What it’s like to be poisoned in the 21st century

Ah the joys of medicine in 2016. Should be amazing, right? Try being shuffled from doctor to doctor. Never getting an actual diagnosis. Always being told “this just isn’t my specialty, you should see X.” Meanwhile you’re in CONSTANT pain, still lose time, can’t think the way you used to and certainly let’s not forget the FANTASTIC panic attacks that take over your day at the mere hint of the “poisoner” and debilitating exhaustion.

Ah the joys of medicine in 2016. Should be amazing, right? Try being shuffled from doctor to doctor. Never getting an actual diagnosis. Always being told “this just isn’t my specialty, you should see X.” Meanwhile you’re in CONSTANT pain, still lose time, can’t think the way you used to and certainly let’s not forget the FANTASTIC panic attacks that take over your day at the mere hint of the “poisoner” and debilitating exhaustion.

But doctors…… doctors don’t want to touch you. What if what THEY do has an adverse effect on the arsenic damage?! Better to let you live on the point of breaking. Much better than helping someone.

How did this happen?……. You may be asking. I’ll be posting the lovely steps in my journey through arsenic poisoning and how I’m getting past it and rebuilding my life.

The beginning….

Looking back the symptoms started far earlier than expected. For month’s I’d been going through mild muscle spasms, general pain and tiredness. I can clearly remember sitting at a microscope and cussing out my hand after it randomly gouged through an agar worm plate.

Looking back the symptoms started far earlier than expected. For month’s I’d been going through mild muscle spasms, general pain and tiredness. I can clearly remember sitting at a microscope and cussing out my hand after it randomly gouged through an agar worm plate. (In science we have the opportunity to work with many types of model organisms. Strangely, worms are one of them! We culture them in little dishes and feed them bacteria. Worms do wormy things and given the opportunity to wriggle into small spaces will happily take that chance. Large gouges in their agar homes make for difficult extraction later.)

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DNA image of wild type nematode. © 2015 Megan Kailani Fentress

Given the difficulty I was having in the basics of culturing worms and the pain I was experiencing from sitting at the scope I decided worms were not my organism. From there I went through a couple of organisms and finally finished in mice.

I’d like to preframe this by saying  I NEVER though I would work with mice. Raised as a hippie I wouldn’t hurt another being on purpose. It’s amazing how the scientific field can create interesting situational ethics…. more on that later……

The muscle cramps continued for months. Mostly small at first. They gradually got worse, I began to be awoken in the middle of the night by “charlie horses” in my neck. Now try to imagine this….. Have you ever had a “charlie horse” in your calf? Imagine that IN YOUR NECK. Yep. That much fun. Needless to say sleeping didn’t work very well.

Really the whole thing fell down around my ankles in January of 2015. One morning I woke up as usual. Got some coffee. Noticed my neck was hurting and I was tired from yet another night of pain. And then suddenly I couldn’t breathe. My back had spasmed and turned me into a hunchback. I could no more have straightened my spine than flown across the continent. And the PAIN!!!!! It took my breath away.

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My wonderful mom and the amazing puppy (ok she’s technically a senior dog).

Luckily my Mom was there for the holidays. Without her I’m not sure how I would have survived the experience. I was in so much pain and so curled up with muscle spasms that I couldn’t have reached the phone. I was lucky. She managed to get an emergency appointment with a neurologist and somehow piled me into the car and drove me to her.

I truly believe that without the help of my mother I would be dead right now.