"I don't feel well this morning. I feel the way you feel before you get really, really sick. My chest is heavy." It was very early in the work day and I was speaking to a fellow supervisor who replied that, she too, did not feel "good at all". The morning droned on, as typical work days tend to do.
I had some errands to run at lunch and was at my local grocery store when the pain came. It was a weight on my chest like I had never felt before. I felt light-headed and weak and my breathing was labored. I left my cart (something I would normally never, ever do) and shuffled to my car. As bad as I felt, I went back to work to sign out and tell my supervisor that I was heading to the Emergency Room. Yes, I was that scared. The pain was great, but the fear was greater. I had never felt this way before and was convinced that I had to be experiencing a heart attack. I checked myself into the ER and was quickly taken to a room. Things moved a bit slower after that. I must have gotten a "newbie" tech because she tried for over an hour to draw blood. Every time the doctor or nurse stopped in to see how I was doing, they were surprised that she had been unable to get blood, yet not until significant time had passed, did a different nurse offer to poke and prod at my non-cooperative veins. The blood work looked good and my blood pressure came down. A bit of nitroglycerin was applied to my chest, but I was given Ativan at almost the same time and I couldn't be sure which had helped to relieve the pressure. A friend arrived to sit with me and I felt much better just knowing someone was there to call my son, should there be a major development. When initially examining me, the ER doctor told me that a chest x-ray would be taken. I remember a technician coming in to perform it, but the nurse was still working on getting blood and told him to come back later. Later never happened. Also, when a nurse listened to my chest and told me to take deep breaths, she admonished me "Not THAT deep of a breath...you're wheezing!" At one point I asked a nurse if she thought I needed a breathing treatment and was summarily dismissed. After a stay of several hours, I was released, but told to take it easy (no work) and see my cardiologist a few days later.
When I saw my cardiologist on Monday, he performed a couple of tests and decreed that he saw no problems, but he wanted to perform a stress test just to be on the safe side. He also listened to my chest, but to be fair, he was listening to my heart and not my lungs. I was to have the stress test the following morning. However, I began feeling worse and worse upon arriving home and called to cancel. I was finally starting to figure out that I was very, very sick. I wasn't sure in what way, but I knew that I couldn't get on a treadmill. It seemed I was growing weaker by the hour.
I called my general practitioner the following morning and was able to be seen right away. I explained everything to him and told him that I honestly did not even want to come to his office; I just wanted to go to bed and sleep. He listened to my lungs and promptly diagnosed me with pneumonia. I was a bit shocked, but at the same time I felt vindicated to know that I wasn't imagining how terribly bad I felt. I was prescribed a hefty antibiotic and cough medicine, along with instructions to rest, rest, rest, and not return to work until the following Monday. I asked him if he thought a breathing treatment would help and he replied that was "a good idea". However, his nurses had gone to lunch so I was to return for it the following day.
Back at home, I quickly set up a "sick bay" in my small living room. I had just bought a new Crock-Pot and the box became my trash can. Cough drops, tissues, my inhaler, lip balm, and hand lotion littered my coffee table. I slept and slept and rested and rested and slept some more. Friends delivered fresh bread, juice, casseroles, and soup. I attempted to sound normal when called to answer work-related questions, but in truth, I was so wiped out, I probably didn't make a whole lot of sense. As the days wore on, I could tell I was recovering, but I was still physically exhausted.
On the Monday that I was to return to work, I instead went back to my doctor. I explained that I had zero energy and did not feel anywhere near up to par. He spent several minutes detailing a link between pneumonia and depression, something I REALLY, REALLY didn't want to hear at that point. Finally, he decided that blood work, a lung function test, and chest x-ray were in order. I was to return the following morning for the lung function test and was to go to the hospital for the x-ray. The following morning I reported to the doctor's office for my lung function test. It did not go well and it turns out that my x-ray didn't look so hot, either. I was told that my diagnosis was downgraded from pneumonia to bronchitis, but that I was still very sick, complete with inflamed, fluid filled lungs, and decreased oxygen levels. The doctor said that I needed ANOTHER week off work and more rest. Again, I felt a bit vindicated because I KNEW I was far from feeling 100 percent well.
This is far from a humorous blog post and the main reason I took the time to write it was to remind my readers that we HAVE to be advocates for our health. I knew the hospital forgot to take a chest x-ray when I was in the ER, but I failed to speak up. It may have saved me several days of recovery, had I reminded them. I SHOULD have known something was amiss when the nurse told me to "Stop taking such deep breaths, you're wheezing!" Even my primary care doctor, who finally determined I had pneumonia, thought it was a "good idea" when I asked for a breathing treatment and was ready to dismiss my claim that I did not feel healed with a diagnosis of depression.
So please, please...take a stand for your health. You may be just one of a parade of patients to a doctor, but you are everything to many. You are loved, valuable, and needed. Listen to your inner voice, speak up, and ask questions. Your very life may depend on it.