Last March, I thought I had a urinary tract infection. I drank lots of water and tried to “wait it out,” but by May, the symptoms had worsened.
The doctor’s office in prison is referred to as “medical” (a noun). I went once, at the prison in Boise, when I had severely sprained my ankle playing basketball. After being forced to hop (on my left foot) through a quarter-mile-labyrinth of hallways and corridors to reach medical, I was examined by three nurses. While quite friendly, the trio was unable to reach a consensus on whether my ankle was broken, so they had me wait in a hospital bed in a private room, with my right foot elevated and iced.
Three hours later, here came the doctor — a woman who looked as if she had just finished her shift at a pig farm in the neighboring metropolis of Kuna, Idaho (population: around zero). After touching my ankle briefly, she gave the official diagnosis: “It ain’t broke.”
“Oh, good, it’s not broken?” I asked.
“It ain’t broke,” she confirmed, then instructed the nurses to give me Ibuprofen and crutches.
You can count on four fingers the number of times I’ve sought medical assistance in prison. To schedule an appointment here in Orofino, one has to fill out a Health Services Request form, known to the cognescenti as an HSR. I brought my HSR to the Wednesday morning sick call, and the nurse read what I had written: “Urinary tract infection / burning.” She gave me a look of pity, with those puppy dog eyes which spoke to me in Bill Clinton fashion (I feel your pain…) and told me she would schedule me for later that day.
That day came and went, as did Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, and I hadn’t been called back. On Sunday the pain worsened, so I went back to sick call, and a different nurse said he could see me right away.
After taking my temperature, blood pressure, and weight, I went into the office and described my symptoms. The nurse frantically searched the office, trying to find the urine sample cups. (It turns out they’re kept in the lower right cupboard.) He told me to pee in the cup, seal it, and they would get back to me shortly with the results.
Nine days later, I was on the schedule to see the physician’s assistant. He began opening cupboards. Instantly knowing what he was looking for, I said, “bottom right cupboard.”
The PA is a nice enough guy, in that Dudley Moore meets Rick Moranis kind of way. I’ve seen him multiple times over the past several months. I’ve been prescribed four different antibiotics, which I’ve taken for over 70 days. The first try was Bactrim, which (I’ve since learned from Anja’s urologist) is illegal in Slovenia. I undertand why.
On my 8th day of Bactrim, I was sitting in Monday morning group therapy, when suddenly I felt dizzy and nauseous. I was sweating, in bad shape. Fortunately, my therapy group ended at 9:30, which was our unit’s designated “sick call” time. I stumbled my way up the stairs and into medical, and told the nurse of my high fever, dizziness, and increased burning.
“Where’s your HSR?” the nurse asked.
“I don’t have one. I came straight from my group. I started feeling sick while I was there.”
“You need to fill out an HSR so we can put you in the system.”
“Do you have one here I can fill out?” I asked politely. At this point, the nurse looked at another nurse. (The glance told me, yes, we do have one here, but no, we won’t admit that to you.)
“Nope. That’s why we have them on your housing unit,” was her canned response. So I was turned away. I would have to wait until the following day.
The next antibiotic was called Doxycycline. The nurse said the pill was so powerful that it could burn a hole in my esophagus, so to make sure to drink a full glass of water with each pill. She also told me the pill was “expensive” so it would be “watchtake only.” This meant, I soon learned, that instead of being given the medicine on a KOP (keep on person) card, I would be required to wait in the pill call line every morning and night. 30-days of waiting in line sounded inconvenient, but at this point I was willing to try anything to get rid of the burning! (Off topic but worth mentioning: my cellmate’s hemorrhoid cream was also designated as “watchtake only.” This snafu caused big laughs amongst the nurses and a logistics nightmare.)
On the fifth day of my 30-day regimen, the nurse handed me a different looking pill. She crushed it, and mixed it into water for me to drink. “But the other nurse told me I can’t let this touch my throat or it could burn a hole in my esophagus,” I said meekly, already fearing the worst.
“Just drink it down fast and you’ll be fine,” this new nurse said.
“But nobody has crushed it up before. Why is this crushed?”
“Crushed up and in water is the ONLY way you’re gonna get it from now on,” she told me.
“Why is the pill a different color?” I asked.
“It’s still Dycyclomine,” she said, “it’s just 10 mg instead of 20, so I’m giving you two instead of one.”
I gulped down the awful-tasting water/pill mixture. Within minutes, I was incredibly dizzy. That’s when it hit me. I rushed back to the nurse. “You said Dycyclomine. Is that the same as Doxycycline?” She looked down at the computer. An uncomfortably long pause ensued, followed by her mumbled response: “oh, shit.” She then gave me the proper pill, uncrushed.
I worried the pill she gave me may have been some antipsychotic. Would it make me temporarily schizophrenic? Was it for erectile dysfunction? What, exactly, was Dycyclomine? I had to know, and fast, so I had Anja google it.
Dycyclomine, also known as Bentyl, is a pill for…..wait for it…..wait for it…..
Irritable Bowel Syndrome!!!