Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Hepatitis C: Not Just For Drug Users

This is part 2 in a series - you can go back and read part 1, and how long it took John to get diagnosed, here.

The doctor's office is quiet and empty at this time of day. I don't usually visit this tiny branch of our doctor's practise, far at the end of the Sunshine Coast but today I'm here, sitting quietly, because  after finding out that John indeed has hepatitis C, I need to know if the same virus is lurking around in my blood cells, wreaking havoc as well.

It's unnerving, wondering if you have an illness.  Every ache, every pain, every sneeze, you wonder.

"Don't tell anyone," he said.  "I don't want gossip to spread.  People think Hep C is a dirty disease, that only crack users get it, and I'm not a crack user. People get weird when you're sick. Trust me, it's better they don't know. "

"But you don't have anything to be ashamed of."  I couldn't imagine not being able to talk about this, of being cut off from the very people who may be able to lend support when we need it. "Nobody?"

"Friends are okay, but don't say anything publicly." A double life will be tricky.  I'm not sure I can pull it off.  It's hard enough to see Anne have to watch her husband battle terminal cancer, but now he's sick too and I can't say anything? What if I'm sick? What then?

The why drove us crazy at first.  John is not a risky guy and we couldn't understand how this could possibly happen.  With further research, we discovered that there are a lot of people in the baby boomer age group who contract this disease and don't even know they have it.  Hepatitis C is often without symptoms for years, so it can sit quietly and nobody will know.  Tattoos, blood transfusions, improperly sterilized dental equipment, needle stick injuries, improperly used health equipment, and more can transmit hepatitis C.  Even something as benign as using someone else's toothbrush or razor can pass the deadly disease.

John's job requires him to enter crack houses, and it's possible that somewhere along the way, he was stuck with a needle or came into contact with something. It's the only possible explanation that we can think of.  What we DO know is that he contracted it shortly after we moved to the Sunshine Coast and for years, it sat in his system, quietly invading his body.

A nurse comes and takes a bunch of fat vials of blood, and I think about how they realized John had Hep C in the first place.  A total fluke, really.  The technician wasn't even looking for Hepatitis C, but then recognized it in his blood around the same time the puzzle came together in my head.  Now they were discussing treatments, trials, and waiting.  There are different kinds of Hep C, and fortunately, John has the kind that responds to treatment best.  He also has very little liver damage, which is hopeful.

If there can be good news to having Hepatitis C, this is it. The doctors advise that he takes the treatment.  It's brutal, they warn.  Some people don't make it through.  The drugs are similar to chemotherapy, and will wipe you right out.  It's best if you take the time off work. for the 6 months it takes to do the treatment. I was fortunate. Despite 8 yrs of living with an infected person, I didn't have Hepatitis C.

I think about how parallel my life is with Anne, again.  We have spent days talking about how to take care of our sick menfolk, and now she gives me advice on how to deal with the nosy people in the grocery store.   Sechelt is a small town and John's illness hasn't gone unnoticed, despite our attempts to keep quiet. People are asking Kevin at school if his Dad has cancer.

"We should have cards made up, just for the times when something inappropriate comes out of someone's mouth," she laughs so hard that we are left gasping for air.  "It could say something like, "Did you REALLY just say that?" I think that would be brilliant."  I'm far more inappropriate and suggest sayings like, "WTF?!"  Soon we sit, hands practically clamped over out mouths, trying not to laugh lest we be booted from the shop for being too loud.

"Really though, you find out who your friends are," her eyes turn sad.  "Some people don't talk to me anymore.  Or they give you really stupid advice. Eat more asparagus.  Like as if eating a fucking can of asparagus is going to cure cancer."

"How's your stomach?" I gesture at her, my brow furrowed.  "What's with the vitamin water? You never drink vitamin water."

She rubs her belly carefully, deep in thought.

"I don't know, it's never been the same since we went to Hawaii.  Remember that? I think I had an intestinal blockage.  They think it's just from residual damage when I had cancer years ago.  Radiation would do that-just fry everything, right? Anyway, it's bothering me still, now and then.  But, you know I'm fine."  she waved her hand cheerfully and steered the conversation back to her garden and the bears  which invaded the bird feeders recently.

I was all too happy to allow Anne to steer the conversation from herself, as we both threw ourselves into caring for 'the menfolk', as she called them.

Oh, how I wish now that I had paid more attention.

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