Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Lasting Forever

Last Wednesday afternoon I had a little trouble breathing. I was getting enough oxygen but a lot of the breaths just weren't satisfying. I'd force myself to yawn and get a good one, then a decent one, and then back to not great for a while. I chalked it up to an allergy attack, probably brought on my someone on the subway, and waited it out. I told myself, "You're getting enough oxygen, you're fine. Don't worry about it." I couldn't not worry about it but I talked myself into shutting up.

Thursday it started earlier. At bed time I took a Benadryl. It didn't seem to help the breathing but I slept.

By Friday I was talking to people about it a little and still trying to work through it. Someone mentioned that, if it was an allergy attack, it might be allergy-related asthma. Why didn't I get it looked at by a doctor? Well, a couple of reasons. First, I'm a panicker, I have always been told and therefore always tell myself, "It's not a big deal. Just wait it out. You'll be fine." And, other than the whole skin cancerous thing, it was. Secondly, if it's allergy-related asthma that's forever. I don't want anything that's forever. Tell me this will be over. Give me an end date. I'm a theatre person, project work is my life's blood, I can work on anything until the show is over, even if it gets extended. No end date? That's a hideous fate.

Saturday was a bad night. I felt bad in the evening and by the time it was time to go to bed I was having trouble breathing and panicking and not at all sleepy. I tried lying on my back. My side. My other side. I got up. I jogged. I bent over. I did vocal exercises. I finally went into the bathroom and turned the hot shower on full blast, since showers had helped before. I did crosswords to distract myself from whether it was working. I took my temperature, which didn't work at all since the air was getting hotter. When I didn't feel better but was sweating bullets and the ceiling was dripping I stripped off my clothes and got into the shower, letting the water pound on my chest. Finally, about 4 hours from the time I hit the hay, I slept.

In the morning at the park I was talking about it. See, there was no chest rattle, no provable swelling, so it wasn't anything. Right? Well, a couple people had had walking pneumonia and the problem wasn't when you had a rattle, it was when you don't. No rattle means the phlegm had turned to concrete in the lungs and you couldn't move it. Someone else knew about an urgent care center. So I went home, showered up, and checked out a local hospital. The ER had a questionnaire about when you should come to them. The first thing on the Come-To-The-ER check list was "difficulty breathing." So in I went.

Standing at the desk to check in I got a nosebleed. I was triaged right away but she heard nothing and sent me to the big ER with an ice pack for my nose. I waited there for a few hours, crying occasionally, but keeping quiet in my big vinyl recliner that didn't recline because it was jammed against a wall. I read. I checked Facebook. I watched the people around me. A woman near me was on oxygen while she waited and I stared enviously. Was oxygen the key to relief? Great! She seemed not to care about it. If she felt that much better I wanted in!

The doc came and saw me finally and listened to my chest and laid out my options. Didn't seem like it was going to be pneumonia, slim chance of bronchitis and he'd send me to get a chest x-ray to rule both of those out. If they got ruled out then I had a cold virus settled in my upper respiratory system. Well, OK, then what's the plan for relief if I have that kind of cold? Um, well...yeah, so I'm supposed to just live through it. For me? Worst case scenario.

I am no stranger to panic and panic attacks. I've had them roughly since I was 6. I know what they feel like, look like, sound like rushing in my ears. I know them at different levels and I've carefully cultivated ways to deal. One way is to remind myself that panic is not warranted. You can see from all the above that I'd been doing that for about five days at that point. Once panic has set in, though, the cures all revolve around deep breathing.

Deep breathing.

Imagine the cycle here: I have trouble breathing so I panic so I try to breathe deeply which isn't possible so I panic so I try to breathe deeply....

I held out hope for pneumonia.

Went for the chest x-ray, didn't laugh when the tech said, "Take a deep breath and hold it." Went back to my recliner and waited.

No pneumonia. No bronchitis. Here's a prescription for OTC expectorant and extra strength advil. Should take about a week to clear but, in the worst case scenario it could take 2-3 weeks.

I didn't cry on him. Not that I didn't want to but his previous patient had appeared from some curtain area in the back recently, started to cry while Shirley Maclaineing about his panic attack and pain then, when attended to quickly with methods of relief, had the gall to request a different anxiety med just because that's what his kind of people usually take. I explained as quietly and calmly as I could that I felt as though Saturday night was bad because of the panic and the spiral, was there anything to be done about that?

Silly as it seems, I'm kind of proud of myself for that because I've never asked for that kind of help before. He didn't blow me off he offered me a prescription and I took it and filled it ASAP. Not like when I had triple doses of lidocaine for my face surgery and the guy gave me 3 vicodin to go home with then made me return to the office an hour away from my home and answer questions about my addiction before he'd give me more. I went home and took all three kinds of pills and slept right through the Superbowl.

As a Pats fan that was probably a blessing.

I still can't breathe very well. The anti-anxiety med puts me to sleep as its way of dealing with the anxiety. The expectorant helps some. I can't tell if the advil helps or hinders. I'll have some time that's good, usually in the morning and/or when I've just woken up, and I try to maximize that time. Then I go into the spiral of seeking that satisfying breath. I know I'm getting enough oxygen, I know I'm not going to die, but the prospect of never again in my whole life getting regular, satisfying breaths looms large.

