life, writing. 

I realize that my actor's journey was my Homer's Odyssey, and that every struggle, every trial, every tribulation was meant to cultivate me into the person that I am now. I have reached the end of my journey - I left as a naive child and I am returning as a wiser, stronger adult.

A beacon now shines on the multifaceted life that I really want - a balance of both my right and left brains - consisting of a stable corporate career with an accomplished writing career.

My intuition confirms with a small but still, Yes!

I am so grateful for this health crisis. I couldn't move on to the next phase of my life until my world got turned upside-down...

One of my main motivations to get a high-paying job is to be able to order the Paleta food delivery service. Ha ha! For 1200 calories, I get 3 meals and a snack - pure, natural, organic, healthy, wholesome meals that are so much tastier and more varied than I could ever cook on my own (I don't really like to cook). I decide to order another week's worth of food on my own dime. It's not cheap though, and I cannot wait to get a job so that I don't have to stress out about money anymore.

I take a picture of my first paid meal so I can pay proper tribute in Photoshop. I know this food will nourish my body back to health!





Super yummy and healthy!!! If anyone decides to order Paleta because of my blog, please mention my name (Chyna Chuu) so that I can get a free meal! Thanks! (^__^)


DAY 15: THE DAY OF MANY FACES (DAY 2 OF MEDS)

Today is my second day on medication. I couldn't sleep last night - the itching, stinging, and painful swelling were unbearable. My boyfriend tries to be the ever attentive caretaker 24/7, making me cold compresses, giving me massages, and encouraging words. 

I'm trying not to scratch and spread the bacteria but I want to claw my infected face off. 

I can't wear my contacts or my glasses because of the rashes on my face. I'm blind, bored, and hurting. Thank goodness for mobile games, email, my boyfriend, and weight resistance exercises. I stumble upon an interesting observation about my listening comprehension - having blurry eyes makes my hearing worse. I didn't know I naturally relied so much on lip reading.

I spend a lot of time taking pictures and emailing them. My sister is the best remote doctor ever, and she spends a lot of time explaining, comforting, and advising me.

Since impetigo is contagious, I have to be diligent. I've never washed my hands so many times in one day. The skin between my fingers is beginning to crack. My sister says antibacterial soap and normal soap don't really differ, as long as you rub your hands vigorously for 20 seconds. My boyfriend does the laundry, and washes my pillowcase, clothes, and towels in a separate load.

The medications help the swelling. I can actually feel the fluid dissipating when I go to sleep - as soon as I rest my head on my elevated pillow, I feel a tingling, prickly, draining sensation around my cheek and sinus areas. I ask my boyfriend if there is pus dripping down my face, and he says no. I'm shocked. The fluid movement must be happening internally, not externally on my skin. It's a trippy feeling. I research facial edema.

I call this "The day of many faces," because my face literally MORPHS over the span of one day. I already forgot what I used to look like, but this was getting ridiculous. Every glance in the mirror revealed a new ghastly atrocity I was never quite prepared for.  

5:19 am
It's been a day since the ER pic. My swelling has gone down a lot. 
FOTM (Face of the moment): Fat, sad puppy.


9:34 am
I don't look sad. My features are usually downturned from the swelling.
FOTM: Androgynous sumo wrestler.


3:26 pm
The crusts are starting to turn into dry skin (hence the white areas).
FOTM: Wizened, ornery owl.


6:56 pm 
The fluid seems to be moving downwards. My face is now a square.
FOTM: Lecherous drunk.

I'm getting new symptoms. I find these new rashes or pimples on my jawline - all the way across my chin and to the other side. Crap. I hope the infection isn't spreading.



My neck is also entirely pink. It's itchy, super swollen, and hot.






DAY 16DAY 3 OF MEDS

I still can't sleep because of the itching at nights. I don't want to take Advil and load my body with more medicine. I don't like to take medication to begin with. 

I am able to force off the last of the giant hard crusts. My face still feels like sandpaper. The dead skin that I wash off my face is a light brownish color. I am still leaking pus during the day, and I have to wash off new fresh crusts every night. 

I read of other people's nightmare impetigo stories, where they either don't respond to the medication or they have flareups their entire lives. OMG. I'm grateful my medication is helping.

My pink neck is not going away. I like that the itchiness in my neck flares up just as I'm going to sleep. Thanks, neck! I wonder if I'm scratching my face in my sleep and spreading the bacteria to my neck and other parts of my body. 

                               
 I'm getting new red marks on my forearms. 

A mark above my eye is getting more red. 


I am not a happy camper.

I don't know why my itching is worse at nights. My boyfriend googles and finds that it's mostly kids who have trouble with itching at nights because they don't have distractions.

I'm starting to see a pattern. I think God's trying to tell me something:

- I get a skin infection that's mostly found in babies and children

- I'm itchy at nights because I have the mindset of a child who doesn't have anything else to focus on

- I had a recent voiceover evaluation where the teacher wrote, "You naturally sound like a kid. Your marketable vocal age range is 10 to 14."

Oh boy.


DAY 17DAY 4 OF MEDS


My face is actually looking pretty good today. There is a noticeable improvement after I wash my face in the morning:



 I could eke out a small smile.
FOTM: Hopeful!


The rashes on my jawline are getting more raised and scabby.


My face at its best time of the day: 5:26 pm, 7 hours after I put on the cream, and 7 hours after I take the antibiotics.

I begin to suspect that the topical creme, Mupirocin, is irritating my skin. My skin is thin and sensitive to begin with, and I feel to a certain extent since the crusts are gone, the bacteria is gone and I just need to heal.

I decide to document it with pictures:

                                     


     After washing my face.                              After Mupirocin.


I form a theory as to why my neck is pink - because I can't lean my face over the sink, I have been washing my face upright and the Mupirocin is dripping down and irritating my neck.

I email my sister the pictures. Since it's been 3 full days of meds so far, she thinks it's safe for me to stop the topical antibiotic. The oral antibiotics should be good enough. Sweet!

No more Mupirocin for me - I have done 3.5 days of it (the prescribed duration is 7 days). My sister recommends that I just wash without putting on moisturizer. She says the less I do to my skin the better, but if I really want to put on moisturizer, then I should first try it on a test area. I just feel like my skin is so dry and needs some help, so I put aloe vera gelly all over my face.

My sister recommends for me to see her friend's sister, who is a renowned dermatologist south of LA. I feel like I am healing and don't need to spend the extra money.

