Posts Tagged ‘TB’

Week 25 (April 20)

Posted: April 20, 2014 in Weekly update
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The final week of medication was very smooth, as Kanako and I literally counted down the days each morning after my daily dosage. I’ve slid into the work rhythm as well, so the days are flying by and I’m finally on the last 100 meters of my 6-month round-trip journey through TB hell and back.

Nothing much to report this week except for the fact that I’ve only got one more day of medication and perhaps the trickiest obstacle ahead. Though I will have finished my treatment, it will take some time for my body to readjust and completely rid itself of the meds. Normally it wouldn’t be much of a big deal, but since I’m taking anti-coagulants I’ve got to keep my INR monitored and revert back to my pre-TB dosage. Fortunately I’ve got a check-up with the cardiologist this coming Friday, so I will know more about how my liver and INR are handling the transition.

This week I submitted the doctor’s note to one of my universities that had requested it. Since I had to fork over 2000 yen (around 20 dollars) of my own money for the form, I thought of a novel way of submitting the documentation but being able to keep the original in case someone requests it in the future. With the help of technology, I simply scanned in the document, saved it as a .pdf file, and e-mailed it to my boss, who said it was sufficient. Man, now why didn’t I think of that back in January when I got the original doctor’s note? It would have saved a lot of hassle and a bit of money too. Lesson learned.

The weekend brought more favorable weather, which meant another hike with my friends Paul and Mayumi. As you may recall, Paul was the first person I had done a hike with after being discharged, so it was only fitting that my last hike during my treatment be under the same companionship. We headed to the border of Shiga and Fukui Prefectures, not far from where Tomomi and I ventured last weekend. Despite the calendar declaring that we were well into spring, mother nature decided to bring winter back for an unexpected encore, and we were grossly underprepared in our light jackets and t-shirts. We kept pretty much on the move, ducking into the forest once we could take the arctic gusts no longer. The lungs held up just fine and while the nose did run, my allergies weren’t nearly as bad as just a few weeks prior.

Since my medication is coming to an end, so will the regular blog posts. I will do one more update next week, followed by posts at the 6 month and 1 year anniversaries. Thanks for sticking along through two seasons of medical trials and tribulations. I’ll try to make my final post a good one.

 

Trying to keep my mind off the frigid temperatures

Trying to keep my mind off the frigid temperatures

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Week 24 (April 13)

Posted: April 13, 2014 in Weekly update
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24 weeks of nonstop meds and the end is finally in sight. Only a little over a week before I can finally stop eating yogurt. Don’t get me wrong, I do like the stuff, but it gets old after 4 months of eating it every day. And now to recap the week:

The semester officially started, which meant it was an incredibly busy week. My body will slowly adjust to the new workout, but until it does, I expect to be hitting the hay at obscenely early times over the next few weeks. I did run into a few old students from last semester who were happy to see me and relieved that I am doing much better. I also got to meet one of the teachers who replaced me. He was a nice guy and seemed to handle my classes well after my sudden departure.

On Friday I headed back to Dr. Tamura for my final checkup. The blood test results were good except for the low INR again. I’m going to bump up the dosage slightly for about a week before reverting back to my regular pre-antibiotic dosage. I had another chest Xray as well. He said that it looked much better but to my eyes the ‘before’ and ‘after’ looked exactly the same! I’ve heard that TB will scar the lung tissue so I guess I’ll have cloudy X-rays from here on out. The next step in my treatment is an X-ray 6 months after treatment is stopped. That has been scheduled for October. If I have a relapse then they should be able to pick it up in the images and with blood tests. There’s only a 1% chance of that happening, but if it’s going to happen, it usually does within a year – hence the need for a follow-up X-ray in October and next April. After a year the likelihood diminishes greatly. Not sure what I can do to avoid a relapse of the disease other than to try to stay away from unwanted germs.

Speaking of germs, my body has finally kicked the nasty cold that took over my respiratory system. Though I do still cough a bit, it is much better than before. The only downside is that I gave my cough to Kanako and now she sounds really bad. Hopefully we’ll be back to normal by the start of summer.

Nurse Yohara came back to check on my medication and to make sure I had enough to last the remainder of my treatment cycle. She will only visit one more time after my treatment is complete. It was nice having that support from Osaka city but I look forward to not having to frantically clean the apartment once a week!

