pneumonia ain’t puny

I guess I should feel fortunate for having so much to blog about lately, but this? Not worth it. Here’s the rundown of the past few days, for those who need an update or are totally out of the loop. (Sorry to that last group, by the way—typing more than 140 characters has been hard enough, but talking has been darn near impossible.)

It all started Friday after my insane shopping spree at Eddie Bauer, in which I managed to spend $400 on mostly casual clothing. Then the universe responded with, “Hey, that was a mistake—I think $400 would be better spent on medical bills!” (Because the universe is a jerk; God isn’t.) Sometime in the afternoon, the pain in my neck started. Felt like someone had two fingers pressed deep into my esophagus so I had to swallow around them, like a constant lump in my throat. No soreness or heartburn pain—just an obstacle.

Being so rarely sick, I knew something was amiss by bedtime Friday. The chills had started, as well as the dizziness and fatigue. I went to sleep presuming flu and cursing the co-worker who said I’d be a fool not to get a flu shot, since it was free. If I fell ill after skipping the shot, he said, the company would frown on my need to miss work. Shaking my fist in his general direction (west) I fell asleep.

I awoke at 6 a.m. Saturday with a pounding headache (again, odd for me). I rose, took Tylenol, drank some water and returned to bed… until 4 p.m. I was so tired, it didn’t even faze me to sleep that long. I barely stirred for the total of 15 hours I slumbered on Saturday. After waking, my symptoms were the same: lightheadedness, hot/cold spells—plus a few new body aches to accompany the headache. Dennis and I talked on the phone till 2 a.m., then I managed to fall asleep again.

When I stirred at 6:30 a.m. Sunday, my initial thought was, “Of course, I was comatose all of Saturday. No way I could stay asleep long after that.” Then I noticed a sharp, terrible pain in my right side. Somehow I thought I could roll over and go back to sleep, but after two hours of fruitless efforts, I gave up and struggled out of bed. More painkillers down the hatch and I shuffled around trying to start my day. The pain did not subside, but it was only about a 4/10 at that point. The other symptoms persisted at their previous minor levels. I still assumed flu, thinking perhaps the body aches had concentrated themselves in a central location under my ribs. Or maybe I had pulled a muscle during my sleep marathon, caused some sort of trauma of the bed-ridden.

After noon, I was still on painkillers and attempting to enjoy an episode of SpongeBob on Nickelodeon (go-to when sick). The pain in my side began to worsen. I had tears in my eyes from the pain, so I decided it was time to call the free health coach hotline associated with my insurance. The nurse on the other end of the line catalogued my symptoms and suggested I visit urgent care or the emergency room, as it seemed serious enough for one of those options. I bit my lip, called my landlady and asked where the nearest urgent care center was. She came home from Panera, picked me up and took me there herself. I was a pretty sad sack at that point, still hoping I had the flu, stumbling around gripping my rib cage.

Urgent care was ineffective at best. They did perform a flu test and a strep test: both negative. They took urine and blood, but said everything was normal. Based on the location of the pain, the doctor suggested a possible gall bladder issue—namely gall stones. She provided a list of recommended gastroenterologists and sent me on my way. She said to avoid Tylenol and go to the ER if the pain worsened.

I returned home, took more painkillers (sooo many painkillers the past few days… ugh!) and sat around for a bit. When 5:30 rolled around, I felt improved enough to go to Mass, so off I went. My last painkiller dose was at 5:00 and it lasted until about 6:30, halfway through the service. I was cringing in pain when I left the church and called my mom from the parking lot, telling her I was going straight to the ER instead of returning home. The hurt was worse, I was worried about something of great urgency that would burst in the night and cause permanent harm.

The ER was ineffective as well, all 5 hours I spent there. They did an ultrasound and saw no abnormalities with the gall bladder. Additional bloodwork showed slightly raised white counts (urgent care said they were normal that afternoon) so the nurse practitioner ordered a CT scan to look for an infection. Apparently they looked only at the minor urinary tract infection that they’d already identified, persumably from my urine test. So the CT scan was otherwise uninformative. They sent me off with a week’s prescription for antibiotics and nothing to do for the pain aside from avoiding Tylenol.

I headed home at midnight, Dennis keeping me company on the phone, though talking, laughing and breathing all required great labor and were accompanied by at least some pain. I fell asleep fitfully at 2 a.m., slept off and on for a couple hours and then grabbed 2 more hours of shut-eye downstairs in the recliner, from 8 to 10 a.m. Monday. I spent most of the day in that very spot, sitting at just the right angle to keep from hurting. More painkillers, lots of doing nothing. I bred a false sense of hope and relief that way, so I decided to go to Bible study that evening, figuring that would be the best way to test my stamina: 2 hours of sitting, reading and listening. It was not to be.