My friend mentions that I should eat yogurt since antibiotics kill all the bacteria in your system, good and bad. Ugh. Why did the ER doctors not mention that to me? I read online that it is common to get a Candida infection because my good bacteria isn't there to balance it out.

I decide to eat a yogurt every day from now on. I find a Fage 2% with Strawberry that I bought the boyfriend in the fridge. After eating clean Paleta food for the past three weeks, the yogurt is sickeningly sweet - but because it's helping me heal my digestive balance, it tastes effin' delicious.


DAY 18DAY 5 OF ORAL MEDS (NO MORE MUPIROCIN)

I can't sleep for more than a couple of hours each night. My face and neck are crazy itchy. Now when I scratch my face, I can feel the hard, dry skin sloughing off. It's like an epidermis graveyard on my shirt in the mornings. I know I can't be guaranteed of being infection-free until after the entire duration of antibiotics, but I feel like the impetigo is gone.


My skin is getting better except for certain areas.


The rashes underneath my nose are getting worse.

The skin around my eyes is getting really red, dry, and scaly.


I wash my face and use the aloe vera gelly moisturizer. It stings and I'm paranoid that I'm damaging my fragile skin. 

I google for post-impetigo skin care, or skin care during healing, but no one mentions what to do about dry skin. 

I find a free Ask-A-Doctor website called HealthTap (the other websites charge you to see the answer you get from the doctor). My question is limited to a certain number of characters or else I have to pay 99 cents. Surprisingly, after twenty minutes, I get a response!


Phew, the aloe gelly is fragrance-free. I ask my sister if she thinks my impetigo is completely resolved. She doesn't think so because my face hasn't cleared up.

At night, I always have a hard time falling asleep. I notice that I've lost a lot of hair during this experience. I give myself a relaxing scalp massage, trying to send good jujus to encourage hair growth when I realize I have pockets of fluid UNDERNEATH MY SCALP. EW. WTF.

I've always noticed I have a lot of fluid buildup - when I lie down, huge pools collect and hang behind my earlobes. My neck, temples, jawbone, jawline, chin, cheeks, forehead, and eyebrows have been swollen for a long time...but fluid underneath my scalp? Is that even possible? I know that my lymph nodes generate fluid to fight the infection, but I feel like the worst of my infection is over - I shouldn't still have this much!

As I gently press on a swollen pocket near the back of my head, I feel an INSTANT sensation in my cheeks - that weird tingling prickly sensation I used to think was fluid draining. Now I suspect that every time I lie down to go to sleep, the pillow compresses the fluid in the back of my head and forces the fluid to surrounding areas, causing phantom tingles around my face.

Now to test my hypothesis:

I lift my head off the pillow. No face tingles.

I lay my head down on the pillow. Instant tingles on my cheek and hotness near my temple, another fluid-filled area.

Scientific experiment successful!

I research lymphatic draining. I find a website that shows the lymph node mappings in the head - some correspond to the areas where I found fluid! I follow their instructions on how to give myself a lymphatic draining massage.


DAY 19DAY 6 OF ORAL MEDS

My face is steadily improving! I don't quite recognize myself yet and I'm not sure why. I look at old photos and realize my normal face is sunken in at my eye sockets - currently my upper eyelids and undereyes are still puffy.


FOTM: Planet of the Apes Inhabitant. 


 My skin is starting to feel smooth in some areas! Yay!

I use Q-tips to gently press on key acupoints in my face to try and encourage lymphatic draining. It's Sunday. I start thinking about two events I could possibly make now that I am healing: my friend's wedding in NY on Friday (that I already bought the plane tickets for) and a 3-day commercial I booked shooting next Monday.

I'm giddy. At night I tell my boyfriend, "I love medicine! This is the magic of modern medicine!"

Oh. How those words will come to bite me HARD in the @ss in two days.(>__<)


DAY 20DAY 7 OF ORAL MEDS

My neck is so itchy that it's red and stinging because I've been scratching it all night. My forearm rashes seem to have gotten worse. But IMHO, my face seems to be cleared of the impetigo, leaving behind super dry and flaky skin. I read online that a reddened face is typical of the healing process, and it can clear in days or weeks.

I can totally return to normal in time to make my friend's wedding in five days and shoot my commercial next week! Joy!

Mental note to save myself from unnecessary grief: Never count my chickens before the dang things hatch. Just don't do it. 


Today is the first day I can put in my contacts because I can push open my swollen eyelids just enough to fit in the contact. My upper eyelids are still puffy. 

Woo hoo! Bionic Eyes! How I have missed having 20/20 vision! I use my upgraded peepers to search for full-time jobs. I remember that I had gotten a random email from a Google recruiter a couple of weeks ago, saying she found me via some MIT publications and she wanted to know what I had been up to. The timing is just so fortuitous! I email her back. I want a job similar to my old Apple job where I don't have to be an engineer, but I can draw on my technical abilities and work with different departments. Google has an Associate Product Manager position I'm excited about. Job hunting is a little intimidating because I don't quite know what positions/industries I'm interested in/fit for - I feel like I'm stumbling down a dark hallway covered with light switches, hoping to blindly find the few that will light my path...


DAY 21: DAY 8 OF ORAL MEDS

My neck is super itchy today. My face is a little less swollen but it's looking more red.



 10:34 pm

My boyfriend tells me that I'm getting little bumps on my cheeks that I didn't have yesterday. My neck also seems to be more of a raised rash. Ugh. I hope I didn't spread the bacteria to my neck.




I have always had bumps on my forearms, but there are some new ones. O.M.G.

My sister recommends for me to go to the dermatologist tomorrow. I tell her I'm going to put Mupirocin on my forearms and neck and see what happens. The Mupirocin stings my neck.

I try to go to sleep, but I'm itchy all over for some reason. I email my commercial shoot about my condition, and how I may or may not heal in 6 days time. I tell them it would be best for them to find a replacement. I don't want to push it and cause them to scramble last-minute. I'm sad to lose out on the income.


DAY 22SUDDEN BODY RASH / DAY 9 OF ORAL MEDS

I can't sleep. I get up around 6 am because my right hip is itchy. I feel two insect bites, similar to a spider bite. I ask my boyfriend to take a look at my hip. He goes, "Oh my god..."

I don't just have a bite on my hip. I have faint pink bumps trailing down my leg... Down my other leg... On my back... On my groin... Both sides of my waist...



