Sunday, October 14, 2007

The Start of a Slippery Slope

I knew turning 40 was a milestone, but why did no one tell me that my birthday marked the end of my body's warrenty?


I turned 40 on March 3, and a couple weeks later came down with a killer cold. A few weeks after that, I'm feeling worse and head to a Doc-In-A-Box, where I'm diagnosed with bronchitis and a sinus infection and prescribed antibiotics and Prednisone.

Back to a different doc a week later, and my diagnosis is upgraded to pneumonia although no chest x-ray was taken. "Why bother?" the doc asked. "I'd treat you with the same meds no matter which you had."

By the time I'm feeling like myself again, it's mid-May. And then just a couple weeks later, on June 1, I'm sick again and, so far, it looks like my life will never be the same.

It started with a sore throat and mild fatigue. I wasn't too worried about it since both my daughter and husband had gotten sick with the same initial symptoms.

It was a busy time -- our house was on the market and we had an open house scheduled for June 3, and then we were flying to Chicago to visit my family on June 5. Or at least that was the plan.

We got through the open house, which attracted disappointingly few visitors and no offers. But early in the morning on June 5, I woke up and was freezing. I was so cold, even huddled under the blankets, that I trembled. That lasted about three hours, and then, just as suddenly, I was drenched with sweat and was burning up . My head hurt so much I thought it was going to explode.

The alarm went off, and I discovered I literally couldn't even sit up in bed, much less get dressed, navigate the airport and keep a toddler entertained on a plane for four hours. I had my husband call to cancel our airline tickets and hotel reservations, and call my parents to tell them we were too sick to fly.

I couldn't pull myself out of bed until about 4 p.m., about 14 hours after the illness had hit in force. I probably should have gone to the hospital that morning, or even later that day, but, ironically, I felt too sick to go to the ER. When I finally went to the doctor three days later, on June 8, I was diagnosed with pneumonia in both lungs after a chest x-ray and prescribed antibiotics. I went back on June 15 with no improvement and was put on Avelox, a strong antibiotic that's used for respiratory illnesses, and Prednisone again.

When I returned on June 23 still feeling very sick, a chest x-ray showed the pneumonia was gone and my internist assured me that I would be feeling better soon. Pneumonia, she said, took up to a couple months to recover fully from but I should start feeling better soon.

In the meantime, I was still home alone with my daughter. Too sick to go anywhere and chase after a toddler, I let her watch much more Little Einsteins and Dora the Explorer than I felt comfortable with. But I was exhausted and short of breath, and when I spent more than a few minutes on my feet, I would get dizzy and, several times, even black out.

On Monday, July 9, I told my husband I was too sick to go shopping with him to Costco and asked that he stop on his way home from work and grab a pizza for dinner along with items on our weekly shopping list. When he got home, the three of us ate some pizza and then I had to lie down. I asked Scott how I would know if I were having a heart attack -- I was having severe chest pains, shortness of breath, sweating, headache and left shoulder pain (but I always had pain in that shoulder from an on-the-job injury in 1995). He pulled out a self-help book published by the Mayo Clinic and went down the list of possible symptoms for a heart attack. I had many if not all of them. So at 7 p.m., with a tired 2.5-year-old in tow, we headed to the ER, where they quickly determined with an EKG that I was not having a heart attack. Thank goodness!

But they admitted me anyway, after numerous nebulizer treatments, because my lung capacity was poor, my heart rate was sky high -- especially when I walked it would reach upwards of 200 bpm -- and my blood oxygen would plummet to 70 percent when I moved.

After an 8-day stay in the hospital, three EKGs, two echocardiagrams (one as a "bubble test"), two CT scans of my lungs, one with contrast, and three days of being monitored 24/7 on the cardiac care floor, they decided that whatever I had wasn't going to kill me anytime soon and sent me home. To a house with two flights of stairs before I would reach my bedroom, which I initially had to crawl up with frequent stops because I was incapable of walking up.

To sum up what's become a way-too-long and detailed story, I have consulted a pulmonologist, who did a bronchoscopy and declared my lungs pristine; a cardiologist, who said there was nothing wrong with my heart despite my rapid heart rate; a neurologist, who performed a nerve conduction test and then declared me normal neurologically; an endocrinologist, who declared my longtime hypothyroidism under control despite my hair falling out by the handful; my internist, who ran blood tests that showed a low-positive ANA (18), a moderate positive anti-Cardiolipin test (49), and a rather, but not extraordinarily, elevated SED rate (78). She says the combination of these mean I have an autoimmune disease, but she hasn't a clue which one. I tested negative for all the Lupus-specific tests.

When I consulted a rheumatologist, he was fascinated by the fact that I tested postive for Parvovirus, commonly known as Fifth Disease. A very mild rash in children, it is rare for adults to catch it because most are already immune from a childhood infection. Until recently, it was thought to be just as mild for adults, but it has now been linked to myocarditis, an inflammation of the lining of the heart, and my internist says serious research is being done to look into what else it might cause.

So, while I wait for my doctors to stick a label on me and finally start treating my illness instead of just giving me pain killers, I've basically been put out of work. How can I be a stay-at-home mom if my only kid is now in full-time daycare because I can barely take care of myself much less a toddler? And while I'm blessed with a husband who is lucky enough to earn a high enough salary as an electrical engineer that he can support our family on only his income, our budgets didn't include a line-item for $300 per week daycare bills.

And what was it about turning 40 that made my body decide to stop working properly? It's silly, I realize, but I can't help thinking I wouldn't be so sick if I were still a thirtysomething ... which is ridiculous because, unfortunately, there are many, many thirtysomething people out there who are battling cancer, getting injured in this neverending war our country is in, and coping with their own chronic illnesses.

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