The weekend brought more fair weather, so I headed on another hike with my friend Tomomi. We rented a car and drove to northern Kyoto Prefecture for a walk in a virgin hardwood forest. There was still a bit of snow remaining, and fortunately the pollen counts were low. It was so great to finally be able to breathe in some fresh air with my actual nose instead of behind the fabric of a surgical mask.

This coming week is my final full week of medication. The home stretch to my long road to recovery.

Walking in the forest

Walking in the forest

 

 

Week 20 (March 16)

Posted: March 17, 2014 in Weekly update
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Twenty weeks of TB treatment and I can truly say that I feel pretty “normal” now whatever that means. A little over a month of antibiotics left until my urine will finally return to its usual color (remember the medicine turns my pee a reddish orange color).

Some of you were waiting with bated breath about the results of Kanako’s TB test. Sorry to keep you all in suspense: her blood test came back negative and her cough has dissipated, so you can exhale with a huge sigh of relief. I’m guessing that our air purifiers helped exterminate the airborne particles before they had time to implant themselves in her lungs, or maybe her immune system was strong enough to deal with them on its own. Of course it could have been the Tai Chi power running through her veins….

It was an uneventful week at work with the exception that Thursday’s classes were cancelled because my students had another training session. I didn’t mind having an extra day off (with pay) and celebrated by watching the rain pour down all day. Later that evening we had a minor earthquake that woke us up but otherwise caused no damage. Despite living in a seismically active country, we don’t feel temblors all that often. Folks in Tokyo experience them all the time, but down here in Osaka it’s been relatively calm. Of course, experts predict the great Nankai earthquake will cause great destruction here in western Japan but we’ve all got our fingers crossed that the fault slip won’t occur for a few more centuries.

On Saturday Kanako had a rare day off, so we celebrated her negative TB result by frolicking with the Elves and Orcs of Middle-earth. Despite the fact that the movie is about to be released on DVD, here in Japan it’s just come out in the theaters. The main reason for the delay is so that the dubbed version could be made. Yes, they’re still behind the times here and every Hollywood movie gets overdubs done by famous Japanese actors. When you go to the movies, you have a choice of subtitles or overdubs, so we always go for the subtitled versions, which are certainly less crowded that the ones with all of the actors speaking perfect Japanese. Generally speaking, movies are about 2 to 3 months behind the west, so that the movies you can watch on the airplane are the ones currently being shown in Japanese theaters.

On Sunday, I headed out on yet another hike. Both the pollen counts and PM2.5 were unusually high, but a visit to the deciduous forests could not be put off any longer. As you may recall from earlier posts, I try to hit the trails once a week to give my lungs and muscles a much-needed workout. Today temperatures were well above freezing, resulting in a purging of my skin pores that usually only happens in the humid weather of mid-summer. The cool breezes meant that any lingering breaks brought a chill to the bones. It’ll still be some time before T-shirt weather will officially prevail, but it’s nice to have a sneak preview of things to come.

As a result of exposing my nasal cavity to the elements, my immune system kicked into overdrive after returning from the hike. I called in the back-up troops hidden in the white powdery depths of the Claritin and all returned to normal except for a bit of irritated eyes. Hiking during this season is always a precarious undertaking, but it sure beats the alternative of sitting at home and watching the dust collect on the bookshelves.

My friend Paul navigating the sandstone maze

My friend Paul navigating the sandstone maze

Week 19 (March 11)

Posted: March 11, 2014 in Weekly update
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Sorry for the delay in getting this blog updated. I blame it on the pollen…..

Last week after a couple of days of work, I headed back to Dr. Tamura on Wednesday for a blood test and check-up. The results were good. My liver function is stable, but my INR is still too low. Time to bump up my warfarin dosage yet again. I have only one more check-up before the end of my TB treatment, and after that it’ll be a juggling game to get my warfarin dosage back to normal after the antibiotics run their course. He said it takes about 2 weeks for your body to fully eliminate all of the drugs from your system. I guess that makes sense if they’ve been running through your bloodstream nonstop for the last 6 months!

I still feel pretty tired after working half a day, so I’ve got in the routine of taking a quick power nap after getting home from work. That seems to help, and I pretty much go straight into REM sleep immediately after putting my head on the pillow. I think a lot of my fatigue is from my allergies. So far they haven’t been too bad. I mean, I do have a runny nose and sneezing, but it’s not nonstop like it usually is. My guess is that the pollen, in the words of the Carpenters, has only just begun and that it’ll continue to worsen along with the rise in temperatures. The antihistamines are on standby just in case. I usually don’t take them unless it’s a really heavy pollen day. Instead, I just rely on wearing a mask every time I go outside.