6:22 am


My boyfriend can't believe it. All he knows is that I've been scratching a LOT. It's true - I thought I was in the end stages of healing, and I got lax about not scratching. While he researches online, I email pictures to my sister. They look like red bumps with white rings.

My boyfriend says it could be bed bugs on the futon but there are so many different causes of red bumps. I have been sleeping on the futon for about a week and a half. The mattress is ten years old and has never been washed. If there are bed bugs why would they attack me all of a sudden?

I have bumps that are in rows of 2 or 3 - a tell-tale sign of bed bug bites - but then there are singular spots as well. The surface area is so large that it just doesn't seem likely. I pore over my sleeping area - I don't see any mites or bed bugs or droppings. I look up scabies and other possibilities - sometimes the pictures are so graphic they make me queasy.

My boyfriend asks me if my tongue is coated. It does seem coated, and I can't scrape it off with my toothbrush.



My sister says I could have thrush, which is candida of the tongue, but it's hard to tell from a 2D picture. Curses! Maybe I didn't start the yogurt soon enough!

I also research online that it could be another bacterial infection nicknamed "hot water rash." The bumps in the picture resemble mine. Sigh.

My sister recommends me to call the dermatologist when they open at 9 and to try and get an appointment. She doesn't think it's an emergency unless I have trouble breathing or swelling or sores inside my mouth.

I call the dermatology office. "This number is not a working number." wth? Maybe they disconnect their phone during off-hours?

They don't open for another two hours. My boyfriend tells me to try and take a rest. I'm all freaked out because I thought I was close to recovery and now this seems to be something different. I change my clothes, move to the bed (I had quarantined myself to the futon) and close my eyes.

It's 9 am. The bumps seem to be getting smaller, but my face and neck rashes are getting really bad. Even if the bumps are from bed bugs, I still want to get my neck checked out just for my own peace of mind.

The dermatology office's phone still doesn't work. I message them on their Facebook page.

A girl calls me back and my phone goes straight to voicemail - their phone is being upgraded and should work in a couple of hours. She'll call me back later. Thanks, AT&T. I message her again on Facebook telling her to please call me back again.

I get an appointment for 11:45 am. I eat breakfast, take both my antibiotics, and head out the door. I stop by a Chevron station since I don't have enough gas to make it to Redondo Beach. It's my first time in public in a long time, and I feel really self-conscious with my marred appearance. I pull up to a pump. "Out of service." Great. I back up to the other pump. "Please pay inside."

I walk over to the other pumps since I really don't want to face a cashier. It also reads, "Please pay inside." I see a cleaning lady walk out towards the pumps. 

She waves her hands at me and says, "Nothing!"

Huh? I ask her, "Do I have to pay inside?"

She says, "Not working!"

"What?"

"The gas doesn't work. Go somewhere else!"

I take a deep breath. It's just going to be one of dem days.

On my drive down, it's easy to notice that my rashes are multiplying. Sigh. These are no bed bug bites.


Forearm.


Thigh.

I get to the dermatologist's office and there are other people in the small waiting room. I sit on the edge of the couch and try to pretend I'm invisible. 

Here I am, Rashy Rashonda, with my exposed rashy face and neck, surrounded by Healthy Heathers seeking cosmetic enhancements. Sigh. 

All I can think of is, It sucks to be sick. I totally took my good health for granted before. It truly is a luxury not to have any health issues. I vow to be more loving towards myself and not stress over stupid, small, trivial issues.

I am escorted into a room by the nurse, who interrogates me and punches all the info into an iPad. I tell her I'm currently on Keflex 500 mg three times a day, Bactrim twice a day, and was on Mupirocin. I get undressed and put on the gown. Wow. I have three times as many bumps as I did last night.

The dermatologist can finally see me. She extends her hand out in a handshake, and I flinch. "I don't want to infect you." 

She smiles, "Oh no, it's okay." She shakes my hand. Hmm. Maybe she can already tell I don't have something infectious?

She asks me about my rash progression. I tell her about my pink neck on day 2, how I stopped Mupirocin on day 4, my scratching, etc. She asks if she can see my rash before I went to the ER. I bust out my phone and go, "I have a TON of pictures."

She browses through my pictures. She looks at the rashes on my body, and then says, "You are getting these rashes because you're allergic to the antibiotics!"

WHAT?!! F M L! 

She says, "I see allergies to antibiotics a lot. I was confused because you said you were taking two antibiotics together. It is really extreme for them to prescribe you two at once. Usually they only prescribe one."

I exclaim, "But I thought one of them is for MRSA!"

She says, "It can treat staph as well. What's done is done. This rash is because you're allergic to one of the antibiotics - we don't know which one, and it doesn't matter. You're to stop taking them immediately."

"I've been taking them for eight full days! How come it took so long to show up?"

She says, "It takes the body some time to adjust. I'm going to prescribe you prednisone - it's a corticosteroid and it'll slow down your immune system. Your body has a lot of inflammation right now - that's why you are swollen, that's why you have the rash."

Sigh. I get impetigo, take their (heavy-handed) antibiotics for my face, have an allergic reaction, and now I have to take steroids because my entire body is in trouble. Great.

I ask, "So what about my impetigo? Is my face healing?"

"I can't tell for sure if it's gone since your face is indeed going through some type of healing, but it's compounded by the allergic reaction. We'll swab your face and do a culture test. The results will be back in a week. You can still use the Mupirocin on parts with broken skin if you want."

"But I think the Mupirocin made my skin red."

She shakes her head. Hmm. I was doing Mupirocin and Keflex on the same schedule. Maybe I'm allergic to Keflex.

She asks me about my skin care regimen, and says we're going to simplify it by using "Ser-a-vey" foaming facial wash and moisturizing cream, since my face is so dry. She is going to give me samples, and I can buy the full-size versions at her office, or I can buy them at CVS. I've never heard of "Ser-a-vey." It sounds like an expensive French brand.

I ask her about showering, and she says I can just shower as normal. Wash my face twice a day. She asks if I'm itchy. I reply, "I'm not itchy right now. But I did use to wake up scratching my neck at night."

She says, "Okay, then I'm going to prescribe you atarax, it's to help the itching, and it'll make you drowsy, so you can help sleep at night. It's like Benadryl."

"When will I see results? Can I stop taking the medications if I get better before 16 days?"

She is emphatic. "You should see results in two days, but you can't go cold turkey off prednisone. You have to go the whole way because withdrawal can cause complications. That's why I'm starting you at 40 mg, and you will taper off in dosage gradually."

