Recently I was diagnosed with what was probably Rheumatic Fever. I had never even heard of it before and was unaware that I had been sick with Streptococcus. This is my story and the precautions I need to take now.
Back in May, about three months ago, I kept getting sick. I would feel sick for a day or two and then feel really healthy and better the next day. A friend mentioned that I may have mononucleosis and since I’ve had that 10 years ago, the symptoms did seem really familiar so I didn’t worry about it.
The first week of June, I began getting sick again but this time I wasn’t getting better but I wasn’t too worried about it, just tired. Four days later, I was exercising in the evening and my knees got worse and worse to the point where it was just painful to move them so I went to bed assuming somehow I had hurt them. Waking up the next morning, my neck was completely stiff, as were my elbows. As the day went on, my ankles became stiff and my feet and fingers were completely swollen. I was having a hard time moving because of the pain in my joints and assumed I would get over it soon.
The next morning I woke up with the extreme pain also in my wrists and decided to call the doctor for an appointment. I had to have Mike drive me that afternoon to the doctor because I was no longer able to drive the car. I couldn’t move any of my joints without extreme pain and it turns out that driving requires a lot of movement and rotation.
After a negative strep test (I hate those), he drew my blood and found that I had been sick with strep, probably within the last month. Based on my symptoms and inflammation and pain in my joints, his best guess was Rheumatic Fever. (For those who care, my ASO was at about 450, normal 200, so not elevated enough to panic but not normal enough to not worry.)
Rheumatic Fever is basically a complication of streptococcus. Untreated strep means that the antibodies fighting the bacteria will end up targeting the tissues instead of just the bacteria. This is why it’s important to go to the doctor to get medicine as soon as possible when you have strep. Lesson learned. (Although in my defense, I had no idea I had strep and no one else in the house was getting sick with me so I had no reason to believe I had it.) You can read more about it on WebMD or another preferred online source.
A couple of weeks after that doctor’s visit, I had to go in for an echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) to check my heart. One of the scariest things about Rheumatic Fever is that it can ruin the heart valves so it was an immediate need to make sure I was okay. I hadn’t slept well the night before so I was really tired through the whole ultrasound and slept like a baby through part of it. It was a 45-minute ultrasound and all the results came out looking great! My heart is currently in great condition!
I finally had my visit with the infectious disease doctor two months after first going into the doctor. He would be able to tell me what the next steps are and whether I had Rheumatic Fever for sure or not. After two hours there, he finally determined that more than likely I have had Rheumatic Fever based on the Jones Criteria for Rheumatic Fever. I meet the criteria with Polyarthritis as the major criteria and fever and acute phase reactions being the two minor criteria. However, he still said there’s a chance that I may have a different autoimmune disease but without recurrences or family history, he really couldn’t be positive. If it happens again, then he’ll become more certain. It’s crazy to me that despite all of the appointments I’ve been to over the summer, they still cannot say for sure that I had Rheumatic Fever.
Going forward, the next 5 years will be crucial. If I contract strep again at all in the next 5 years and I had Rheumatic Fever, the symptoms will come back worse and scarier if not treated. After the 5 years, it will still be dangerous but not as crucial as these next 5 years.
I will be on a low dose of Penicillin (yes, my body may become immune to it) to help keep the strep away for 5 years. The infectious disease doctor reminded me to not be paranoid about strep but to be careful meaning that children and people in my home and in the home of others that I’m in should have no symptoms of strep. If I find out that anyone has strep or contracted strep soon after they were with me in the home, I’ll need to go to the doctor to up my dose of antibiotics and be checked to make sure that no further damage happens to my body. He said not to worry as much about people at school and church but we’ll see. I’ll have to work on the “not be paranoid” thing, especially since I spend most of the school year sick from all those little kids I am around so often.
As I sat in the waiting room today trying to decompress from the stressful morning, I looked up and saw the quote, “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass. It’s about learning to dance in the rain.”