I did not expect yesterday to go quite the way it did.
Sometime Wednesday afternoon I had started feeling some mild pain in my chest, a sort of tightness that felt like an asthma attack. I tried my inhalers, but they didn’t help very much. Thursday morning, I woke up feeling off enough that I took my temperature. I discovered that I had a mild fever – 99.3, barely even enough to qualify as a fever. I went to work anyway; as the site director, I have a hard time taking time off, partially because we’re understaffed and partially because I can be a bit of a control freak. I figured I would just wait and see how I felt later, thinking maybe I wasn’t so much feverish as overheated from too many covers.
At Cho’s recommendation (she’s a CNA, you know : ), I picked up some Mucinex on my way home from the morning shift and took that with some ibuprofen, hoping that would be the end of it. I settled in for a morning of napping and generally taking it easy. Unfortunately, by the time I ate lunch my fever was slightly higher and my chest wasn’t feeling any better, so I called my doctor to see if I should bother going in. The response was, “Get your butt in here now.” I had asked my assistant to get to the site early to open things up just in case, so I figured I would have time for a quick visit to grab a prescription without being late to pick up the older kids from their school.
Those of you more experienced with being sick may be laughing at me right now, but my plan almost worked. I went in, they said I didn’t sound too congested, and gave me a nebulizer treatment. The nebulizer didn’t feel like it did anything, but I was on my way out the door with enough time to get to work. I figured the medicine might just take a minute to kick in. This is, actually, exactly what happened. As I was waiting in line to check out, I started having trouble getting any air. My vision started to get fuzzy around the edges and my body decided that standing was no longer a viable option. I crumpled to the floor, gasping and wheezing, undoubtedly making the situation worse for myself because it scared the living daylights out of me. I could not get enough air.
In seconds, the office staff had me in a wheelchair and had called an ambulance. As I struggled to give them the phone numbers I needed them to call (starting with my boss, since it was suddenly obvious that I was not making it into work), my fingers were numb and I was crying out of panic because I couldn’t breathe. They gave me a cup of water and sat with me, though, and by the time the (fairly cute) EMTs arrived, I was feeling significantly better and a bit silly for causing such a fuss. No matter, they said – I was going in for tests anyway.
The only positive thing about the next five hours was the fact that I had brought my Kindle with me to the doctor’s office, anticipating a bit of a wait. I spent a vast amount of time waiting, which gave me a chance to dig into War and Peace, as I’ve been meaning to do for about six months. (Tolstoy is brilliant, I love his work, but he’s not exactly easy reading before bed, is he?) When I first arrived, four different people surrounded me to get information from me. I told the slightly embarrassing story of my collapse about half a dozen times as I was stickered (for the second time, as the EMTs also did this) for an EKG, prodded for blood samples (also twice, as the first batch the phlebotomist took hematized or hemolyzed or something), imposed upon for a urine sample, and hooked up to oxygen. After a good dose of ibuprofen and about twenty minutes of oxygen, I felt almost as good as new and extremely silly for ending up in the hospital. I couldn’t possibly be that sick, right?
After an hour or so of waiting alone in the room, someone took me for a ride to get an x-ray, which also made me feel silly. I really could have walked, no problem, or even gotten myself into a wheelchair, but no. They had me stay on the movable bed, which is not exactly the most inconspicuous contraption to navigate through crowded and busy halls. I started feeling nervous as I was sitting waiting for the x-ray technician. The lights were very low in that part of the hospital and the halls felt deserted. As I sat there in my johnny trying to focus on figuring out the French bits in my book, I felt like a test subject in some alien lab.
The x-ray eventually came back clean, but my lab work had turned up some slightly elevated indicator that suggested I might have a pulmonary embolism. They assured me that such an outcome was unlikely, given my age and health, but they still sent me in for a contrastive CAT scan to be safe. John was there by that point, making phone calls to work for me to check in because my cell didn’t work in the hospital room, but that fact only made me feel slightly better when I saw the sci-fi looking environment that is a CAT scan lab. It could have been worse, I suppose, but that is an experience I can happily live without repeating, thank you very much.
Then we waited. And waited. John went to find me some food (hospital roast beef and potatoes leave a lot to be desired, but it took the edge off the hunger) and we called my mom. The nurse came in to take my temperature from time to time with one of those very cool thermometers that you rub across the forehead and neck quickly. I spent a lot of time focusing on my temperature (it was the most knowable piece of data for me to hold on to in a fairly unnerving situation), so I can tell you that my recorded temperatures for the day went like this: 99.3, 97.14, 99.37, 98.6, 100.5, 99.8, and an hour ago, 101.49. The fever is why I’m up writing at three in the morning – I’m too uncomfortable to sleep at the moment.
Finally, as John was moving his car into the long-term parking to avoid a ticket, the doctor came in and told me that I did not have a pulmonary embolism but that I did have a touch of pneumonia. Not enough of a pneumonia to be picked up by the x-ray, but enough for the CAT scan to show it. That, he assured me, was quite treatable with a course of antibiotics and was able to explain all of the symptoms I had experienced and all of the minor irregularities in my lab results. Without further ado, they popped out my IV lead (which they also had to stick me for twice, as one of my veins is apparently only deceptively large), let me get dressed, and sent me on my way with a prescription.
At the moment, I feel much worse than I did yesterday when I went into the doctor’s office. The sweating that accompanies a fever is quite gross and I suppose it will take a bit for me to start feeling the effect of the antibiotics in my chest. Nevertheless, I feel much better mentally because I know why I feel so bad, I know what to do about it, and I know it will eventually go away. As my nurse pointed out, and as I think one can find evidence for back to the earliest moments of recorded history, nothing is more terrifying than the unknown monsters lurking in the dark. To know the monster you must fight is to break much of its power over you, so to speak.
So that is the detailed account of what happened to me yesterday and I hope you’ll forgive my writing. It’s 3:38 a.m. and I’m running a fever, so I’m due a bit of a break, right? : )