She gives me a warm, encouraging smile and says the comforting words that every patient wants to hear... 

       "Don't worry, we'll make you feel better, okay?"


Diagnosis: Allergy to Antibiotics (either Keflex or TMP/Bactrim)

Treatment: Stop antibiotics immediately.


                  Corticosteroid:


                  - Prednisone (take for 16 days)
                     40 mg once a day for 4 days
                     30 mg once a day for 4 days
                     20 mg once a day for 4 days
                     10 mg once a day for 4 days

                  Antihistamine:

                   - Atarax/Hydroxyzine (90 tablets)
                      Take a 25 mg tablet three times a day as needed


I am just overwhelmed with gratitude as I get dressed. I have a followup exam with her in a week.



I decide not to buy the CeraVe at her office. I have to go to CVS anyway to fill my prednisone and atarax prescriptions.

As I'm driving home, it all begins to make sense. My body had shown gradual signs of being allergic to the antibiotics:

 * Day 2 of Meds - Neck turned pink, swollen, and itchy 

 * Day 3 of Meds - Small red bumps appeared on my forearm 

 * Day 5 of Meds - Excessive fluid remained even after my impetigo seemed to go away (because my immune system sensed that there was still an "infection" from the antibiotics!! Urg!!)

My poor immune system.

The bumps decide to suddenly become itchy while I'm waiting for my prescriptions to be filled at CVS, especially around my waist. I'm trying not to scratch and disgrace myself in public. The pharmacist takes a look at me and my prescription and goes, "Bad case of the allergies, huh?"

"Yep. To antibiotics! Can you believe it?"

He tsk tsks in sympathy. "That sucks."

I buy a bottle of water because I want to down my meds immediately. The itching is making me jittery. My name is finally called. Hallelujah!

I am in line behind a woman who is picking up her prescription and ringing up a ton of other items. She just so happens to be a Chatty Cathy - chat chat chat - initiating idle banter with the pharmacist. Chat chat chat with no cares in the world... 

My 'roid rage flares up (even though I haven't taken them yet) and I fight the urge to drop her with a roundhouse kick. The pharmacist politely rushes her because he sees me out of the corner of his eye.

I have to answer informational questions before he hands over my prednisone. I fire off my answers like a machine gun. Give. Me. My. Pills. Give them to me now!!!

I grab my meds and run to a waiting area. I down my 4 prednisone tablets. My nose wrinkles in disgust at the overwhelming bitterness. "Ew~"


A woman sitting near me chuckles softly. "I didn't think it would taste so bad." I try to seem normal. I hope she doesn't think I'm a junkie. I pick up my atarax, gulp one down, and find the CeraVe for $15 cheaper than at the dermatologist's office.

Now that I know I don't have another infection, I run some errands. I stop by the pet store to pick up some salt licks and hay, and I see the cashier studying me. He's a laidback guy who is always friendly to me. I just know he's going to say something. He musters up a timid, "...Sunburn?" I briefly fill him in. "That sucks. Hope you feel better." His rugged exterior masks his tender heart.

I stop by Trader Joe's. Aah. How I miss perusing the grocery aisles.

The meds are already helping with the itchiness, and I jump in the shower to cool my body down. There are more bumps.

I'm so glad I went to see the dermatologist when I did - if I had gone earlier, I wouldn't have shown evident signs of an allergic reaction. I didn't even have the normal listed side effects from the antibiotics. My sister says maybe if I had gone earlier, the doctor would have told me to just take one of the meds.

I've never taken antibiotics, and I have to find out the hard way that I'm allergic to either TMP (Bactrim) or Keflex (which is similar to penicillin, something I can check for in a skin allergy test).


Waist.


Neck.


Forearm.


Back.

I didn't know an allergic reaction could look like this.

My grateful mood fades once I start doing research online to Bactrim and Keflex allergies. Yikes. Allergic reactions occur in about 3% of patients and can be life-threatening. One severe drug allergy called Stevens-Johnsons Syndrome causes large SHEETS of your skin to FALL OFF, opening up the body for further infection. OMG?!

I ask my sister if she's seen patients with Stevens-Johnsons at the ER. She says she has and it's scary looking. WOW. I could never be a doctor.

I'm totally freaking out. I read that if I had taken the antibiotics for longer, I could have suffered from organ damage. Who knows - they could have caused damage already. The Keflex article mentions that a metabolism defect is suspected as the cause of sulfa drug sensitivity (Bactrim is a sulfa drug), where symptoms show up after 8 days. I can totally believe that I have a metabolism defect - my hands and feet are always cold and my circulation isn't good.

This unexpected allergic reaction is why I'm scared to take medication - even at the dermatologist's office, I asked her if there were side effects to the medications she was prescribing, and she said, "Every medication has side effects." I email my siblings about the utter irony of me declaring my love for modern medicine a few days ago. I'm having an "I hate antibiotics" moment.

My sister tells me that I can't trust everything I read online, my metabolism has served me fine until now, and that the antibiotics did clear up my impetigo.

I raid the fridge for the first time in a long time. Simple carbs make me feel better. Or maybe they make me feel worse. It's hard for me to accept that I'm sick with something else and have to recuperate all over again. I wish I could give my immune system a hug and expel the antibiotics from my system.

My boyfriend and I have a discussion about the medical industry and the link with pharmaceuticals - why did the ER doctors prescribe me two medications to take at once when normally one would suffice? To fill a med quota with Big Pharma? To be efficient because it's easier to send me home with two so I don't have to come back and try the other one?

I don't really blame doctors or the way that the medical industry is set up - how would they know that I'm going to have an allergic reaction until I actually try the medication? It's a very reactive process, but also a dangerous one because my body is not a testing ground and I do not want to be a guinea pig. I can name so many pharmaceutical commercials where the voiceover will casually mention "can cause death and suicidal tendencies." Really? From an asthma medication?

My friend says she had a mild staph infection and she was prescribed tetracycline, and her sister, who had a worse case, was prescribed Cipro. She's confused as to why I was prescribed two.

Oh well. I'm not going to think about the possible damage to my body from the antibiotics. I'm glad that the dermatologist was able to help me and I don't have to take them anymore.

Hopefully the prednisone and atarax won't give me any issues. They already are drastically helping my swelling - 90% of the fluid around my face, neck, scalp are gone. My hair starts to feel more natural. It had been feeling like a dead wig, but now I can feel each strand moving - maybe my nerve signals weren't transmitting properly because my scalp was swollen.



