Tag Archives: being wise

Don’t Count Me Out: I’m not going down that path

Who thought at 72 I would still be asking myself: “Who am I?” This is not the first time I’ve asked myself that. Maybe the 100th? But I thought by now I’d know.

Last spring I still thought I was 50. Well, maybe 60. I was in great shape — walking five miles a day, doing yoga, working out — and also very productive — writing several chapters for my book, my blog and short stories. I was marching in protests, keeping up with my kids and grandkids, doing it all.

I’ve always liked to do it all–it might be my manic. Sometimes I have trouble sleeping because it seems like a waste of time. I do think our age group had this thrust on us. As the vanguard of the babyboomers, we “girls” couldn’t just be a pretty face. We had to be that, but also be athletic, get straight A’s and have meaningful professions–as well as becoming perfect wives and mothers.

Then last spring I got a bad virus that might have come to me via Brazil. At first I joked about it. I even wrote a humorous blog about all the medications I was taking from the East and West medical experts. Well, I did refuse the antibiotic — Heck, I was no senior citizen who had to jump to that extreme!

As the summer wore on, I felt worse and then better. Then worse and then worser. I did have a chest X-ray, but it was Fourth of July and the doctors were on vacation so no one read it. My cough took over the situation until I felt just like this car below. I’d been a cute model in my time, but now I held together by duct tape.

I was finally diagnosed with walking pneumonia. They should have told me I had go-to-bed pneumonia ‘cuz instead, I just kept walking around doing my normal stuff. That’s when being 70 caught up with me. Turned out I have COPD that was being exacerbated by the bug and the pneumonia. My lungs and bronchials are permanently damaged, which explains why I get so tired when others don’t. It’s taken months to get back enough energy to create a normal life; and it’s a new normal, at that.

That became jeopardized last week when I got sick with a respiratory bug. I felt like I was the star of “Groundhog’s Day”, repeating the same symptoms as six months before: fever, sore throat, cough, swollen glands, nasal and ear congestion. A year ago, I’d have said I had a head cold, but this time I saw the doctor and was on a Z pack within two days. And I’ve added an inhaler into the mix. Plus I’m eating a healthy diet: eliminating gluten and dairy and most sugars.

I started lying around all day, like the older person I am. Especially because of all the articles about people dying from the flu. And my friends advising me not to take this illness lighting. And because the doctor told me to lay low. And my husband telling me to please not exert myself. Actually, I had so many well intentioned warnings that I started getting short of breath just from anxiety. I was a nervous wreck!

Yesterday I realized I’m beginning to think of myself as an invalid. I ventured out to do yoga and walk a half a mile. What’s going to happen, I wondered with trepidation. I came home and pampered myself, making sure I took my medications, rested, and checked in the mirror often to see how ashen my face looked. It was when I woke from my nap that I began to question: Who am I?

One thing I can tell you, the answer is not going to be invalid. When the going gets tough, the tough get going! I like cliches that are helpful.

 

No Laughing Matter

At the beginning of the summer I wrote an, “Oh, so funny. I have a cold”, blog. Only it turned out to be no laughing matter. It was a bad virus that lasted for weeks. I stopped taking my temperature after nine days. After nine days, you don’t have a temperature anymore with a cold, right?

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(do not ask me why I took this picture–I don’t know. I must have had a reason, but it couldn’t have been a good one.)

 

And I only had a cold…all you had to do was ask me and I’d tell that I had the same virus that knocked out Rachel Madow. I refused to believe it was anything else and put away all my cold paraphernalia.

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I’d been coughing for so long that I stopped hearing myself cough. I was on the verge of total exhaustion by 8:30 in the morning, but I began taking my daily walk again.

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This cough medicine and Vick’s VapoRub stayed on the counter.

I didn’t realize I was spending a lot of time in bed. “Mimi takes rests,” my five-year-old granddaughter said in the middle of the summer and I laughed.

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Here she is entertaining me when I woke up one afternoon.

After the first ten days, I did go to the doctor, but he said it was a virus so no antibiotics were necessary. Three weeks later, I even had a chest X-ray—my husband insisted on it, which should have given me a clue something was up. But when you’re sick and so tired, you have trouble adding up two and two let alone that you’re husband’s mind, which is always on golf, was cognizant I was not doing well. Another clue that I was really sick was that I kept cancelling my manicure appointments. When you don’t have the energy to drive fifteen minutes to sit for a half an hour, you just might have a problem. Oh well, hindsight is 20:20.

