Monday, October 23, 2006

Never met a dead man

Last Wednesday I had a bit of a sore throat, and light cough. I wasn't worried about it; I went to work and just tried not to speak too much. The next morning I was having cold symptoms and my throat was much worse; it felt like it did a few years ago when I had a serious respiratory infection, and tonsillitis. I decided that I probably should have taken it easier Wednesday, and called in sick so I could put myself into a Ny-Quil induced coma for Thursday. The Ny-Qoma is the way I take care of persistent maladies. Having plenty of fluids available, and sleeping all day is almost always enough to knock out whatever bug I've managed to contract. Thursday night I felt a little better; but was sure that a full night's sleep would get me to 100% for Friday.

Early Friday morning I woke up coughing violently and wheezing. My cold symptoms were strong, and my throat didn't hurt as much, but the coughing fit was quickly changing that. After a while the coughing subsided to labored breathing and wheezing, and I noticed I was sweating even though I didn't feel hot. I tried hard to relax so I could go back to sleep, and when I started to feel light-headed while lying down, the only thing I could think was that it would be a good opportunity to slip off to sleep. I did.

I awoke to another violent coughing fit, and decided that I should probably quit being a hospital-avoiding punk, and seek professional help. Clearly, this was a little more than what I'd dealt with before. So, I drove myself to the walk-in, and rolled my eyes as I plunked down the $20 co-pay so someone could look at me and say that I have a cold, and that I need to "get some rest, and drink plenty of fluids!" At this point I couldn't talk or take deep breaths without starting a coughing fit, so I pantomimed my way through the initial questions, and into the waiting room. Before I go into a recount of what happened after I got to the waiting room; let me relate to you the experience I'm used to receiving after I get into the waiting room...

The wait is between 30 and 90 minutes, and after your name is called, you are brought in where they weigh you, ask your birthday, and take your blood pressure. After this; you are put into a room where you will sit for 20-40 minutes until a nurse comes in, and asks you some more questions and takes your blood pressure, temperature, and shoe size. Then you wait another 15-30 minutes until a nurse practitioner (or doctor, if you're lucky) sees you, squeezes your throat, and tells you to "take it easy" for a bit. Sometimes they'll ask you to get a throat swab or blood tests after which they'll find "something that might be something... or it might not" and prescribe you something to calm your malady enough for you to sleep it off. At which point, I roll my eyes, tear up the prescription and toss them with my receipts for $40 in the trash on my way out the door. Weak sauce. I hate the hospital.

Now that you know what I've come to expect from a trip to the hospital, you'll understand why I became a tad concerned when the following happened...

When I entered the waiting room, they called my name ahead of two other people before my butt even warmed the chair. They took my weight, temperature, blood pressure, and oxygen saturation. Then the nurse helped me to the room where shortly after I sat down and started looking around, I saw that I had two nurses setting stuff up, and three doctors discussing about what they need to do first, second, and third. They got me breathing through an albuterol breather, which got me coughing pretty badly for about half the treatment. I explained to the doctors between coughs and wheezing part of what had been happening the past three days, I wasn't sure if they could understand any of it. One of the doctors kneeled down in front of me, and said "You have asthma." I wasn't sure if she was asking me or telling me, but realized that shaking my head "no" would be a good way to answer either possibility. She turned and left the room with the other doctors, and talked with them about me in the hall. After a while it was a little easier to breathe, then I started coughing again at the end of the breather treatment. All this time I was sweating like it was 100 degrees. The doctors returned, discussed me some more, and started another albuterol breather, set up the oxygen saturation monitor, gave me a shot of cortisone, and set up an IV. I was still sweating, and now I was shaking uncontrollably, but I was starting to breathe easier. They left the door open, and the different doctors stopped in to check on me very frequently at first, then less frequently as the treatment progressed. When the treatment was over one of the doctors walked in, and closed the door.

"Good, it looks like you've stopped sweating. Can you talk?"
Well! You had us pretty worried there! We were all set to call 911!
Aren't I in a hospital? I feel much better.
You're in a clinic, and you feel much better because we had to do some quick work to get you breathing again. We needed to make sure that we could regularize your breathing before I could treat you. In about 4 hours what we gave you will wear off, and you'll be right back to where you were when you got here. Did you drive yourself here?
If you ever get like that again, you need to call 911. I can't think of an ambulance in the world that wouldn't have taken you like you were when you got here. Do you have a history of asthma?
You were having an asthma attack. I got worried when I saw that you were sweating so profusely. Sorry to keep you waiting, the cortisone takes about a half an hour to work, and I wanted to make sure you could talk. So, the coughing started yesterday or today?
I was coughing before, but not like this morning. What about me sweating?
When you have an asthma attack, your body has to work very hard to keep you breathing, and though it doesn't feel like it, your body get very fatigued doing that. Sweating is one way to tell that your body is over working itself to keep you breathing. If you're like that for too long, your body gets too tired to keep you breathing and you stop. Then the toxins start to build up in your body because you're not breathing them out. When did you start coughing this morning?
Early in the morning. I was sweating like I was too. -So, I could have stopped breathing?
Yes, what did you do after you started having the attack this morning?
After a while the coughing stopped, and I could get back to sleep. That was an asthma attack? I felt light-headed.
You felt light-headed after the attack? And you were still sweating when you feel asleep?
The next time that happens; you need to call 911. Really, you're lucky to be alive. The only thing that probably saved you is that you didn't know you were in serious danger, and you were relaxed enough to keep breathing.
... Never met a dead man... I truly don't know where this came from, why I said this, or what it even means, but it was the only thing I could say. I think it's an episode of Family Guy. How'd that get in there?
Well I have, and now that you're stabilized we're going to do some tests, and figure out what's going on. We're going to do some blood tests, and some chest x-rays to make sure you don't have pneumonia, because your oxygen absorption is a little low. Go ahead and lay down for a bit and try to relax. We'll see if it gets any better before we start the tests, and don't worry about the shaking; when you get back-to-back doses of albuterol, you get the shakes, they'll go away on their own.

So, I lied down, tipped my hat forward over my eyes, and couldn't think about anything. I thought that I should reflect or introspect, or do some other kind of meaningful activity. But all I could do was lie there with a blank mind.

I got the blood tests (god, I hate needles), and the chest x-rays, and they determined that I didn't have pneumonia. I had some kind of viral or bacterial infection that probably worked its way in between the more minor maladies. I got laryngitis and bronchitis which facilitated the asthma attacks. They put me on a broad-spectrum antibiotic, prednisone (a steroid), and gave me an albuterol inhaler. When the doctor started explaining exactly how I should take these drugs, I wasn't sure what to make of them. I was never really a drug-taking kind of guy. When the doctor finished explaining to me how to take the medicines, and handed the prescriptions to me, I stopped her.
Wait... So... I really have to take these, don't I?
"If you don't you'll be right back to how you were before you got here. But if you still don't want to, you could always just keep a cell phone on you so you can call 911 when you get your next attack."
Ok, I get it.
"You should probably get those filled as soon as possible, because what we gave you is going to stop working in about two hours."

So, I got my prescriptions, and I started them that day. I'm still not a drug-taking kind of guy, but I AM a breathing kind of guy...

As if I still wasn't convinced, hours after my prescriptions were filled, I began to get out of breath, and used the inhaler which helped a little bit. Then I took the prednisone which seemed to help a lot more.

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