The painkillers I took at 6:30 never started working. I spent the entirety of Bible study in great pain, which I shared with my tablemates. Midway through class, the woman across from me asked if I had a primary care doctor in the area, to which I said no. She said she was a nurse, wrote down an address and said to get there at 7:30 the next morning—she would get me in to see someone. I have never been more thankful in my life (more to come on that below). I struggled through the rest of the night, another short sleep in the recliner and awakening at 6:00 to shower and get to the internal medicine office.

Tuesday was the day for answers. I got in to see a great doctor right away, and he already had different suggestions for me: pneumonia, blood clot, et al. He looked up the ER’s tests online and told me how limited they’d been in looking for the cause of the pain. He ordered more bloodwork, a urine test, chest x-rays and a second CT scan (this time with contrast). I was at the office for 5 hours again, but I was happy to be there, knowing there was a better chance of coming out on the other side with a diagnosis and treatment plan. I was not disappointed! The CT prep took the longest, requiring a berry-flavored smoothie drunk in two installments with a 40-minute pause in between. I was in less pain for this one, even though it still required lying on my back, something I couldn’t do previously without crying. They hooked me up to an IV and scanned my entire abdomen and pelvic region.

Soon after, the doctor returned with the results: pneumonia. He said the tests showed a pie-wedge-shaped area of infection in my right lung, as well as some fluid leaked below the diaphragm, which explained the initial pain site. He also mentioned pleurisy, the main thrust of the discomfort. I’d reached a point the day before of stopping halfway up the stairs to catch my breath, and breathing rapidly at all times, so the lung-centered diagnosis made sense. I received two shots: steroids in one hip, antibiotics in the other. I left with a prescription for another antibiotic and aspirin, as well as instructions to stay home from work for the rest of the week.

I can’t tell you how welcome the diagnosis was. I would’ve been happier with a pulled muscle, but I was just so glad to know something after a full day of confusion on Sunday. At this point, I’m exhausted. I have had so little sleep the past two nights, and so much stress and anxiety, I’m fully worn out. And rest? It’s not easy for me. I feel the need to be in a constant state of activity, accomplishment, action. Why? No idea. So I sit here thinking about what I should be doing, I attempt to do laundry through the pain, I send texts and e-mails whenever I can. It’s insane! I just need to relax. Work, maybe, but relax at the same time. That’s the plan for tomorrow.

One thing (which I told Dennis last night, through tears) that has been clear to me through all of this? God is so good to me. I have asked Him repeatedly to be with me in this, to stand by me and support me through the hurt. Maybe I was really asking Him to take the pain away, but I knew that might not happen. I just needed to know He was there with me. And He was. He brought my sister to me with support, advice, concern and understanding when we thought it might be my gall bladder (she had hers out recently), even once we thought it could be pneumonia (my niece had that a couple years back). She said she’d fly down here and care for me if I ended up needing gall bladder surgery. After so many years of silence and coldness between us, I was shocked to hear her offer that. I didn’t know what to say.

The women at Bible study were equally kind, especially Wynn, who got me the appointment with her own personal doctor first thing in the morning. My boss has been so understanding and patient with my condition. My dad sounded tearful and ready to fly down here when I spoke with him tonight about the diagnosis. I experienced an outpouring of concern from friends on Facebook, friends and complete strangers on Twitter. Dennis was there to talk for hours while I waited for the pain meds to kick in, telling me repeatedly to drink water and get rest. Thank you to all who prayed for me and thought of me these past few days—I know every bit of it helped.

While I know it could’ve been worse, and I have spent the last few days trying to make it seem as insignificant as I could, pneumonia is a pretty big deal. Even in what seems like a minor case like mine, the pain? It’s excruciating. Literally. I was in tears some of the time, sometimes unable to talk or breathe, definitely not able to burp, laugh, turn, roll over or lie flat without pain. The pain hasn’t ceased for the past three days, though it has fluctuated in severity. And now? I have a greater chance of contracting it again. I just hope it’s not for a long while…

Beware the pneumonia, kids. If you do it my way, you’ll come out on the other side with 3 blood draws, 4 urine tests, 1 ultrasound, 2 CT scans, 2 shots in your butt, 1 IV, 13 hours at the doctor’s office, less than 8 hours sleep in 2 nights and several handfuls of antibiotics. But knowing what I have and experiencing God’s grace through it all? That makes it all worthwhile.


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