The Fourth of July holiday is not a good time to be sick. Everyone in a doctor’s office is on vacation or wants to be on vacation. Chest X-rays don’t get read. Lungs aren’t checked. Temperatures aren’t taken. I was given an Okay when I shouldn’t have been.

By mid-July I had walking pneumonia. I knew it had to be walking pneumonia because I was still out walking the dog, no matter how exhausted I was. I began to sleep more during the day and continued coughing most of the night. This was when I began to feel like a wreck.

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In August, when I went for my annual check up, I insisted on another chest X-ray. That’s when things started hopping. The radiologist was so alarmed by what he saw that he called the doctor immediately. I was scheduled for a CT scan the next day.

This was around the time I asked my Facebook friends whether I could put off my mammogram. How much radiation can a person take in so short a time? I wondered.

In any case, the CT scan showed all kinds of gunk in my lungs and bronchioles. One pulmonary specialist sent me to a special lab to have 14 vials of blood taken. I guess they were looking for what kind of microbe had set off the chain of events.

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I started seeing a UCLA pulmonary specialist in September. He assured me that the nodules were so small they weren’t cancerous. “No problem. We’ll keep track of them with CT scans every six months,” he said. “But you do have a lot of schmutz in your lungs.” Schmutz! Now there was terminology I could understand.

After a gazillion tests, he diagnosed me with bronchiectasis and COPD, and said the virus had set off an exacerbation. All of a sudden, the little cold had turned into a full time job!

I must admit to a bit of panic during the time between the CT scan and the diagnosis. Oh, all right: a lot of panic. And the diagnosis didn’t really ring my bell either. I had never thought of myself as a Spiriva type of person. Shows you what I know.

I am much better than I was. I look back on July and wonder how I dragged myself to the Bruno Mars concert in Vancouver, B.C.

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I think about how gray my face was in September at our anniversary party.

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Even in November, I was in a state of exhaustion that could lead to coughing spells. A low blood sugar attack could hit me unawares, which was not pleasant either. That’s better now.

Still, the slightest thing can set me off. I never wanted to be the Princess and the Pea, but I am more than ever. I’ve become hypersensitive to scents, especially chemicals. I can’t walk down the grocery store aisle stocked with detergents, etc. without going into a coughing spell. And no more perfumes or colognes! I have to dust my bedroom a couple of times a week. All that kind of stuff. And I had to have flu and pneumonia shots because I’ve been cautioned not to get a respiratory illness! I don’t like being difficult. I had a difficult mother and my compass has always pointed directly away from her actions. Still, if I don’t hug you, don’t feel offended.

So what prompted me to write this expose? The smoke filled air. I’ve become one of those people who must check the air before I go outside. We have a lot of smoke from the tragic uncontained fires around here in Southern California, and my lungs can be endangered by poor air quality. I’ve needed to stay inside several days. Yes, me! I can’t believe it either. I was healthy as a horse in May.

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I share my story to encourage everyone to see their doctor if they have symptoms of any kind that persist. I also love this new site someone clued me in on: AirNow.gov. You get up-to-date reports about the air quality in your zip code.

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Also, I share my story because I realize now how depressed I was. And afraid. Even though I had a lot of people around me, I didn’t feel I should bother them. Nor am I good at accepting help. I kept trying to do everything alone and I wasn’t doing a good job of it. God forbid, I should admit to slowing down! How embarrassing!

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Now things are definitely looking up. Seven months into this, I’m taking the medications I’m supposed to (didn’t want to do inhalers) sparingly. I do breathing exercises and Nettypot twice a day! I eat more healthy foods more times during the day.

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I’ve also decided I needed to think more positively. I do NOT want to wear a tag that says I have an elephant sitting on my diaphragm. I’m renaming the diseases I was labeled with. Bronchiectasis is a scary thing so I’ve decided to say I have chronic bronchitis. COPD is the third leading cause of death in the United States so I don’t need that hanging around my neck. Instead, I acknowledge I have asthma. But I’m not just going to use prescription meds. I’m going to yoga three times a week and walking every day.

I’ve learned that it’s important to avail ourselves of western medicine. But I don’t want to be trapped in it. One thing I know. I’ll never give up.