Despite the flowery discharge, I did make it out for a hike on Sunday. I went to Mt. Rokko, a local mountain that is only a 20-minute train ride from Osaka. Little did I know that they were hosting an event on that day, and the trails were overflowing with hikers. The event is known as the Grand Traverse. Participants start at the far end of the range at the inhumane hour of 4am and traverse along the entire mountain range, ending in Takarazuka some 53 kilometers later. It’s definitely not my idea of fun, especially when sharing the mountain with 1100 other masochists. Fortunately, we did a section of the trail near the end, so we were off the mountain before the majority of sufferers stumbled off the mountain after dark.

Speaking of sufferers, today marks the 3rd anniversary of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. I was actually in New Zealand when the earthquake hit, so I didn’t experience it first-hand. I have traveled to some of the areas hit by the tsunami, but it was many years ago, and I feel their pain. The Japanese government has done a pretty poor job on reconstruction efforts, instead focusing their energy, attention, and monetary resources on preparing for the 2020 Olympics. Living in Japan, you definitely get the sense that the central government only cares about Tokyo at the expense of the rest of Japan. If the quake was centered in Tokyo, you can bet that the city would have been completely rebuilt by now. Anyway, at least the government has paid for my TB treatment, so I there’s a tiny bit of moral fiber left in their aging bones.

This hay fever seems to have activated some facial muscles

This hay fever seems to have activated some facial muscles

Week 18 (March 3)

Posted: March 3, 2014 in Weekly update
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I can’t believe March is already here. It’s my last full month of treatment, so you know I’ll be counting down the days with a sense of joy and relief. Now, to recap the week:

Monday and Tuesday were spent teaching my new students. They are all around 24 to 25 years old and get along really well with each other. It’s a dream scenario as a teacher, as they all listen attentively and do what they are told. I still feel pretty wiped after work and have managed to sneak in a few early evening naps before dinner. The training facility has an employee cafeteria utilizing the latest in technology (designed by the company itself, no doubt). You pay for your meal after you eat by taking your tray to a sensor-lined counter. Your empty plates and bowls are instantly scanned and your total caloric intake is displayed alongside your total. After that you pay the cashier and take your tray to the conveyor belt that shuttles it back to the kitchen. I’ve been tempted to eat a high-calorie meal just to see if there’s some kind of alarm system built in whenever you overeat.

Wednesday was my day off and nurse Yohara came by to check up on me. These weekly visits are turning into a bit of a rehearsed routine. She is required to inquire about my progress and I’m obliged to hand over the empty medicine packages, which I’m pretty sure she uses to either decorate the office or repackage them with sweets to give to her children. Or maybe she just shows them to her boss to prove that she’s been out working all day instead of killing time at the local department store.

On Thursday Kanako went to our local ward office to have her TB blood test. We haven’t heard back from them about the results, but are expecting a reply any day now. If it turns out she does have the disease then I guess I’ll be extending the life of this blog to include not only my recovery, but hers as well. Fingers crossed that it won’t be necessary. She does have a pretty bad cough that is leftover from her bout with the flu. Let’s hope that it will improve soon and that TB is not the culprit.

Friday was another day of work, where I went to bed at a reasonable hour after the fatigue of working a full work week (if you can call 4 half-days a ‘full’ week that is). I needed my rest to prepare for another exciting weekend. On Saturday evening I went to a Mardi Gras party at my friend CC’s restaurant. He’s a New Orleans transplant who serves authentic Cajun and Creole cuisine from his bistro that is only half a block from my apartment. To celebrate the occasion, he invited a swing jazz band to perform, which really livened things up. Despite the rainy weather, the group led a small carnival-style parade down the streets, blasting out their catchy tunes in much the same way a marching band belts out patriotic hymns on the fourth of July. Within minutes the cops showed up to put a muzzle in our conviviality. This was despite the fact that they had received written permission from the authorities to hold the event. It only takes one grinch to spoil the party, however. This country continues to defy logic: every Sunday a troup of right-wing vans meander the streets of my neighborhood belting out old Japanese songs professing their love for the emperor. They sometimes shout at pedestrians and make some very racist comments towards those of Korean and Chinese descent. The decibel levels are through the roof, yet the cops do absolutely nothing to stop them, but when a group of people want to gather peacefully and spread love and culture through music, their efforts are squashed immediately. Still, it was fun to see my neighborhood transformed into a festive vibe if even for a split second.