9:30pm
My face is less puffy. 

I didn't know allergic reactions could look like this. 
The bumps are just so linear.


There's no way I can make it to my friend's wedding in three days. Sigh. I cancel my ticket, pay a $100 penalty fee, and get the rest in a credit that expires in a year. The commercial shoot gets back to me and tells me that the shoot has been postponed TBD due to script changes, and they hope I'll be back to normal by the time the date is finalized. Yay!

For the first time in a long time, my face and neck aren't itchy, which means they were symptoms of my allergies and had been clouding my impetigo recovery observations.

I start doing some light lower body exercises like kicks and squats and I'm feeling good! I am supposed to take one atarax three times as needed. It's 10:30 pm, and I'm starting to feel mildly itchy. I take an atarax, and head to bed.


DAY 23: THINGS THAT GO BUMP IN THE NIGHT / DAY 2 PREDNISONE

I can't sleep at all. The atarax is supposed to make me drowsy and relieve my itch, and it ain't doin' either. The itchiness is becoming unbearable. I'm covered in bumps, and every single bump is screaming to be scratched.

Even though it's only 3:30 am, I take another atarax. I know I didn't wait the normal 8 hours, but I need some help. My condition gets worse:


New bumps keep appearing



My ears swell, and turn super hot and red. It's painful to touch them. My neck and face feel hot and feverish. The rash spreads on my neck.


My lips get swollen


My throat has mild difficulty swallowing. I have dry mouth. My sister says as long as I don't have difficulty breathing, it's not serious, so I should just wait and call the dermatologist when they open. 

Sigh. It's serious to me... This whole experience has taught me that swelling and fever are warning signs...

I call the dermatologist's assistant and she tells me the rash has to get worse before it can get better. The dermatologist gets on the phone and tells me to trust in the medication and to give it time. But I trusted in the antibiotics... 

I tell her I think I may be having a bad reaction to the atarax - it doesn't seem to be working as prescribed on me and could be making my condition worse. She says the atarax should be fine and that I may not be taking a strong enough dosage. She actually recommends for me to take 3 tablets at a time, 3 times a day if I want.

Take even more pills? All I know is, before I took the dosage of atarax at 10:30 pm, I felt great. I do some quick research, and find that atarax is also prescribed as an anti-anxiety medication? WTF? It can also cause rashes, mostly in female patients.


Perhaps prednisone is the one that really works. If atarax is just to help with itching, I'd rather not take it at all. The fewer medications in my body right now, the better.

I decide to do a test - I am only going to take prednisone today, and see what happens at night.

The rashes are spreading in surface area, but these friendlies seem to be just out for display and not to instigate any itch rallies:


Thigh.


Forearm.


On my finger webbings.


Back.


My facial swelling is really going down.

It's 12:30 am, and I still feel great! I have none of the swelling/fever/dry mouth/throat tightness from the previous night. I deduce that atarax is giving me those symptoms. I sleep relatively well for the first time in weeks! Yay!


DAY 24DAY 3 PREDNISONE

I'm liking the CeraVe foaming facial cleanser. The moisturizing cream kind of sits on my face, but I'm not complaining - there's so much improvement in my face today!!! Yippee!!





The prednisone really seems to be working. I wasn't itchy at all last night. I do some research and find out prednisone suppresses my immune system -  which is helpful for inflammation, but puts me at higher risk to get sick with something else. 

As a corticosteroid, it messes with my metabolism - common side effects include hunger, weight gain, abdominal fat, and something called a "cushingoid appearance," which is a round face and stomach. Cushing sounds so much like cushion. OMG! I don't want to look and feel like upholstery!

Great. My last day of 1200 calorie Paleta meals comes tonight. I'm feeling unprepared to forage for food because I haven't had a chance to stock the fridge. I'm scared to have freedom with my food choices.

The rashes continue to spread outwards to my extremities. Red polka dots decorate the tops of my feet.

My new resident manager stops by my apartment with issues. My stress levels surge through the roof. I have been living in my apartment peacefully for 7 years, but for some reason the past two months have been a dramafest of eviction threats and scare tactics. Sigh. I don't know why this is all happening. Perhaps another divine sign that my status quo must change.

My boyfriend gives me a massage and he happily tells me that all my body rashes are smooth now. I take that as a good sign. I adore massages. I revel in blissful relaxation and temporarily forget that I've ever been sick.


DAY 25DAY 4 PREDNISONE

I find a sore in my mouth. My sister says to keep an eye on it and to let her know if more pop up.



I read that mouth ulcers/sores can be a side effect of prednisone.

The prednisone prescription information advises to take the dosage before 9 am, and I remember the dermatologist telling me to take my one dosage when I wake up. I've been taking my pills at 1 pm, because that's when I first ingested them at the pharmacy. I email my sister. At first she tells me to stick to every 24 hours. But then she emails me again and tells me to slowly push my dosage earlier and earlier. The earlier I take the pills, the less likely they can suppress my adrenals and cause possible side effects. Sigh. I bump up my dosage today to 10:30 am.

My food delivery didn't come last night. That's the one thing that I hate about Paleta - they make their deliveries between 10 pm and 6 am. I have to buzz in the delivery guy because my apt is strict on security, so I end up waiting all night for them to call. The delivery guys come randomly between 1:30 am and 5:30 am. I've had Paleta every night since Day 1, and although it's convenient, it definitely affects my sleep.

I rethink my plan of having a full-time job so that I can pay for Paleta and bring my meals to work. I realize the disruptive late night deliveries would negatively impact my job performance. Time for Plan B...

My health has been making me feel so helpless and I'm tired of feeling that way. I can make Paleta on my own terms! I need to learn how to feed myself!

I know this health crisis has divinely dealt to me so I can learn to grow up, so I put on my big girl bloomers and set my high-capacity brain to task!

I want an at home meal plan that:

- Requires as little cooking as possible. I love baking, but I hate cooking. I have no interest in basting, roasting, grilling, etc. If I can buy things precooked at Trader Joe's that satisfy my caloric and sodium restrictions, then I'm golden! I spend a lot of time perusing online calorie information.

- Saves money. The cheapest Paleta plan costs $46/day. Their high-quality ingredients are prepared by gourmet chefs, but the cost of one week is only a little bit less what I spend normally in a month on food.

- Hits nutritional stats. I think I have a general idea of the foods I should and shouldn't be eating.

