Not Just Lip Service

I was on the phone Sunday afternoon with my friend Julie when I noticed my left thumb had swollen to approximately twice the size of my right. As I had spent the last four days in a cold medicine haze, fighting some upper respiratory malady, I wondered if I had absentmindedly burned it on a mug of tea without noticing.  (Would this be the same fugue state that prompted me to view  Threesome for the first time in fourteen years via that Netflix “Watch Instantly” feature?)

Later, as I was heading out to the diner for a bowl of soup, I noticed my foot was tender, making it hard to walk.  When I got home and inspected closer, my foot, also my left, was swollen and I could barely wiggle my toes.  My fever had broken and besides a bit of a lingering cough, I was pretty much over the cold.  So this, this was something new and unforeseen.  From googling, I was able to determine it was some sort of water retention (ew), and even though unlikely, I wasn’t ready to rule out gout.  Paranoid I would somehow die in my sleep, the swelling overtaking every part of me like an alien virus, I tried to reconstruct the journey of my illness from Thursday on, noting the symptoms in my Moleskine notebook along with what over-the-counter medicines I’d taken. That way, should I be discovered days later, even the most cut-rate detective would hopefully be able to piece together the clues of my demise.  That’s me, always thinking ahead. I attempted to sleep with my feet elevated to maybe alleviate the swelling, but as I was also trying to prop my head up to be able to breathe, It was probably moot.

To my horror,  I woke this morning to find my lower lip and chin had ballooned, as puffy and misshapen as if I’d been pummeled in a bar fight or had undergone extensive dental surgery.   I called in to work and managed to wrangle an appointment with my doctor, enduring the ride downtown with the left half of my lip plump as a Vienna sausage, keenly aware I was being studied by my fellow subway riders.

After forty-five minutes in the waiting room, then a modicum of chit-chat in my doctor’s inner sanctum, he finally fixed his gaze on my face and asked, “What happened to your lip?”

Well, thank you, that’s exactly what I’d like to know!

He listened to my breathing and felt of my swollen feet, jotting copious notes in my file.  Putting my shirt back on,  I caught sight of myself in the mirror and noticed my lip had grown to three times the size it was when I first woke up.

The doctor determined it was some sort of allergic reaction to the blood pressure medicine I’d been taking for the last two months, an angioneurotic edema, I think he called it, but he might’ve said anal retentive adobe for all I know.   Neither would’ve made any cognitive sense in the moment.   I just wanted my face and feet to return to their proper size.  He said to stop the medicine I was taking and wrote a prescription for a steroid to deal with the swelling.

I trudged back uptown on the subway, attracting even more stares, and then to the drugstore to fill the Rx.

I popped the first doses of the steroid when I got home and probed my swollen face.  If I were a Hollywood actress of a certain age trying to regain my youthful visage through elective surgery, the tabloids would snidely say I have “trout pout.” A veritable Melanie Griffith after an injectables bender.  But even that  would be too kind.  No, it looked as if I’d flown to Mexico for and found some back alley quack to fill me with syringe after syringe of collagen.  My lower lip was so engorged it was positively Jocelyn Wildensteinian, or Amanda Leporian if you prefer.  Pete Burnsian even!

By late this evening I was able to walk without wincing,  my feet having deflated a bit, my lip reduced in fullness to what would be called pleasantly bee stung, as if I used that plumping stuff that was all the rage with the ladies for awhile:  Lip Venom,  or Lip Strychnine,  or Lip Agent Orange, or whatever it’s called.

Crisis averted!  Yet, I’m now taking pills to counteract the allergic reaction to the pills I was taking that were supposed to make me healthier, or at least as healthy as I should be for my age. Bah.

And to be honest, while I usually don’t like intense physical scrutiny, there was something weirdly powerful about walking around looking like an aberration, a freak freed from the circus, mentally daring strangers to gawk at me, knowing, thankfully, I’d soon be able to blend back in.

