A couple of weeks ago, I started feeling a tightness in my chest that i thought was a cold brewing or an upper respiratory infection. I waited a couple of days for it to pass. I even went out and dug parking spaces for my and Kim's cars, and in true Chicago fashion, marked them off with folding chairs. I worked, played with my kids, ran errands-- and continued to feel worse and worse. I had zero energy. Though I'm still on break from school and was hoping to read, blog and do all the things I enjoy, I had no energy to do anything I wanted to do. I rested every spare moment. Finally, I came home from work Sunday night and ended up having to spend the night sleeping in another room so that Kim, who had to work in the morning, could sleep. I was coughing and coughing, though it was not a "productive cough," the term that the doctors and nurses would use. I propped myself up with pillows, coughing and gasping for breath, until I finally fell asleep for a couple of hours at a time. I conceded; I asked Kim to make an appointment with the doctor for me.
Fortunately, she was able to get me in the next day. I had to run to school to check on the progress of my nursing school application in the morning. I discovered, to my aggravation, that they had neglected to mention that they needed a high school transcript, in addition to the college transcripts I'd already provided for them. In fact, I'd had a high school transcript sent to them in 1989, when I first attended the school (Spanish classes) but they discard them after seven years.
I went home in a furor and called the records office at my high school. The woman who runs the records department, bless her heart, emailed me the request form, so that I could fill it out and Kim could fax it from work, and they could have the transcripts ready for me to pick when I came in the next day.
That left the doctor's visit. Fortunately, I was able to get a parking spot across the street from the building-- miraculous, if you know how bad parking is in Chicago's Lakeview neighborhood. I went upstairs, provided my insurance card and other information, and was very quickly in the doctor's office.
A nurse came in and took the usual beginning measurements--temperature (normal) and blood pressure-- not normal. High. Dangerously high.
The nurse, and then the doctor asked me some screening questions. How long had I been short of breath and coughing? Over a week. Had this happened before?
As i thought about it, I realized that this had happened many, many times over the years. It had happened since I was little. I had never given it much thought since it had been happening pretty much as long as I could remember.
I think that the doctor and I thought of it at the same time: Asthma.
My son was diagnosed with it when he was very young, and about two years ago, it took an uptick for the worse. Days of coughing, without an accompanying cold or flu. I have to stay on him to use his inhaler, and once in a while, he gets prednisone tablets or a treatment with an albuterol nebulizer. It had never occurred to me that I had the same symptoms.
After a bunch of questions, my doctor said that she strongly suspected that it was asthma. She decided to put me on an albuterol nebulizer for about ten minutes and see the results.
The results were dramatic. Half way through the treatment, my breathing eased markedly. By the end of it, I was no longer gasping for breath.
She wanted, however, to run a couple of other blood tests just to rule out two other things it could be. She wrote me out a prescription for asthma meds-- a week-long regimen of prednisone, and of course, an albuterol inhaler.
I was directed to a chair and a nurse drew two blood samples from my arm. My doctor told me that one of the possibilities, very remote, was that I had a blood clot in one of my lungs. Since that could potentially be fatal, she was rushing that and the other test. She would call me, she told me, in a few hours, with the results.
I stopped at CVS and filled my prescriptions and called my boss just to warn him that I might be a few minutes late because of having to stop at the pharmacy. I got my prescriptions, went home, grabbed a quick bite to eat and walked to work.
I'd been there for about an hour when my doctor called. The "D-Dimer" test, the test for the presence of a protein that sometimes indicates the presence of a blood clot, was slightly elevated. She'd arranged for me to be admitted immediately into Northwestern Hospital's emergency room,
I was a little stunned. i told her that i was at work and that it might be a couple of hours before I could make it in. She said that a couple of hours would be okay, but no longer.
I talked to my boss, a guy I've worked for for ten years, and told him what had happened. I asked if it was okay to be cut early if it weren't busy. He looked at me incredulously and said "You go now. I'll help out Oscar (the other guy working last night) You need to go to the hospital."
He's a good guy, you might have guessed.
I called Kim, who was just picking Mel up at our friend Wendy's home. She made arrangements for Mel to stay there, and met me at home (I had wanted to change out of my work clothes). She made me pack stuff in case I was there overnight, and we took off for Northwestern Memorial Hospital in downtown Chicago.
My doctor had made arrangements ahead of time. They got my information and I was in there inside of ten minutes.
Over the course of the next couple of hours, I talked to three doctors (two were residents-- Northwestern is a teaching hospital) and two nurses. They took blood samples-- they needed to make sure my kidneys were working all right before giving me the dye for the CT scan they planned on giving me. They gave me an EKG (normal, like the one I'd had in the doctor's office) and a chest x-ray. Finally, I was wheeled in for my CT scan. This gave Kim a chance to run to the cafeteria and grab a sandwich for dinner.
We waited another half hour. I'd fortunately thought to bring a book ("Dream Brother", a great dual biography of father and son musicians Tim and Jeff Buckley). Finally came the news: no blood clot. I was quite relieved, as was Kim.
I got dressed, we stopped by the checkout area, got in the car and went home.
Yesterday, I got up, had breakfast, took the first dose of the prednisone I'll be taking for a week, took the first hit off the albuterol inhaler I'll apparently be using the rest of my life, and drove out to my old high school for my 30 year old transcripts (that's grist for another post).
I got home, took care of some things around the house and picked my stepdaughter up from school. We went to the library, like we do every Tuesday, where I got a call from my doctor. She thanked me for going to the emergency room and confirmed what they'd told me at the hospital.
That was not all, though. She said that through the CT, they'd spotted a hiatal hernia and a cyst on one of my kidneys. I hadn't had any symptoms from either of these (most people don't). Neither of these should pose a problem.
In the meantime, my doctor transferred me to her receptionist, who scheduled me for a follow-up/full physical for next Tuesday (Inauguration Day!).
I'm thankful today for a lot of things. First, that I have a wife who badgered me into going to the doctor-- I'm not sure I would have if she weren't around. Second, that I have medical insurance. This is going to cost plenty even with it. And third, that I finally solved a medical problem that I've had for years. I can finally breath a sigh of relief. Or just breath.