Aaah!! It was such a breath of fresh air to allow my brain to go to work on a problem that didn't have to do with my health. I think I'm mentally intuitive, and my brain likes to naturally process a million bits of information at once, occasionally interjecting helpful, complete thoughts out of nowhere. When I do research into a problem, I call it "nashing" (I named my behavior after John Nash) because I like to find patterns amidst the chaos.

For breakfast I MacGyver an omelet together while nashing. Eureka! I am able to fulfill all three of my requirements! The only thing I need to cook is the omelet in the morning and everything else can be precooked! Armed with my grocery list, I head to Trader Joe's to buy my meal components.

I plate my 3 meals for the day, bust out my Excel spreadsheet, and spend hours lovingly making this graphic in Photoshop:



I'm really proud of myself. I have meal alternatives lined up so that I can have some variation. The reason I joined the fitness program was because I really didn't know how to make proper food choices, but now I know - I can do it!

My cheeks get rosy at nights. I chalk it up to the prednisone wearing off.

For the past two days, I have been feeling constant pressure around my eyebrows all day, which increases when I lie down. My eye area also mildly itches. Hmm.  


DAY 26DAY 5 PREDNISONE

I take my prednisone at 9 am and the dosage is down to the second phase now - 30 mg. Woo hoo!

My face is entirely smooth when I wash my face. No sandpaper, no dry skin, no raised rashes. It's the first time that my face has felt normal in a long time. I tear up.

My rashes are spreading out and fading to a mottled purplish-red.


Forearm.

I put on SPF, wear my visor, and drive around running errands. I don't feel confident yet in my recovery to take an exposed walk in the sun. One daily side effect with prednisone is that I get nausea - sudden waves that stop me in my tracks, usually occurring around mid-afternoon.

My previously sparse eyebrow hairs seem to be regrowing. I lost a lot of eyelashes and eyebrow hair from the impetigo. Maybe hair growth is why I'm feeling the pressure and itching on my brow line?



I feel flabby. I don't know if it's mental from knowing that prednisone contributes to abdominal fat deposits or if it's just because I haven't really exercised for two weeks. I feel like my old (unsick) self and I'm really motivated to make sure my body is as healthy as possible from now on.

I've been doing resistance exercises or light weights everyday, but my body feels healthy enough to engage in more activity. I crave a good sweat session.

My body has also been under a lot of stress, and with the added cortisol from the prednisone, has probably added some extra girth to my belly. I tend to put on subcutaneous fat around my middle, which is not healthy because that could mean I have a lot of dangerous visceral fat wrapped around my organs. Fat cells - possible storage areas for toxins - produce leptin, a hunger-regulating hormone. Too many fat cells can lead to leptin resistance.

I think I've devoured every food and fitness-related book at my library. I'm always fascinated by the latest neurological, psychological, environmental, physiological, or hormonal discoveries and how they impact weight loss and diet efforts.



DAY 27DAY 6 PREDNISONE

I'm pretty sure I've gained at least five pounds. I decide to take my measurements and weigh myself. OMG. Not only are my measurements smaller, I've lost 1.7% body fat, and I'm the lightest I've been in years. I know my clean, nutritiously balanced diet had to do a lot with it.

My friend's husband tells me that it's standard in Poland for doctors to advise patients to eat yogurt with antibiotics. His dad had been on a strong dosage of antibiotics, didn't eat yogurt (because he didn't believe in that "scientific stuff") and had gotten a yeast infection. I'm so grateful my friend had told me to eat yogurt to replenish the good bacteria in my system.

I used to avoid yogurt because I thought the sugar and dairy would make me fat, but I was just being stupid. A well-functioning digestive system plays a major role in keeping my body healthy. I *heart* my good gut flora! Yogurt will be a fixture in my daily diet from now on.

I find out my Google Associate Product Manager position is a two-year training program only available in Mountain View or New York. It is a rare opportunity because other companies require extensive work experience for Product Managers. The Google recruiter tells me she'll pass on my information to the Venice location recruiter for any other possible fits. My heart was set on that position - I don't want a coding job where I'm stuck in a cubicle and I don't get to utilize my interpersonal skills. I'm bummed out.

My brother-in-law suggests looking into consulting companies, who seek good problem solvers and will usually train extensively. Consulting? I've never known what consulting was. I look up one company that is located ten minutes away - their recruitment process consists of them getting to know me as a person and looking for certain character traits. Ooh! I love to research, work in teams, am highly empathetic, and love to resolve issues - consulting may be my field! I can't wait until I heal and can actively start interviewing.

I send an email to Paleta thanking them for their food, which played such a vital role in my recovery. Their executive chef is a cancer survivor and nutrition drives their company mission. It takes 21 days to form a new habit. I've learned so much about wholesome, clean food and how good it can make me feel. After trying every diet out there, thanks to this experience, I have finally found a satisfying, sustainable way to eat for the rest of my life.

I feel blessed for so many reasons.




DAY 28DAY 7 PREDNISONE

My eye was especially itchy last night after I took a walk to Trader Joe's at 7 pm. I wake up because I'm scratching it.

I look in the mirror and find an unwelcome surprise - my left eye has two red stripes - one streaked across my upper eyelid, and the other one encircling my undereye, which is swollen and flaking. I look like I got punched. My right undereye is slightly swollen. 

Sigh. My eyes didn't look like this last night. I don't like symptoms that pop up out of nowhere.

I have my followup exam with the dermatologist tomorrow, and I was looking forward to showing her a huge transformation. I contemplate moving my exam to today because I'm starting to get paranoid and factor in all the other little things I've been ignoring lately -  like small itchy white bumps around my left eye and in the middle of my forehead.

My boyfriend thinks the swelling could be from me scratching, or I could have gotten sunburned because we took a drive down to Torrance yesterday and it was really sunny. Hmm. But the other parts of my face seem fine.

I decide to put aloe vera around my eye and ice the area. The ice significantly reduces the swelling.



I take my prednisone at 9 am, and within half an hour, the redness and swelling are not as noticeable. When prescribed at higher levels than the body's hormone levels, the drug suppresses inflammation because the body stops or reduces levels of production. 

I suspect my body is getting dependent on the prednisone. I wish I could stop cold turkey without finishing the rest of my pills, but withdrawal symptoms are no joke.

More research reveals that prednisone can reactivate inactive cases of tuberculosis. 

