I’m writing this article as I watch the sunrise over Doylestown, PA from room 2130 of Doylestown Hospital. A nasal cannula pumps oxygen into my body, leads, and wires for a heart monitor in the pocket, an IV port in my right arm, a gorgeous hospital gown wrapped around, with tan booties on my feet, to complete the ensemble.
This wasn’t how I planned for my weekend. I was excited about going to a Pride Fest today as I was to offer vaccinated and masked FREE HUGS and do some networking, listen to music and just have fun in an outdoor setting with people celebrating love in all forms. Some semblance of normalcy since I have missed out on so much of the social interaction that feeds me.
Last weekend, I was with friends at a festival sponsored by a few interfaith communities I am part of. It felt good to be face to face with folks I haven’t seen, in some cases, for nearly two years. It was a hot and humid day and my lungs were telling me, as I was coughing that something was amiss. I had been minimizing the symptoms for months, as my family noticed my flagging energy, low stamina, and breathlessness as I pushed my grandson in his stroller. We took a family vacation to Rehoboth Beach, DE the week of the 4th of July and I needed to lean on the conveyance to remain upright. My grandson’s 1 1/2-year-old birthday party was held a few weeks ago since when he turned one in January, we had a small party with just the immediate family, with others joining us via Zoom. My sister was there and she immediately noticed my distress. Not too difficult for her to see the symptoms since she herself is a cardio-pulmonary patient.
They all said I needed to see my team of docs. I had a cardiologist appointment scheduled for an annual checkup that I missed last year because of the pandemic. It has been seven years since a heart attack changed my life indelibly in ways both limiting and positive since it stripped the layers off of the deeply embedded workaholism that plagued me long before the physical symptoms. My attitude was “Yeah, yeah, yeah, I’ll take care of it,” as I do with most things as I had to keep on keepin’ on with my schedule of seeing clients via telehealth, writing articles, doing PR and marketing, and time with my grandson. I also took time to work out daily in my living room, albeit not as rigorously in the gym that I quit since the pandemic began. I tell myself, that something is better than nothing. I haven’t been able to walk outside as much because of the heat and the poor air quality blamed on the climate crisis although the mask helps somewhat.
The alarm bells were ringing and I put them on snooze until I could no longer ignore them. I had a telehealth appointment with my PA (Physician Assistant) who put me on a course of Z-pack antibiotics for what sounded like a bronchial infection that I have had off and on over the years. It helped a bit, but then the symptoms exacerbated until this past Friday night I was doing my typical tug of war dialog with myself about going to the ER. I had been taking over-the-counter cough syrup, drinking copious amounts of water, sucking on lozenges throughout the day since I talk for a living, and found coughing triggered. I had a vaporizer running all night sending steam through my bedroom. I figured I could tough it out and it would eventually subside. Yeah, right. It’s not what I would advise anyone to do, and yet…
I headed to the living room to sleep in the recliner in an upright position to make my breathing easier, ending up watching re-runs of Golden Girls. Long about 5 a.m. I made the call to the ER asking if it was busy, figuring that if I had to wait, I would rather do it from home. I took a shower and packed my briefcase with what I thought I would need for an overnight stay in case they decided to admit me, took a shower, and then, just as I had seven years earlier, I drove myself to the hospital which is about 15 minutes away. I had checked my pulse ox and was reassured that it was ranging from 94-98. I got halfway there and found myself in a full-blown panic attack as my breathing diminished dramatically. I felt as if my lungs were accordion bellows that couldn’t expand to full capacity. I kept pressing on, parked the car, and stumbled into the ER, barely able to get the words out, instead, pointing to a wheelchair for the security guard to tumble me into. He pushed it in as I squeezed out the words, “I can barely breathe.” Instead of going through triage, I was wheeled back and in a flash, I was surrounded by staff who got an oxygen mask on my face, an IV line in my arm, and a gown on my body. Within moments, nausea and lightheadedness subsided and my breathing eased. My O2 saturation was an alarming 82 at that point.
