--get your your Linux knowledge
> Linux Reviews > News and headlines > 2004 News archive > November >

Slackware developer Patrick needs your help acquiring penicillin and information about the disease Actinomycosis.

Patrick is seeking out to the Linux community for anyone with relevant knowledge about the rare disease Actinomycosis. He is currently off his job and expects to be so for a few more weeks. He is very eager to get back to work quickly. Help him if you have the knowledge.


      Hash: SHA1
      Tuesday, November 16, 2004, 10:43
      "Last post?"
      Hi folks.  If you're reading this, I thank you.  Perhaps you'll have a role
      to play in bringing about the miracle that I desperately need.  First, I'd
      like to apologize for the lack of updates lately in Slackware -current and
      stable...  I know there are a few outstanding issues that need to be 
      addressed.  However, I've been too sick to work for a couple of weeks and
      now I am away from my computers and at my parents' house in Fargo, North
      Dakota where my only online access is through an AOL dialup.  I have told
      only a select few people about what's going on thinking that I did not want
      the internet at large to know about this, that I'd get it taken care of
      and get back on track without a major problem.  Now, I'm hoping that this
      will get seen by a lot of people and that if it hits Slashdot that some
      kind medical geek will help save my life.
      I've generally been a pretty healthy guy.  Nobody I know would characterize
      me as a hypochondriac by any stretch, so when I raise an alarm it tends to
      be for real.  I'm going to give a timeline and run through all the
      symptoms I've had (so if that sort of thing grosses you out, you can stop
      reading right now).  For the rest of you, here goes.  This is going to be
      long, but hopefully somebody who can help will read it...
      This all began quite some time ago, perhaps as long ago as May of 2001.
      I was preparing Slackware 8.0 for release and working really hard.  A pain
      developed in my shoulder, and (too busy to do anything about it right
      away) I ignored it and continued to keep working.  It got to be pretty
      bad and one afternoon in early June I was rushed to the emergency room
      at a hospital in Concord, California.  I was sweating, feverish, with a
      weak pulse of around 50, experiencing chills and seeming to be on the
      verge of passing out.  The doctor who saw me did a chest X-ray and didn't
      think it was too unusual.  I was told it was probably bronchitis and was
      sent home with a prescription for ciprofloxacin which mostly cleared up
      the problem.  Still the pain in my shoulder seemed to vaguely remain.
      By mid October of 2001, I was in bad shape again.  My parents asked me
      what I wanted for my birthday and I told them some more Cipro.  They
      found someone who was able to help me out with a 60 day supply (no small
      task as this was right after the infamous Anthrax mailings when all the
      newspapers were running articles about Cipro and people were trying to
      horde it).  I finished the two month course of antibiotics and felt
      better.  Not perfect, but significantly improved.  I chalked the events
      of 2001 up to stress, but in retrospect I am not so sure.  I had
      similar problems in 2002 and 2003 that were also knocked back with some
      antibiotics, but the pain in my left upper back (and some kind of 
      "presence" there) never did fully clear up.  Tests for TB came back
      Fast forward to May of this year.  I found myself complaining about "my
      usual pain", as I had started to call it, more and more.  I was starting
      to wonder if I was even going to be able to make my annual camping trip
      out in western New York state at the beginning of July, but I did go.
      I figured the sun and a little exercise would do me some good, and I
      did feel a little less like I was "fixin' to die," but upon my return
      to California things started to go downhill for me again.  This whole
      time I was coughing up some strange stuff.  Some of it was white and
      reminded me of dental plaque.  In spite of being a dentist's son I've
      never had the best oral hygiene so I'm familiar with plaque.  The
      "plaque" I was getting out of my lungs was some nasty stuff and
      smelled just like dental floss used after a couple of days without
      brushing.  Yeah, I know I should be better about that, but tend to
      stay up late and if my wife is already asleep don't always turn the
      light on and wake her up so I can brush before bed.  To help me avoid
      more tooth decay my dad bought me one of those fancy rechargable
      electric toothbrushes that really powers away the plaque.  It also
      creates a fine aerosol mist of plaque, and I started to wonder if 4
      years of using this brush had caused me to breathe in some of this
      plaque mist and moved an infection into my lungs.  I inquired with
      several physicians about "lung plaque" and most of them had never
      heard of such a thing.  One told me he had heard of something like
      that in people who were exposed to asbestos, though.  Searching on
      Google didn't turn up any relevant hits on the subject.
      By early September 2004, I was spending a good portion of the time
      I'd normally be working online flat on my back instead.  The pain
      that had started in my left upper back had moved into my left side
      below the ribs, and my right side just under my armpit, too.  Being
      an ex-smoker, worries of lung cancer were starting to consume my
      thoughts.  A close friend of my father's had recently died from that
      disease, and his initial symptom was also shoulder pain -- in fact,
      they treated him for a presumed pulled muscle for many months while
      the real problem went undiagnosed.  Sometime in October I decided 
      that it was time to pull my head out of the sand and get in to see