On Sunday I woke up at 6am to head to the mountains with my friends Tomomi and Baku. They picked me up from my apartment and we headed deep into the mountains of Shiga Prefecture to climb another snow-capped peak. Recently temperatures have been way above average and rain fell most of Saturday evening. The snow had all melted at the trailhead and we didn’t hit any white stuff until a third of the way to the summit. The snow was wet and rotten, turning our shoes into a soggy mess, but the beautiful beech forest made up for any discomfort. We followed one lone set of footprints, as well as the tracks of wild boar, deer, and bear, through the slushy slopes under cloudy but calm skies. The locals people we spoke with in the village at the foothills commented on the lack of snow so early in the season. Usually their hamlet is buried well into April. The pollen counts were low, and it was great to explore another new area of Kansai before the snows return for another encore (temperatures are back down to freezing as I write).

This coming week I have another appointment with my TB doctor. Stay tuned for more exciting adventures in the next installation of this blog, tentatively titled “Week 19”.

Rotting snow and fog in the early spring weather

Rotting snow and fog in the early spring weather

Week 17 (February 24)

Posted: February 24, 2014 in Weekly update
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It was another action packed week here in the land of recovery. Nothing exciting happened in the first part of the week, but on Thursday I started my new part-time job. I’ll be working for about a month at a very large Japanese electronics manufacturer. I’m teaching an intensive English course to a group of 10 students. They’ve all worked at the company for a few years and are now in the position to start moving up the managerial ladder, but before doing so, they need a crash course in English. This is where I come in: I’ve got this group for 3-1/2 hours a day, 4 days a week, and I’m preparing them to take the TOEIC test. Since I’ve never actually taken the test, it’s a good chance for me to learn about the types of questions that appear and to help arm my students with the proper linguistic ammunition.

The first couple of days went well. The students all seem to be happy so far and I’m sure it’s a much better alternative to standing in an assembly line all day. My only fear is that I will run out of things to teach them before the class finishes next month. After the first day of work I felt pretty exhausted and a little hoarse because it had been 4 months since I had seen the inside of a classroom. I’m fairly confident my body will adjust to the extra workout.

On Saturday I went for another snow hike. This time is was in rural Hyogo Prefecture, north of the old castle town of Himeji. The snow was quite icy because the tracks that other hikers had made were frozen over. Light flurries blew around in the morning, and the weather cleared just as we made it off the mountain and back to the bus stop. That was likely the last full-on winter hike I’ll do this season, since temperatures are supposed to skyrocket this coming week and turn all of that powder snow into a soupy, slushy mess. It will also likely send the cedar trees into a pollen-making frenzy.

Sunday I went to a photo exhibition here in Osaka. It was a one-day fare, and I had a couple of photographs on display. Kanako accompanied me part of the day before heading off to taichi practice. I saw a lot of people that I haven’t seen for a long time, and several people who did not even know about my ongoing battle with TB. I met up with Jean-Yves as well (he was one of my many hospital visitors from back in October) and I was finally able to return a couple of books I had borrowed. That was a relief since I really don’t have enough space in the apartment to keep all of the books that people lent or sent to me. If anyone want to borrow a few dozen books, then my apartment is your oyster.

I still haven’t been able to gain back the weight I lost since being hospitalized. I think the antibiotics may be holding me back, because my appetite is through the roof and I continue to eat like someone who has just spent the last several years on a deserted island. Hmm, maybe I should start lifting weights? Ok, you all can stop laughing now.

A friendly greeting from the top of the mountain

A friendly greeting from the top of the mountain

 

 

Week 16 (February 17)

Posted: February 17, 2014 in Weekly update
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Well, it looks like I am quickly approaching another waypost in the long road to recovery – 4 months! That’s right, I’m now two-thirds of the way through my treatment. My body has handled 4 straight months of antibiotics, and now only 8 more blog posts stand between me and the return to my ‘normal’ self.

