Monday, April 6, 2009

My Downward Spiral Into Probably Fatal Lung Disease, or Maybe Just Self-Pity

I learned a new word today: spirometer. Those of you with lung disease or asthma will know what I'm talking about. It's a device to measure the amount of air you can push out of your lungs in one deep breath.

As you may be tired of hearing, I have been having a little trouble in the lung department ever since my overly generous son A. Peevie shared his flu with me three weeks ago. My illness developed into bronchitis that makes my chest feel like a prop on Million Dollar Baby. You know, a punching bag. Did I really need to explain that?

I've been calling my doctor about every four or five days, complaining about the cough and the chest pain, and she keeps telling me it's a virus, it's going to take time, chillax, mon. I bullied her into giving me some prescription cough medicine the first week, and the second week she finally gave up some antibiotics.

(BTW, this is my normal MO with doctors. You can't just take their word for stuff, and wait for them to give you what you think you need. You need to be proactive and assertive. Essentially, you need to manage your own health care--and, IMHO, a good doctor will listen to you, and encourage this kind of participation in your own health care management. Sermon over.)

But four days after starting the antibiotics, I was still feeling the hurt, still making myself puke with coughing fits that made people in the grocery store herd their children away from me because I was probably contaminated with an airborne bio-agent that would soon be sweeping the country.

I called her AGAIN, thinking maybe this time, she'd take pity on me and pull the plug. But no. "More waiting" was her prescription, although she did offer to write me an order for a chest X-ray if I wanted one.

"If I want one?" I said. "What does that mean, if I want one? I'm not the doctor here. What I want is to know what's going on. What I want is to get better. Are you recommending that I get a chest X-ray? Do you think I need one?"

No, she said, your lungs sound clear and I don't think you have pneumonia. But if you want a chest X-ray to rule it out, I'll give it to you. Well, I didn't want to pay the co-pay for an unnecessary chest X-ray, so I said I'd wait it out.

But a few days later my friend Roseanne gets on my case, along with a bunch of my other friends, telling me stories about people dying from not taking care of their coughs, and she made me promise that I'd get an X-ray Monday if my chest still hurt and I was still coughing.

So, still coughing, still clutching my achy-breaky chest like Jack Bauer after dying from too much torture and being brought back to life with an adrenaline shot and electric heart-starting paddles (24: Season 1), I called my doc, but ended up seeing her on-call colleague, Dr. Kim. She listened to my lungs from about 25 different spots on my chest, sides, back, thighs and butt, and said they sounded clear.

Then she pulled out the magical measurer of lung function, the spirometer. "Take a deep breath, put your lips around the tube, and breathe out as much as you can," she said. I did so, and the little red marker on the spirograph barely moved.

I looked guiltily at Dr. Kim. Dr. Kim looked at the red marker, looked at me, and looked back at the red marker. "Are you even alive?" she said, hilariously. "Try again." The marker had gone up to about 200, and according to Dr. Kim, a woman of my age and height should easily push that marker up to 450 or 500.

The next time it hit 280, and then 230. "Let me try again," I said, feeling my competitive spirit kick in, "This feels like a test I'm flunking." This time it was 220. There is no fooling the spirometer.

What does it all mean? I've been doing research on spirometry, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), asthma, and bronchitis, but I'm not ready to propose a firm diagnosis. No one really knows what's going on, but before I go for the promised chest X-ray, I'm starting a week of tapering steroids to chase the suspected inflammation away.

Oh, goodie: steroids. Those immuno-suppressing, face-puffing-up, rage-inducing clever little pills. Everybody better stay the hell out of my way.

Oh, and happy Holy Week!


Anonymous said...

I hope you're feeling better. I have asthma and it's a miserable feeling - I think it's like trying to breathe through a straw - while you're running.

Congratulations about the steriods (ha ha). If you're lucky you'll puff up so much people will think you've gained weight. They'll say, "Hiii, you look different, I can't put my finger on it" or maybe you'll get a comment I once did (it wasn't steriods it was actual extra weight) "You look better with more weight on you." Oh, thanks.

E. Peevie said...

After one day of steroids, I can already feel the difference. I woke up NOT coughing this morning, and took a deep breath for the first time in three plus weeks.

I love steroids.

Thanks for your good wishes. Your story about the people who say you look somehow different reminds me of the Viagra commercials where the guy is all happy because he finally got laid, but people at work are like, oh, did you get a new haircut? You seem taller! Did you shave your beard? HA!

Anonymous said...

Yes, I did need to be explained about the Million Dollar Baby Punching Bag. (Make a note for future not-so-subtle explanations to accompany your posts).

I awoke this morning with a raging chest / head cold after hanging out with you and the "Holy Grils" (i.e., crazy group) last night. I didn't catch that from you, did I? Probably not.


E. Peevie said...

Buckminster--glad I sourced the punching bag metaphor for you. And I am confident that you did not catch your raging disease from me because a) i'm sure it needed to incubate for more than 10 hours and b) I'm post AB and no longer contagious, according to my doc.

But I'm sorry you're sick. Please stay away from me.