Tuesday, May 15, 2007
Okay, most of you probably don't know that over the past week or so I have slowly lost my ability to move without losing all ability to breath properly. It started slowly and then became debilitating over a few days. I tried to just let it pass, at first, but it became apparent that I was becoming seriously compromised when I would have to crawl through the door of the apartment after climbing the steps, and lie for about 15 minutes recovering, panting, coughing, and panicking. I am in great shape from walking dogs and I climb stairs on a regular basis, so to become crippled like this was very shocking.
I finally made an appointment with a doctor. I was worried about this because I am foreign and have no insurance, but I was taken in with no qualms, as long as I paid cash, which ended up being surprisingly less-expensive than any American doctor I had ever seen.
I don't actually see a lot of doctors in my life because I am lucky to be really healthy, but for the times I have had to go to the hospital, I have never been able to pay the hundreds and hundreds of dollars charged for making me wait for hours, then sending me home with nothing but a prescription that I can't afford on top of the bill.
Still, my first doctor visit revealed nothing to the doctor as I showed nothing visually as symptoms, except that my breathing was labored and short. He checked my lungs with a stethoscope and said whatever I had would pass. He then set me up with a prescription for something related to asthma relief.
As soon as I got the medication I took it, especially since the doctor and pharmacist insisted it would have me feeling better within 10 minutes! I was thrilled! All I had to do was crack this pill inside some kind of inhaler, breathe in (which was very difficult to do), and I was set! I took the medicine and went on my merry way to see Jip's play that evening, thinking I was going to be well in no time.
Ten minutes passed and nothing was better.
I took another dosage, thinking I may have done it wrong the first time since I couldn't really breathe in that easily.
I got to Jip's area of town where the play was and realized I was in worse shape than I had been the entire time. I had to turn around and go right back home, but not before forcing myself to buy groceries for our hopeful dinner together and then standing and staring up at the glass-enclosed space where I knew his play was being performed, seeing people milling about, and wishing so desperately to be better so I wouldn't miss his play. I hated having to go back home... but it was a good thing I did.
Except, since I thought I may have taken the first and second doses incorrectly, I went ahead and took TWO MORE, because the prescription was for 4 pills a day, and I was now certain I should be taking them all at once. (Language barriers can leave you with a lot of confusion in some situations -- okay, leave ME with a lot of confusion.)
For the next two days, I lay in misery, shakes, breathless, and feverish, dehydrated, and with one of the worst headaches I have ever had, some of it from whatever I had as an illness, and the rest brought on by the overdose of the medication.
Jip made another doctor appointment for me on a day when he could go with me so he could push any issues using Dutch, if he had to. He totally had my back, and was all puffed up and ready to fight for me if I wasn't taken seriously. Adorable! Adorable, I say!
The doctor asked a few questions, which I wheezed through, and he finally commented, "well, you do look rather sick now, compared to last time." He still just kind of stared at me and shrugged his shoulders, suggesting he had no idea what it was. I suggested that I might have a pneumonia that would require an X-ray to diagnose, and he obliged us with an appointment at the hospital. I don't know what he would have said if I hadn't suggested this, but it seemed to me that he would have been pretty clueless. That's been my experience with most doctors, though: I am the one who tells them what I have, and not the other way around.
Jip escorted me to the hospital, which took a lot of time and effort as I could barely move or breathe, but we got there. We found the X-ray section and didn't wait long, getting my X-rays within minutes, and having the technician come out shortly after... but during those minutes of waiting, Jip and I started running all kinds of crazy thoughts through our heads in worst-case scenarios, catching ourselves, and then trying to keep our spirits up.
This was all made worse when the technician came out and said that what he could see was not normal and that he needed others to check the images before he could tell us what to do.
So now Jip and I are in slight panics, with even some choked-back tears, and "we shouldn't be thinking like this" moments.
And then the tech came out and said that it was advised we get to the emergency room right away, based on what was being seen in the images. Jip tried to press for what was wrong, and the tech just said, "If the infiltrate is small, it will be okay, but if it's big, it will be serious." He couldn't explain to us what "infiltrate" meant in medical terms, so we just hurried on to the emergency room. Well, I hobbled meaningfully in that direction.
As we finally entered the emergency room and took a seat, Jip commented that in emergency rooms, only those with serious emergencies get called in before others, so as long as we weren't being called, that was a good sign.
We got called upon immediately.
We were led to a room where I was questioned about my previous health history, had all of my vitals checked, gave blood for testing, and then a doctor spoke to me about the situation.
She basically said that there was definitely an infection in my lungs, but they needed to know what kind of infection so they could properly recommend treatment. In the meantime, she had a lot of questions about my experience with the development of the symptoms, and the scariest part was asking if I was HIV+, because "we usually don't see this kind of infection outside of those with seriously-compromised immune systems." I didn't want to get into a huge debate about the lack of science behind HIV testing and the whole AIDS theory, but I told her I hadn't been tested in a long time. Of course, this sent Jip and I into new territories of fear and anxiety as we were now left to wait for the blood tests. The only thing of which we were assured, and this was because Jip made sure he asked anyone who might have an answer, was that I would not be dying that day.
So Jip and I waited, and waited, and waited, and the anxiety levels peaked and then fell away to exhaustion and restlessness...
The doctor finally called on us and Jip and I were taken into a room for discussion. I was intuitively feeling pretty good about everything in general, but it is amazing how much fear can cloud your senses as it tries to prepare you for the worst threats you can think of.
I told I was going to be fine... that my vitals were all great, my blood sugar was balanced, my oxygen in my blood is healthy, and my blood was free from any immuno-deficiencies. In other words, I was perfectly healthy, except for what I had... which turned out to be "atypical pneumonia," though a rare strain, according to the doctor. Atypical Pneumonia is often called WALKING Pneumonia, since it shows very little symptoms, sometimes not even showing in X-rays.
I was given a prescription for 7 days of Antibiotics for treatment, with the assurance that it should knock it out within those 7 days. YAY!!! And even though I was just diagnosed with a potentially-deadly disease, I felt such relief! Not only from the fact that I think this will pass easily now that I have something specific to treat, and it will be treated properly, but also because of all of the good health feedback!
I have rarely had to go to the doctor in my life, except in some rare emergencies, so I have been really lucky, and I have given a lot of trust to my body and intuition in my life, but I knew I needed to see a doctor this time, and it was great to hear some validation of my little body's health... poor little thing, dragging me around all day the way it does.
Oh, and one of the fun parts of the day for Jip, of course, was getting to see me squirm, shirtless and shy, twice today, as I got examined. I normally hate being exposed and I had to be all cool and calm and let Jip just get his eye-full of candy before I finally had to just tell him to stop staring. Here I am, wheezing and folded and having no strength to even try to be sexy, but somehow I guess it still comes through... even as I have pneumonia. I really wanted to hate that I was being exposed like that, but there was something just as healing in that exposure as there was in the feedback about my good health.
Thanks to everyone who has sent support, love, donations, and healing my way. This illness has taken a toll in a lot of ways, so your help is really appreciated. Thanks to my dear friends for being so concerned about me and wishing to be with me by my side as I deal with this, and I am so sorry I am so far away.
And thank you to Jip, who has gone above and beyond in taking care of me and making sure I am treated properly. Seriously, I would not have been able to be helped today, if not for him, so send Jip a LOT of love.
I love you, Jip. There, I said it.
The following is a surprise video Jip made of me after our long day at the hospital, walking on the subway platform, and in between breathing attacks... we were so relieved at this point.