As an adult taking prednisone, if I get chickenpox or measles it could be fatal. Fatal? I can't remember if I ever had the chickenpox as a kid. My boyfriend discloses that when I first got my body rash, he was scared it was chickenpox. 

Prednisone can also mask signs of an infection.

I decide to stop researching because I'm getting stressed out. I'm going to hope for the best, and prescribe myself the only medication in the universe that has no side effects - a chill pill.

And in the next few hours, my life does a 360...

My old boss from Apple tells me there's an Engineering Project Manager job opening. They need to fill it and are interested in talking to me. Since I am not willing to move up to Cupertino full-time, they could hire me for about a few months and train me on the job. I would work with some of my old coworkers as an EPM - my first managerial position!

I call my old coworker, who says she has been passing around my resume, and my name came up when this position was being discussed. I would be working under her department for four months. 

She would like me to start as soon as I can - like in a week and a half!! She is 90% sure I have the job, and that she'll get final approval and get back to me tomorrow!!

Gasp! Double, triple gasp!! 

I can't believe how my prayers are answered! 

I wanted to learn about product management, but they all required prior work experience. I wanted a job like my old one at Apple because I loved the people and company. Now I'm moving back up north to work at Apple as a Project Manager and they're willing to train me!

I scour for an apartment up north with a short term lease and I find one that opens up in a week and fulfills all my wants!

The apartment I found is:

* 0.1 miles from Trader Joe's (A MUST!)

* Equipped with a fitness center 

* 0.5 miles from my brother's place (that's totally walking distance!!)

* 1.6 miles from Apple!

* 0.3 miles from Aqui! I had eaten there and fallen in love with the fresh, organic Mexican food. I even emailed them a year ago to ask them if they were going to open up any locations in Los Angeles. Now my wish to live near an Aqui restaurant is coming true!!! Unbelieveable!

* 0.5 miles from a library

* 0.5 miles from a CVS

* Pet-friendly and would allow for me to bring my rabbit, Meow Meow, for a pet deposit and small monthly rent charge





Wow. This is all happening so fast!

Somehow my post-college apts all have similar surrounding neighborhoods of places I love - a Trader Joe's, a library, CVS, gym, and a major supermarket. I start thinking about the logistics of setting up camp and all the things I need to bring for four months. 

The timing of it all is just so coincidental, which I always take as a sign that events were divinely orchestrated:

* The apartment opens up on May 8th, so I told Apple I could start May 9th.

* I didn't notice that May 9th also happens to be my last day of medication.

* The new apartment even looks eerily identical to the apartment I lived at when I worked at Apple.

My brother tells me I'm really lucky for the opportunity because Apple is willing to train me, and that it's all coming back full circle. 

He's totally right. I am going back to the beginning, but I'm showing up as a different person.

Even my name returns to alpha -  progressing from the Chian who went to MIT and worked at Apple, to the Hollywood actress Chyna, and now back to Chian. I used to be made fun of because of my ethnic name, but now I feel pride and a sense of identity. My parents named me "Chian Hue," and my name means "Thousand Intelligences."

I am overwhelmed with gratitude for this entire experience. I feel so, so, so blessed.

My old boss tells me that he expects his 30% commission for hooking me up, ha ha! I told him I'm going to throw my paycheck up in the air and we'll both grab for it! He also said that he was cleaning out his desk two weeks ago and found my goodbye card from January 13, 2006 and that I haven't stopped by to say hello since! Ha ha! He's such an awesome guy!! Now I may see him in a week!

I was just praying for money last night and now I am starting a job in less than a week and a half! I can't believe what an incredible opportunity I am being given, and I thank my sister (who started all this by suggesting for me to find a job), my old boss, and of course, God, who continues to guide me with his infinite grace (I am deeply spiritual but not affiliated with any religion).


DAY 29DAY 8 PREDNISONE

I wake up with swollen, itchy, red eyes. My face was a hotbed of activity last night:

- Constant pressure around my eyebrows that feels like low-voltage electrocution. My eyebrows will tingle every once in a while as if recovering from a numbing cream.

- Sensation of sharp pins and needles around random parts of my face, almost like dancing insects pricking me with knives.

I wonder if it's the CeraVe face wash or moisturizer, since I did read some accounts of people getting rashes from the moisturizer. My boyfriend notices that my neck is swollen. He thinks I should ask the dermatologist if the new symptoms could be from my lowered prednisone dosage.

My face is still itchy after I take the prednisone this morning. Urg.

Today is my followup exam with the dermatologist, Dr. Annie.

She is super relieved when she sees me. "Oh good, good! SO much improvement!" 

I'm a little surprised by how relieved she seems.

She says, "I'm just so happy that you came to me when you did, because if you had waited any longer, you would have had to go to the emergency room. You had it bad!"

EXCUSE ME? I almost went to the emergency room AGAIN??!!!

She says, "Your reaction just came on so hard and fast!"

My jaw drops to the floor. I realize she withheld the gravitas of my situation last week.

I'm holding my head in disbelief. "Was it because of the dosage?"

Annie says, "No, it's not the dosage. It's just that your body is so allergic to one of the antibiotics. And because they prescribed you two, I don't know which one it is. But at least you know you definitely need to avoid BOTH Bactrim and Keflex. I can't know for sure, but I'm leaning towards Bactrim because it causes overall body rashes and flaking, and Keflex tends to cause hives."

I start crying a little bit because I can't believe how serious my allergic reaction was. All I can say is, "Oh my gosh... I can't thank you enough..."

"I'm just happy you came to see me when you did! You had a really bad case!" She starts tearing up. "I really think if you had waited any longer you would have had to go back to those stupid doctors at the ER who gave you those drugs and you have no health insurance and the emergency room is just so expensive!" 

I feel like she's a protective older sister who wants to go beat up the ER doctors. She's been giving me discounts because I don't have health insurance. I am overwhelmed by her huge heart and I give her a big hug. 

The preliminary reports from the culture swab come back negative. She says she'll call me in a couple of days with the final result, but most likely since there's no growth so far, it's pretty certain that I'm clear of the skin infection.

Phew. 

I tell her, "I'm still having puffiness and itching at night. I don't know if it's because I tapered off into the second phase of prednisone or if it's the CeraVe."

She says, "That's still your immune system. It can take up to a month for your body to get rid of the antibiotics. I'll give you a hydrocortisone cream to use on your eyes at night to relieve the itching. I really would recommend for you to take the atarax at night because it does reset your system and calm it down a little bit."

