Discharged! ER! Admitted! Stupid lungs

The doctors discharged me on St. Pat’s day. I had a super productive, feel-good-kind of day for about 36 hours, then things began to go downhill. By Friday, I was coughing and felt weak and tired. On Saturday, I spiked another 101 degree fever, and I had shortness of breath just walking across the room.

“Mommy, don’t try to brave this out. Promise me you’ll go to the hospital and get better,” Ethan said as he handed me the thermometer to confirm the fever. “And can I give you a hug?”

(I will ALWAYS take hugs from E. He’s not a super touchy-feely kid, so when he offers, I accept.)

I called the triage nurse who directed me to go the ER. After some blood tests and a CT scan (and a $75 copay), the ER doc dismissed me with a diagnosis of “not quite pneumonia.” She prescribed an oral antibiotic, plus drinking lots of fluids, and she sent me home.

Things just kept going downhill from there. Walking from the couch to the bathroom was a challenge – my heart would race; I couldn’t get my breathing under control; the coughing would start (and not end). I managed to teach my classes on Monday and Tuesday. Since I still didn’t have much of a voice, I modified my presentation and uploaded it to the Internet. Students reviewed it, then I hit the high points in a very condensed lecture. I used the next half hour for students to talk about the examples they brought to class, then we broke into work time for their assignment. I never left the chair at the front of the room, and I didn’t talk too much. Still, I had to rest in my office (across the hall from the classroom) for 20 minutes before I could imagine walking to my car, which was its own challenge.

Tuesday night was awful. I coughed and moaned all night. I couldn’t get comfortable. I couldn’t catch my breath. I was miserable. (And I kept everyone up all night – except Lauren. She slept fine.)

Because of lack of sleep, I stayed in bed on Wednesday morning. I didn’t have to teach until 12:30, so I thought I could get a few more hours rest. Unfortunately, the coughing, the moaning, the racing heart didn’t stop. I just couldn’t get out of bed, but I couldn’t get comfortable. I finally forced myself around 10 – “I’ll just slip on some yoga pants, go to work, teach my one class, and go to the doctor,” I thought. It took me an hour to put on pants, shirt, and socks. I didn’t even mess with makeup or contact lenses or shoes that tie.

My head was a little dizzy, and I was a block or so away from the house when I realized I forgot my office keys on the kitchen counter. I turned the car around. The walk from the garage to the kitchen (maybe 30 steps one way?) caused me to nearly pass out. I called my mom. “I’m going to the ER,” I said. “There’s no way I can get from my car to the office today, let alone actually TEACH a class.”

I sent a quick note canceling my class and then drove the five miles to the hospital. When they took me back to an exam room, my oxygen level was in the low 60s (should be near 100) – and this was after sitting in a wheelchair, waiting, for about 20 minutes. Nothing makes doctors run faster to your room than a dangerously low oxygen level.

The doc was the same one who admitted me the first time a few weeks ago. I repeated my symptoms: shortness of breath, racing heart, coughing without stopping. Within two hours, I was admitted to the hospital again.

So I’m back in the hospital – this time, on oxygen, an oral and IV antibiotic cocktail, breathing treatments that feel like I’m sucking on a leaf blower, and more tests and doctors/specialists. A CT scan yesterday (and compared to Saturday’s) showed “cloudy” lungs, or as my oncologist called it “the look of crushed glass.” This morning, I underwent a bronchoscopy (tube/camera down my nose, through my windpipe and larynx and into my lungs – where the doc injected saline and sucked it back out for testing). The good news: the doc called my windpipe “perfect – exactly how the windpipe of a young person who has never smoked should look.” The bad news: it could be days before the test results are in. It could be an infection, a virus, a fungus, or inflammation. And until they know, they can’t adequately treat it. All they can do is throw a little of everything at it. So far, I’ve had antibiotics that treat MRSA, anthrax, the plague, plus generic bacterial infections. Bases seem to be covered.

I’m still really winded whenever I move – even adjusting blankets in my sleep can cause my oxygen levels to dip below 90 (setting off alarms). Walking to/from the bathroom causes my oxygen levels to drop to the high 70s (setting off alarms and causing nurses to check on me). There’s definitely something going on within my lungs and my body doesn’t like it.

It’s also caused another delay in my chemo treatment. I can’t have my blood counts low from chemo while I’m battling whatever this is. My oncologist was funny as he was delivering the news of the delay. He balled up his fists and pounded them down as he said, “But I love killing cancer, and we know the chemo is killing your cancer. I hate delays, but you need to get better.” He went on to say the docs I have are the same ones who treated a lingering cough he had last month, and that I was in really good hands. The doctor’s doctors? Yes, please.

Another thing that sucks, B had a minor medical procedure today, and I wish I could be with him. But I’m tethered to my oxygen tank and IV tower in the hospital, and he’s stuck on his couch with pain meds and frozen peas. It would just be so nice to curl up next to him…

But I’m here through the weekend, probably Monday at least. I just hope they find something so we can treat it.

Finally, a super big thanks to my friends for getting my computer and grading to me, and for checking on my Thursday classes. I REALLY appreciate good colleagues and friends!

7 thoughts on “Discharged! ER! Admitted! Stupid lungs

  1. I can not begin to imagine how awful it felt to walk around with a pulse ox in the 60’s. Praying for strength, patience and healthy lungs.

    • I was short of breath but not loopy or anything. I didn’t even realize it was my pulse ox making me feel bad these last few days. But, wow, everyone in ER (including my mom) FREAKED out! Now I just need to get it to stay normal all the time (and without oxygen) – or they will never let me leave!

  2. My favorite part of this – your doctor saying, “I love killing cancer!” And E being awesome. Keeping your lungs in my prayers – but not your windpipe. It’s perfect 🙂

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