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9 Responses to Not Just Lip Service

  1. operatorla says:

    OMG! So the lip thing has hapened to me before…I just chalked it up to an allergic reaction but it has happened a few times. Ironically the first two times it happened they were almost a year apart to the day. Don’t ask me how I know but sometimes I keep weird dates facts in my head.

  2. ephemerist says:

    @OPLA: It was some sort of allergy, certainly. Or you had too much sodium in your system. It is all such a mystery/horror. But being a year apart to nearly the day? Freaky.

  3. You have deprived me of the priviledge of being able to say, “Oh, you know my brother, the brave survivor of GOUT/Elephantitus?”
    I mean, c’mon. Take one for the team.
    Remember, I’m going to have to decipher your death-rattle ramblings via moleskin notebook one day!!

  4. Funny you mention it… I had the *exact* same thing happen to me back in July — the sore/swollen foot thing, followed by waking in the middle of the night to find the left side of my jaw/lip swollen up like I’d just had dental surgery or something. I basically did the same thing in response, Googling my way to a self-diagnosis of some sort of edema, which thankfully subsided over the course of the day.

    That said, it happened a *second* time a few weeks later (switching sides, interestingly enough, to the right side of my face) this time inconveniently in the middle of a flight to Seattle. One of my feet had been doing the swollen/tender thing earlier that day and just getting to the airport was rather uncomfortable. I can literally remember the minute, somewhere near the end of “Drillbit Taylor”, the horrible in-flight movie, when I could tell something was Not Quite Right, and by the time the flight landed I was looking perfectly freakish. At first I thought I was simply allergic to bad cinema, but the ER doctor at Harborview in Seattle, where I spent the night under observervation, was convinced it was an allergy to something else.

    Having now seen an allergist and a new GP, neither of whom has been able to find anything wrong with me, allergies or otherwise, my working theory is that (like you suggested) I was having some sort of water retention issue — again, gross — that was affecting my feet for no better reason than that I sit at a desk all day and excess interstitial fluid will, as a result of gravity, build up there. Who knew?

  5. ephemerist says:

    @Elevating Substance: That is crazy. I would not want that to happen mid-flight. Eesh. The water retention thing, yeah, is gross and I’m assuming prevalent. As I was convalescing I was certainly off my feet a lot which probably explains it in part, and also the reaction to the medicine. It is awful. Though now I’ll avoid watching “Drillbit Taylor” at all costs, just in case that might trigger some reaction.

  6. elevatingsubstance says:

    Good to hear that your doctor was able to sort out some semblance of causation (the medication allergy), though it’s unfortunate that s/he had to opt for the “additional medication” route. I’d hoped, when I first saw the allergist I went to, that he’d tell me I was having some latent drug reaction after a recent and ill-advised weekend spent in the Hamptons, but — alas — that didn’t turn out to be it in my case.

    The only real upside to ballooning up during the flight, as far as I can tell, was that I happened to have been sandwiched in the middle seat between a large sleeping guy on the aisle and a 16-year-old kid in the window who kept stealing my armrest and repeatedly scratching his balls. I think he could tell I was getting annoyed, and I wonder if he thought I was expressing my anger facially. Either way, I got my armrest back for the last hour of the flight.

  7. ephemerist says:

    @Elevating Substance: Yeah, my GP is pretty smart, if always a bit frazzled (he reminds me of the love child of Woody Allen and John Cameron Mitchell, if such a thing is possible.) He really though just figured it out by going on his special doctor internet and looking up drug reactions I think.

    I too prefer not to have to take medicine for the effects of medicine, but so be it.

    As for the armrest, well, victory! God but that’s what it’s come to to have a little personal space on a flight now isn’t it?

  8. meli says:

    I looked like a bad lip injection on vaca! Allergic reaction to something in the in flight complimentary Mie Tie and altitude combo. Thank god it wasn’t cankle. How bad would that suck poolside in Hawaii? At least mine was benificial, although somewhat itch inducing.
    Did someone sneak you strawberry?
    The horror!

  9. ephemerist says:

    No, no strawberry. I would be dead.

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