Last week was a very active one. On Tuesday I climbed Mt. Kongo, Osaka’s highest mountain, with Kanako and two other friends. We were fortunate because the recent cold spell brought a lot of fresh snow to the peak. The mountain itself is only about 1100 meters (3600 feet) high. Usually the snow that settles there is quite wet and heavy, so we were all surprised to find dry, sugary powder. It made for great hiking in that none of our gear got wet, and the crampons helped in the more traveled areas that were iced over.  Mt. Kongo is a bit of a sad mountain due to the gondola that was built to carry lazy visitors to the summit plateau. Tuesday, being a public holiday, brought throngs of tourists which spoiled the scenery somewhat. Fortunately we took refuge in a small restaurant near the top and enjoyed a bowl of hot noodles. The hoarfrost on the trees was breathtakingly beautiful, leaving Kanako utterly speechless at the natural ice show surrounding us. We loafed about for a few hours until 4pm, when 99% of the visitors had scuttled down the gondola to end their day. We had the mountain pretty much to ourselves, descending the steep trail just as the sun vanished behind the horizon for the day. Mt. Kongo is one of the peaks I could see from my hospital bed, and every day in isolation I dreamed of being on its slopes. It felt gratifying to see my dream turned to reality, as back in October I really didn’t think that it would be possible.

On Thursday I went back to the doctor to get my blood test results. My INR was still way too low (1.7). Usually they want you to keep it between 2 and 3, so my dosage was bumped up yet again. I’m now on 13mg of warfarin a day. I’ll get retested when I go for my next TB checkup in a couple of weeks. On a positive note, my ALT and AST readings came back normal, which means my liver is doing a lot better. I think the reduction of Rifampicin seemed to do the trick. My IgE readings are still through the roof but hardly surprising considering all of my allergies. Fortunately for me the cedar pollen has been delayed by this recent cold weather spell.

On Saturday morning I caught the bullet train to Hiroshima for a weekend of winter fun. As you probably know, Hiroshima was where one of the atomic bombs was dropped. My friend Tsubasa and I were headed to the mountainous north for a couple of snow hikes. Tsubasa drove up from Kumamoto city in Kyushu and picked me up at Hiroshima station shortly before 9am. Our first target was a secluded gorge called Sandankyo. It features spellbinding rock formation and a couple of impressive waterfalls. Since the area was completely snowed in, we strapped on the snowshoes and carefully navigated the steep sections of rock and snow for a couple of hours. The going was tough in places: if you slipped you would tumble into the icy waters of the stream below, so we took extra care with each of our foot placements. Light snow fell down all day, transforming the gorge into a spectacle fit for a Chinese inkwash painting. There wasn’t a soul in sight but the route was easy to pick up using my GPS device and we could just make out the edge of the concrete walkway that makes navigation a cinch during the green season. After our hike we soaked in the warm waters of a nearby hot spring bath and headed to the trailhead of our hike the following morning.

On Sunday morning we woke to blue skies and calm winds. Again we strapped on the snowshoes, but this time instead of a constricted gorge, our targer was the highest mountain in Hiroshima Prefecture. It sits at an altitude of 1346 meters (4416 feet), and despite the low altitude, there was over 2 meters of snow clinging firmly to the steep slopes. We had planned to start hiking at dawn, but by sheer luck we overslept and thus were offered the luxury of following someone else’s snowshoe tracks. Breaking new trail is exhausting work, and since we had never been to the mountain before, we were happy to follow in the footsteps of a local who knew the way up the mountain. Tsubasa had his skis strapped to his pack, while I opted for my snowboard. Walking with a 180cm-long board on your back is a lot tougher than you might think. It’s not the weight that gets you but rather the high clearance needed. Countless times I would neglect to duck low enough to avoid the branches overhead, sending shockwaves through my body and knocking me back a couple of steps. At one point my wool hat caught on a branch and was flung on the far side of the forest by the sheer force of a bending branch. After two hours of sweaty slogging we reached the summit, rested, and strapped on our skis for a quick ascent down the mountain. Because of the sun and warmer temperatures, the snow became wet and heavy and we became stuck more times then we could remember. At one point we spied a shortcut to one of the ski slopes and cut into one of the groomed runs: after so much work in the deep wet, sticky snow, it was a great relief to reach a path where we could actually carve. We reached our car about 1pm and after a quick lunch we hit another hot spring bath before I took the train back to Osaka.

All in all my lifestyle is becoming a lot more active, but my free time will soon come to an end this Thursday as I start working again. The school year doesn’t start until April, but I’ve picked up a part-time teaching job that lasts 1 month. I’ll post more details in next week’s update but keep your fingers crossed the first few days of work will go smoothly. It’s been such a long time since I did any teaching that I’m starting to wonder whether I’ve lost my touch or not.

Tsubasa leading the way though Sandankyo gorge

Tsubasa leading the way though Sandankyo gorge