A few minutes later, a swab was inserted in my nostrils as a COVID test was done. It was nowhere near the intrusive experience I had heard about. An hour later, I received the reassuring news that I tested negative. I then contacted my son and daughter-in-law, sister, cousin, and a dear friend to let them know I was here and to inform them of the test results. I had been vaccinated since February and have worn a mask with few exceptions since then but know that there have been breakthrough cases. I prayed I wouldn’t be one of them, not only for my own well-being but that of my loved ones.
My sister had encouraged me to explore the possibility, that I, like her have COPD. Once I was nestled in my bed upstairs, a pulmonary specialist delivered the lovely news in the form of a pamphlet with those letters across it. Most of it talked about the primary source of the disease–smoking. I never smoked, but for 14 years I had worked in psychiatric and addiction treatment settings where my patients did and then would come into my office with smoke on their clothes and hair. 14 years of absorbing the toxins that they willingly put in their bodies but I didn’t. It was not part of my job description but here we are. While I was working at the hospital I joined some of my colleagues in petitioning for a smoke-free campus. It didn’t happen while I worked there but their website indicates that they have changed their policy.
My initial reaction was anger. I was pissed! I needed to allow for those feelings since I often avoid fully acknowledging that emotion. No spiritual bypassing here. I did get into prayer mode, asking to be able to integrate this new diagnosis into my life. There will be ongoing medical intervention, and change in diet, incorporating meditation, making accommodations as I heed the messages my body has been hammering at me to listen to. I am looking into natural remedies as well, throwing the whole shebang at it.
While here, I got into conversation with two wonderful nurses who took good care of me both physically and emotionally. I told them about what I do and asked them how they were holding up given that they have been treating patients who have either survived or died from COVID. One shared a story of being with a 50-year-old at the end of her life with her family members witnessing her passing via technology. I know that this woman had an angel beside her when she died. This experience will remain etched in her memory forever. The other nurse expressed her sense of fatigue and frustration as she spoke of people who still refused to believe that the vaccine could have prevented their hospitalization and that this whole thing wasn’t overblown or about government control or any number of talking points. The reality is, their dismissal of the severity of this disease that doesn’t give a sh*t who you voted for, where you live, your age, pre-existing condition or lack thereof, your socio-economic background. It is an equal opportunity life interrupter and these medical professionals bear witness to the impact. Please listen to the people on the frontlines who know the reality of the pandemic. These people were touted as heroes last year. They are still and the best spokespeople for what its like to care for people with COVID.
When I first came into the ER and the oxygen mask was placed on my face, I still couldn’t suck in enough air and the panic continued. A thought that came to me is that if this is how I felt, imagine what it is like for a COVID patient who needed to be intubated. I pray that neither I, nor anyone else I know would find ourselves in that situation.
I have to admit a bit of fear and all the ‘what if’s’ arise. What if I can’t keep up my routine? What if I don’t have the stamina that I once did? What if I have to change my diet so dramatically that eating will become boring and routine? I don’t know the prognosis. Hopefully, it is early stage and can be easily managed. More than fearing death, I fear being incapacitated.
I will do my best to integrate this new diagnosis into my life. The biggest challenge was offered to me by my mentor, Dr. Yvonne Kaye who admonished me, “It’s all about Edie.” Don’t worry about anybody else right now. Not your clients, not your family, not your friends. Let people do things for you.” She told me, as did my son and cousin that I should have called them to take me to the hospital. I didn’t want to disturb them in the middle of the night. I didn’t want to call an ambulance unnecessarily, and I didn’t want to alarm my neighbors as the rig would have pulled up to my house, lights flashing. This is yet another wake-up call. I hope I heed it.
Waiting for the pulmonary doc to come in. About to start my breathing treatment. Here’s to healthy lungs!
This post is republished on Medium.
If you believe in the work we are doing here at The Good Men Project and want a deeper connection with our community, please join us as a Premium Member today.
Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS. Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
stock photo ID: 2018659952