Hello again! I've not been able to make any yoga classes since last time. Instead, I learned for the first time just how my body has been affected by the way I have treated it.
It started innocently enough. Almost two weeks ago, I woke up about 2 AM with a sneezing fit and draining sinuses. It subsided shortly thereafter and I went back to sleep. A few hours later, at work, I started to feel a tickle in my throat along with a dry cough. My boss had suffered from something similar and said I might need to get it checked. I went to the clinic (not having a primary physician) and they diagnosed Bronchitis, gave me meds (antibiotic and steroids), and sent me home. The next day I felt OK until dinnertime, when my breathing became more labored, with a distinct wheeze. Back to the clinic, where they said I had strep throat, gave me a stronger antibiotic, a steroid shot, and a breathing treatment, and sent me home.
Then came the third day.
I had the day off, and I pretty much stayed in bed all day. I wasn't feeling horrible, but I wasn't feeling better. I went to pick up Sweetie from work, but I stayed in the car while waiting for her because I felt weak. When we got home, I sat down on the couch and tried to catch my breath. No good. Hit my rescue inhaler. Nada. Hit the inhaler again. This isn't working. I start to panic. I get Sweetie and she sees my discomfort. She is asking me what to do but I have difficulty answering. I dropped to my knees, trying to rally and just get one deep breath. My panic worsens and I feel myself sweating uncontrollably. I manage to tell her, "You better call an ambulance." She does and I am still on my knees trying to calm myself down.
It seemed like forever for the medics to arrive. When they did, they checked my oxygen saturation level. It was 85 (should be 97 or better). They gave me a treatment but it didn't help. Things got worse when they helped me onto the stretcher. I felt like I was suffocating and went into a full-blown panic. I even got out of the stretcher for a second so I could try and catch my breath. I laid back down and then everything went dark for a bit. The next thing I knew, I was still in the ambulance and I had a full mask on and oxygen was being forced into my lungs. I don't remember the IV stick being put in my left hand, but I do remember someone asking me to open my mouth and keep something under my tongue without swallowing ( I later found out it was not one but two tablets of nitro-glycerin ). Next thing I knew, I was in ER and hooked up to another machine that helped me breathe. There was another IV rig in my other hand. I remember talking to the ER doctor, x-rays being taken, and lots of blood drawn. As I became more aware of my surroundings, Sweetie arrived and sat beside me ( stayed beside me every step of the way ). In the next treatment area, I could hear people working on a man who had apparently suffered a stroke.
I hadn't been a patient in a hospital since I was born -- in the very hospital I was in now. To say I was scared would be an understatement, to say the least. I was terrified. After a couple of hours I was calmer and the breathing machine was discontinued, but I remained on oxygen. The tests slowly came back. The doctor came back with good news: the blood tests were all coming back good. The X-ray showed no pneumonia but quite a lot of chest congestion -- I was diagnosed as having acute bronchitis brought on by COPD (Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disorder -- a direct function of my smoking habit). I was told that I would be admitted for a day or two with lots of breathing treatments, antibiotics, and more steroids.
I thought, "OK, not so bad. Could have been worse."
Then the doctor said, "There is more." I went cold.
"We did find damage in the bottom lobes of your lungs from your smoking. This makes your heart have to work harder to oxygenate your cells, and there is some weakness in the right side of your heart." I went colder and looked over to Sweetie, who was shaken as well.
"Now the good news is this: IF you stop smoking NOW, within two years you can still undo most of this damage. Your lungs will be almost as good as any non-smoker. But, you must stop now."
Understand, I have always known the risks. However, I always felt like such things wouldn't really happen to me. I would know when I needed to quit. I mean, I've never had to go to the hospital for anything. I could always just stop and things would take care of themselves.
Now, I understand. As I lay in bed that first night, unable to sleep, it finally sank in: I'm 45 years old. I'm not bulletproof. I simply cannot continue to hurt my body like this. I have no choice but to choose a healthier way of life. If not, I won't be here. At all. I've got things I want to do, to accomplish, to be a part of. Hard to do if I am an invalid. Or dead.
It was the longest 40 hours of my life. Sweetie was an absolute gem throughout. My boss was kind enough to grant me vacation time so we didn't have to worry about losing income. Of course, we will have to see just how much this little escapade has cost, once the hospital and insurance company have settled. Cost doesn't matter -- this episode has already changed two lives. Not only mine (obviously), but Sweetie's son -- he witnessed that crazy night and has said he would quit smoking as well. I took my ID bracelet from the hospital and put it in my wallet in front of my license so it is always in sight. That way, if I feel like buying a pack of smokes, that reminder will be right there for me. I don't think that will be a problem though. All I have to do is look at my phone and this picture:
I have no desire to return to that bed. Ever.