I came to work today for a half day to see how it would go. I thought perhaps distraction would be the key to the awake times. Not so much. Maybe if I did something that was more distracting. I sit here panicking and unable to take the panic pill because I don't want to fall asleep on the way home. On Monday night Pony Express said, "I've been thinking about this all day and now I'm going to tell you. Some people live with one lung. They don't even realize it!"

It's making me cry just to think about it.

I don't think she was saying, "Suck it up." I suppose she could because she's right, people live with one lung and chronic pain and childhood abuse and accidental paralysis and congestive heart failure and cancer,* and a ton of other things. I think, though, she was saying, "You're getting plenty of oxygen so you don't have to worry that you'll die." She's right. I'd be dead already if that were the case and the doctors would have done something more for me if it were a danger. I knew before she told me. I'd been repeating it like a mantra when I couldn't do my deep breathing exercises.

Have you ever seen Out of Africa? There's the Masai warrior who works with Redford's character and Redford talks to Streep about how the Masai can't endure imprisonment because they don't see time the way we do. They see the confinement as going on forever and confinement isn't something they can adjust to. My brain, well, most of my brain, knows that I will heal up. It looks like it's going to be closer to 2 weeks than 1 but it'll go away. It's a virus, there's nothing you can do to kill it, you have to wait it out. But my panic centers, my heart, can't see the end to it. What if it's not gone in 2 weeks? What if I do have just the one lung (I don't) and I live like this forever just waiting for the one deep, satisfying breath? How will I deal with that?

I will, I guess, but I'm going to cry a lot more, that's for sure. 'Cause crying helps breathing trouble. Right, sure it does.

The one thing it has committed me to is boosting my immune system. So, if you've got a favorite supplement or food or technique (anti-bacterial hand stuff need not apply, I'm in the camp that fears they're killing all the good bacteria and making us vulnerable to all the worst bacteria) that you're willing to share, please put it in the comments section. I'm looking to have the biggest, baddest immune system you ever did see. If it doesn't matter now, it will come the Zombie Apocalypse.


*For each photographer that enters photographs into the FUCK CANCER photo challenge by Tuesday February 14 I will donate $5 to Planned Parenthood and $5 to Think Before You Pink/Breast Cancer Action. Simply upload your photo to Flickr (you can get a free account if you need one), join our Photo Group, add your shot and your donation has been made! If you want a gold star please tag the photo with PhotoChallenge and FUCKCANCER (or CANCER if you're not thrilled about the language).


  1. I was wondering where you were! How scary for you :-( Seems like this thing is going sounds like what I had! Hope it goes away soon.

  2. favorite immune-system-booster: vitamin C. haven't gotten sick since i started taking a crap-ton daily. i usually get a nasty sinus infection midsummer and right around now, and i've been spared so far.

    also, make sure you're eating lots of good food without any processed crap. tons of veggies, a few good meats here and there.

    <3 hope you feel better SOON.

  3. Oh, I hope you feel better soon! I think this winter has been one for long, lingering, gloppy, sort-of colds - everyone in my office seems to have one.

  4. Suzanne J-W4:58 PM

    That's just hard -- not like easy hard, and not like wicked hard. But hard enough and when you can't sleep it makes it so much worse. Something similar happened to me a year ago last Thanksgiving, and the worst part was that there wasn't anything they could (or would) give to make me feel better. It seemed like it took forever to get well -- I felt horrible for just a few days, but it seemed liked forever.

    Good luck, I'll be thinking of you!

  5. I'm glad you went to the doctor, but from experience, if it doesn't get better in two weeks, find another doctor. It's important. Feel better. Thinking of you.

  6. Anonymous6:00 PM

    oh that just sucks, and sorry for the pun. it has to be a crazy-making feeling, may it be over stat. I swear by nano-silver and bone broth, and if you knock on my door tonight when you take Eddie out I can give you some homemade beef broth if you want it. take care of you.

  7. My Vit. D supplements are packed & ready to go when you give us a shout (especially key for a wise woman who avoids excessive sun exposure). And also - requesting help from your friends & neighbors! Let us know what we can do. Dog-walking? Cooking things?

    I'm so sorry you're going through this. I've had pneumonia, and am sure there's nothing "mere" about having trouble breathing for some other reason. And I agree with Cindy - don't be too brave.

  8. Miflohny1:28 PM

    Hope you feel better soon - hopefully you are better by now.

    Little Seal has had a cough since late December, and Media Guy and I have had it since sometime in January. Luckily the cold that accompanied it has pretty much gone away.

    I remember when I had that positional headache for weeks after the spinal tap, I broke down and sobbed one day because I was convinced it would never go away. But luckily it did. But it freaked me out so much not being able to function except when laying flat on a bed that I refused an epidural when having Little Seal, even though an epidural and a spinal tap are not the same thing - they were too close for comfort, which meant that I had to have total anesthesia when I needed a C-section. Apparently it can be quite dangerous to have total anesthesia when you are pregnant, but I had no idea! I wasn't afraid of that! Though I sure hope the anesthesia wasn't bad for Little Seal ...

    Anyway, feel better and don't beat yourself up about being panicked!