My Visit to the Witch Doctor

I get sinus infections annually. It’s just one of those things–like my birthday or Casimir Pulaski Day, I know that sinusitis is always around the corner.

I started to feel one come on last Thursday: allergies had already stolen my voice, and I could feel pressure building in my face. I went to the CVS Minute Clinic on Friday during my lunch break. Sure enough, they confirmed that my yearly visitor had returned. From their perspective, it was a common problem with a simple solution: amoxicillin.

Over the years, I got used to taking the “Z-Pack” (zithromax) to treat sinus infections, but I was told that amoxicillin had become the standard for treating sinus infections. Who was I to argue?

As the weekend started, my condition worsened. The pressure in my head was off-the-charts, my eyeballs felt like they were going to pop out, my fever sat around 100 degrees … and I was nauseous around the clock. That was a new one for me. Everything else was typical; the constant queasy feeling was not.

I stayed in bed all Saturday and Sunday. By Sunday night (really, 2:30 a.m. Monday morning), I was throwing up. As the sinusitis got worse and the barfies kicked in, I was clear that the amoxicillin wasn’t working.

I called in sick on Monday and decided to make a doctor’s appointment for that afternoon. It was then I learned that my primary care physician had moved on to another practice since my last appointment (an embarrassingly long time ago), and that I would be seen by whichever doctor was available when I came in.

After squirming in the waiting room for an hour, trying not to throw up, I was walked into the exam room. Shortly after that, the doctor walked in.

The doctor I saw was a brusque, thick-accented, humorless man who asked me to tell him why I was there. As I started to explain, he interrupted me and asked me to repeat what I had just said. He did that frequently during my visit, which was as frustrating as it was disconcerting. I explained that I’d already been diagnosed with a sinus infection, and that the symptoms (pressure in the face and eyes, pain when chewing) were getting worse. The accompanying nausea had made me completely non-functional.

That’s when he started to ask me questions specific to West Nile Virus (“Do you go to the forest preserve?” “What, like a cruiser?”) and hypothesized that my pain might be coming from an abscessed tooth.
“An abscessed tooth?” I asked.
“Yes, you said you have pain when you chew.”
“I did, but I always do when I have sinus infections.” I’m no dentist, but I know that there’s a sinus right above your upper teeth. When it gets infected, it causes pain.

I said, “I need your help here, the nausea’s been miserable, my eyes are in pain … can we just change meds?”
“Well,” the doctor replied. “I don’t believe you have a sinus infection.”
“I want you to listen to me. This is serious. There’s a chance you may have meningitis.”
“Meningitis? What are you talking about?”
“You just said you had eye pain.”
“I said that a few times.”
“That’s not a sign of a sinus infection.”
“Are you serious? It happens to me every time.”
“That’s not normal. Again, I want you to listen to me. I would like you to go to the emergency room right now. They’ll need to run a spinal tap to confirm whether or not it’s meningitis.”
“A spinal tap? You’re not joking?”
“So, you’re saying it’s not a sinus infection?”
“No. Listen to me, I would not delay. Go straight to the emergency room.”

I left the exam room bewildered, without a prescription, and unsure if I wanted to scream or cry. I was sure about one thing, though: I wouldn’t be submitting to a spinal tap (also known as a “lumbar puncture”) that evening. It’s dangerous to think of oneself as being smarter than a doctor, but I was totally sure I was in this case. So, with that confidence, I blew off the ER and went to the Target Clinic.

At the clinic, I explained my amoxicillin situation to the RN, and she cheerfully prescribed me a Z-Pack to replace the amoxicillin. As of yesterday afternoon, I was feeling significantly better. As of today, I feel I’m one good night sleep away from feeling normal again.

As I replay the office visit in my mind, I can’t rationalize any of the doctor’s behavior or wisdom. What I experienced was insane, witch doctor, quackery. My spine hurts every time I think about it.



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