      my usual physician who runs a small clinic in Concord, tell him all
      of this stuff, and at least try to get cancer ruled out.  He ordered
      chest X-rays, blood work, ran an EKG, and checked all my usual vital
      signs.  I told him about the "lung plaque" and reported feeling weak
      all the time with no appetite.  Being 6'2" and about 145 pounds I
      knew I didn't want to be losing any weight.  He also listened to my
      chest and like all the doctors I've seen this year thought it sounded
      mostly clear, like there wasn't anything major going on there.  The
      X-ray was a little different story though.  It was taken on a
      Thursday and I was told not to expect to hear anything until sometime
      the next week.  Well, the next morning the phone rang and it was my
      doctor.  He told me there was something "suspicious" seen in my left
      upper lung (right about where the long-standing pain was), and that
      I needed to get some more X-rays at the local hospital instead of
      the imaging center I'd gone to before.  They weren't going to be able
      to get me in there until the next Monday.
      The next morning I decided that I'd better FedEx some T-shirts that
      my friends at the GUS in Brazil had been waiting for (not knowing
      how much longer I could procrastinate on that, etc).  While driving
      back I felt a sharp pain in my left side and felt something in there
      pop and drain (maybe into the pleura?), and since cancer was well on
      my mind, as well as the fact that this had been going on for way too
      long, I headed straight to the nearest ER hoping I wasn't bleeding
      internally or something like that.  By the time the doctor there saw
      me I was holding onto my left side which seemed to help the pain a
      bit.  He ran a UA (and called it "questionable") and sent me down for
      a CT scan.  No iodine dye -- just a lower abdominal scan to see if I
      had any kidney stones (and yes, I related as much of this other info
      as he had time to hear in a busy ER).  No stones were found, but he
      wrote me a script for Cipro and some pain medication.  I showed up
      at the hospital the next day (in only slightly better shape) to try
      to schedule additional X-rays, but they had misplaced the fax my
      doctor had sent in, and they didn't want to schedule additional images
      until they had seen the first ones.  I never did see those myself,
      and the imaging center requires a 48 hour notice to check out films.
      It was starting to look like going through this medical center was
      going to be a slow process, and I wasn't sure I had that kind of time.
      So, I made the decision to pack up the car and drive back to North
      Dakota from California.  My Dad has been part of the medical community
      for years there, and knows a lot of people.  I figured he would know
      who I should be seeing, and could help me set something up.  A week
      ago Sunday (Nov. 7) my wife Andrea and I set out to make the 1680 mile
      drive to Fargo.  We made it as far as Monida Pass.  This is a mountain
      pass on the Idaho/Montana border with an elevation of 6820 feet.  On
      the way up the grade I knew it wasn't going to be kind to me.  I felt
      an intense squeezing under my sternum and started to sweat and nearly
      passed out.  I've never previously had any trouble with high elevations
      and have done hiking and mountain biking at much higher ones than this
      particular pass.  Luckily Andrea was driving at the time!  We decided
      that we would stop at the next fairly large town with a hospital and
      see what they could do for me.  This was Butte, Montana, an old mining
      town, and home of St. James Hospital.  The folks there were absolutely
      wonderful to me.  They did some more blood work (finding only a slightly
      low potassium level), chest X-rays, and a CT with the iodine.  They
      didn't wait long for the dye to circulate because they said the main
      goal there was to insure I didn't have a pulmonary embolism.  I did not
      have that.  The doctor and radiologist also told me my lungs looked
      "slightly inflamed" and to stay on the Cipro, but that I was unlikely
      to keel over before making it to Fargo, especially as I'd be losing
      elevation rapidly upon heading east.  They packed the X-rays and CT
      scans into a big envelope and told me I could borrow it to take to
      my doctor in Fargo, and that they see a lot of people come in from that
      pass with similar problems.  So, off we went.  I was mostly ok getting
      back to Fargo, but never lost the feeling that someone was leaning on
      my chest pressing on my sternum, and was occasionally short of breath
      even after getting down to the 1000 foot elevation.
      Back in Fargo, I had an appointment with an internal MD on Thursday
      morning.  By Wednesday night the pressure under my sternum was so
      bad that it felt like I was having a heart attack, and was again
      taken to an ER (the Slackware 2004 ER tour continues).  While there
      I started to feel better, and the pressure was letting up, and I
      did not want to be a GOMER in their emergency room.  The doctor I saw
      the next day focused on the possibility of a thyroid or liver problem,
      and ran some more tests that came back looking ok.  He thought the CT
      from Butte looked "within normal limits".  That night I again got the
      squeeze (pericardis?)  but suffered through it because I did not want
      to go back to the ER.  I've had at least one strong attack every day
      since, along with the sensation of "pop and drain" in all the original
      pain points and under my sternum.  The next day (Saturday, 13th) I went
      to a local clinic with an MD in private practice.  This guy was/is
      great, and has seen me about a half dozen times since.  He agreed
      that I had signs of serious infection, including a disgusting