She checks over my body and sympathetically clucks at my extremely dry elbows and forearms. I ask her if I can put CeraVe cream on them, and she says, "Yes, that would be perfect."

I give her a thank you card with a gift card and she says, "Why? That's so silly! You didn't have to, I'm just happy I could help you. I just wish you knew which antibiotic you were allergic to."

"Can't I test that in a skin allergy test?"

She shakes her head. "It's not that simple. They call it a 'drug challenge,' where they give you microdoses to see if it triggers the allergic reaction."

Rats. I was hoping the skin allergy test would give me some answers. I hope I'll never have to fill out another medical form again.

I ask her about my skin and she deftly answers them with expertise:

- The white spots that have appeared on my forehead and around my eyes are called keratosis, which are benign overgrowths commonly found in Asians. They can be easily burned off. The "stye" under my eye, which I have had for years, is actually a keratosis.

- The red "pimple" on the bridge of my nose that I had before I got sick is called an angiofibroma. Angiofibromas can be removed, but are hardy in nature, and would likely come back.



- The brown patch (where my original forehead wound was, and where I suspect was the initial infection site) is melasma, and can be treated temporarily with bleaching cream (but not now because my skin is way too sensitive). I ask her if I could remove it with microdermabrasion. She shakes her head. So basically I will have this discoloration for the rest of my life unless I constantly bleach it. The me from 30 days ago would have been depressed, but I'm totally fine with it. I've dodged too many bullets and I'm grateful just to have generally smooth and clear skin.

I ask her if the prednisone is suppressing my immune system and how long should I be on high-alert about having a weakened system...1 month, 2 months? I've been avoiding my apartment gym because it's a bit moldy. She replies that I'm not on a super strong dosage, so as soon as I'm done with the medication, I don't have to worry about it.

I ask her about sunscreen and she says that I should definitely wear sunscreen now, and just to make sure that it's physical sunscreen (i.e. the ingredients list zinc or titanium oxide). She says she'll call me in a week to follow up on the last phase of my medication so I don't have to pay for another followup exam. 

I know for sure I would have ended up in the emergency room again had I not been in the incredibly capable hands of Dr. Annie Chiu of The Derm Institute, and I cannot thank her enough:


 

I get home and I get a call from the job! I was preparing for an interview, but it was to fill out paperwork! All systems are a go for the start date I suggested - May 9th! Apple hires temporary workers through this placement company, Advantis, so technically I'm working for Advantis as an on-site contractor for Apple. YAY!!!!

I'm elated until I get a phone call from Dr. Chiu. She tells me that the final results are in from the pathology report, and that they found scant growth of this "weird, funky, rare bacteria." She rattles off a long complicated-sounding name. 

Another bacteria? This can't be happening! Sphingo what?

She thinks the bacteria is a contaminant. She says that she saw me today, and I looked great - I didn't have any symptoms from this bacteria, such as swelling, redness, or oozing. She's pretty sure it's nothing because the levels they detected were so incredibly low, but she's going to call and check in with me next week. If anything flares up, she can prescribe me specific antibiotics to treat this. She said she's going to email me the name of the bacteria.

I'm confused and angry. I want to move on with my life. I ask my boyfriend, "So last week my impetigo bacteria were gone, but this other bacteria was on my cheek? What if it's still on my face? I don't want to go on more antibiotics!"

My boyfriend says, "Well, technically the ER didn't swab you. How did they even know it's impetigo? Maybe this bacteria was what caused the infection all along." 

That didn't even occur to me! It makes total sense because this bacteria has similar symptoms.

I email my sister. I call Dr. Chiu back and propose her the idea that this bacteria could have been what caused my infection and I may not be over it. She says, "No, because then you wouldn't have gotten better. The antibiotics you were prescribed would not treat this bacteria. This is just such a rare bacteria that's usually found in hospitals. You are fine, you're not showing any symptoms, like I said, I really think this is a contaminant."

The name of the bacteria is Sphingomonas paucimobilis. My sister confirms the same conclusion as Dr. Chiu: If this bacteria was on my face, then I would have shown symptoms similar to the impetigo, but I've been steadily improving everyday. This bacteria is usually found on hospital equipment, and my sister suspects that it was on the equipment of the lab that did my culture test. 

I'm beyond relieved. I am so lucky to have two extremely skilled and caring doctors looking after me.

I don't take the atarax because my eyes are only mildly itchy. I dab the hydrocortisone cream around my eyes, and I sleep soundly through the night.


DAY 30DAY 9 PREDNISONE

Well, friends, so concludes my 30-day staph story - I still have 7 more days to go on my prednisone, but the brunt of my illness is over - my face is feeling so smooth and my health is feeling great. The redness and swelling in my face are decreasing everyday. My body rashes are barely noticeable and fading fast. 

I am so grateful for the support of my boyfriend, family, friends, Dr. Annie Chiu, karate teachers, and dojo members, who uplifted my spirits with their words of encouragement.

The past 30 days have profoundly changed my life - I have transformed not only physically, but emotionally, and mentally. I've gained a deeper relationship with my body, my dreams, and my family. 

I've realized that life and health are too precious to take for granted - cherish each and every day with a loving, compassionate, and spiritual heart.

I can't believe how everything has magically fallen into place to lead me to a new and better life. In a week, I'm driving up with my rabbit, my home voiceover studio, and a brimming zest for life...



I've learned that I can't control what life will throw at me. Who knows where my life goes from here and what other challenging lessons may cross my path - after four months I may come back to LA, but I may not. 

As long as I live sincerely, lovingly, and dedicated to being the best me I can be - that to me is a happy life! (^__^)

I hope my journal has helped someone out there. I wish you all health and happiness!

Update: Apr 4, 2017
I'm fully recovered and doing many things (balancing the full-time corporate job with acting, table tennis, karate, and animation). I've launched my own cartoon channel - Peachy Egg! I hope you find my cartoons funny, quirky, and thought-provoking.


Peachy Special, a Peachy Egg cartoon channel series

Episode 4: Be Productive, Not Destructive (Unmotivated, angry, and depressed, Mr. Tornado goes to therapy after having an unbearable week. However, he is surprised when the therapist tells him he doesn't have anger issues, but rather is not channeling his energy properly):


Episode 3: Grab Them By The Snacks (based on Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders):


Episode 2: Beauty Secret (you are beautiful just the way you are):


Episode 1: The R Word (Naive Mrs. Tomato has a solution for racism)




Best wishes,
Chian