      garlic/sulfur smell you could detect at 50 paces.  He put me on
      levaquinone and metronidazole hoping to have a better chance of
      covering whatever the responsible bacteria was.  Took more X-rays
      but couldn't see anything obvious.  We discussed getting an
      echocardiogram to look for pericardius.
      Then, I got my Google breakthrough.  One of the symptoms I'd
      noticed over a year ago was feeling like something hard was stuck
      in my throat causing me to cough.  Maybe 4 times I was able to
      recover was looked like a small (<= 1mm), round, hard granule that 
      was light yellow in color.  I'm sure I swallowed a bunch of them,
      but hadn't seen too many examples and had not remembered to
      mention this to any MDs along the way.  I googled for "yellow lung
      granule" and maybe the third hit mentioned something called
      Actinomycosis.  There it was, a laundry list of the symptoms I'd
      been experiencing.  Furthermore, the disease is caused by the
      same bacteria that normally lives in the mouth and in dental
      plaque.  Infections are most common in the jaw, but sometimes
      occur in the lungs and spread elsewhere through the body.  The
      hallmark of the disease is the finding of small granules of
      sulfur.  Aha, I thought.  Now that I know what this is, I should
      be able to get some treatment.  I tried "sulfur lung granule" on
      Google instead and had a ton of hits, all highly relevant to
      the situation I was experiencing.  I printed out one of the hits
      from the Johns Hopkins Microbiology newsletter and raced back to
      the clinic to tell Rodney about it.  He looked it over and
      thanked me for doing so much work for him (whatta guy :-), and
      on the basis of what I'd told him felt there was a good chance
      that we were looking at the answer right there.  None of the
      antibiotics I was on would touch this -- they were all too modern.
      That was one of the terrible side effects of old antibiotics;
      they would kill the natural flora in the mouth and GI tract and
      you have all kinds of problems like fungal and yeast infections
      as a result.  So the newer classes of antibiotics are carefully
      chosen to avoid killing those types of bacteria, and this was
      probably caused by Actinomyces, the most common bacteria in the
      mouth.  When found in a lab culture, its presence tends to be
      discounted as normal.  So, what kills this stuff?  Good old
      penicillin.  Yup, while everything else in the world became
      resistant to penicillin and amoxicillin, Actinomyces israelii
      never did.  Rodney had me quit taking the other antibiotics and
      put me on amoxicillin (even though V-cillin-K 1g qid might have
      been a better choice).  I've been on it for a couple of days and
      I'm doing a bit better.  I don't stink anymore and the palms of
      my hands have quit sweating.  He also gave me five days of
      prednisone which seems to be lessening the frequency of the
      chest attacks, although one did get me out of bed at 03:00 last
      night (and I took the opportunity to start working on this report
      hoping to save myself).  Problem is, things are somewhat
      contained, but still appear to be spreading.  I'm getting sudden
      pressure releases occasionally that seem to be coming from the
      pleura or pericardium, and this morning had one that seemed to
      be inside my head.  This has me more than a little concerned.
      - From everything I've read about this, it is a really tough
      thing to treat.  Oral penicillin generally does not do it.  What
      is needed is 2 to 6 weeks of IV penicillin G (12 to 24 million
      units a day), followed by 12 months of V-cillin-K 1g four times
      a day.  Amoxicillin 500mg 3 times a day has me in a holding pattern,
      but it's probably not going to do the trick.  Rodney has no ability
      to directly admit me to a hospital without first sending me to an
      infectious disease MD there who would have to agree with all of this.
      I have an appointment on Friday.
      There you have it.  That's where I am today.  If anyone out there
      is familiar with this and is able to help, please let me know.
      I'll travel anywhere I have to at this point.  I can be reached on
      my cell phone at (925) 535-9062.  Please call only if you can help
      get me some high-dose antibiotic treatment.  I have been trying to
      check email at least once a day at as well.
      I'll accept whatever you'd like to send me at that address (as
      usual :-), but if you're contacting me with an offer of help please
      add [HELP] to the subject so that I'll be able to find those emails
      more easily.  Say prayers, knock on wood, whatever.  I need all the
      help I can get.  Anything sent here will be confidential unless you
      say otherwise, too.  I also hope if I'm off the job for a couple
      more weeks that the Slackware community will still support me when
      I can return to the job, which I'm really itching to do ASAP (I'm
      not looking for donations though).  This experience has changed my
      perspective on a lot of things, and I think the future will be
      different (and better).
      Oh, there's this blood test result which I should also mention.  
      While almost everything looks normal there, the following white
      cell counts are (barely) out of the normal range:
      Neutrophils     79        (high)  NormalRange = 40-75
      Lymphocytes     16        (low)               = 20-45
      Absolute Eosinophil 0.00  (low)               = 0.015-0.500
      BTW, my login quote tonight was "Snow and adolescence are the only
      problems that disappear if you ignore them long enough."  heh.
      Thanks for listening.
      - ---
      Patrick J. Volkerding
      -----BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE-----
      Version: GnuPG v1.2.6 (GNU/Linux)
      -----END PGP SIGNATURE-----

News and headlines

Meet new people