Monday, December 11, 2006

Pneumonia - I Don't Recommend It

It all started a few days before my birthday - around November 13th or 14th. I started coughing. Now I would say that 90% of the colds I get are head colds; I rarely get chest colds. When I do get a chest cold, it's usually because I've had a head cold and it moves to my chest. But that's not the norm for me. Anyway, here is it middle of November and I have this chest congestion and I'm coughing away, and I'm thinking, "this is weird, I NEVER get chest colds." But I don't think too much of it, and continue on with my ordinary life.

Fast forward to a week later, and I'm not feeling any better, in fact I'm feeling a whole lot worse and Thanksgiving is rapidly approaching. Ron and I are going to be spending Thanksgiving in Las Vegas with my sister and her partner, so I'm really unhappy about this bad chest cold I've got, but hey I'm not going to let it get in the way of my having fun in Las Vegas - you can count on that! As a teacher, I get 5 days off for Thanksgiving - from Thursday 11/23 to Monday 11/27. But I'm feeling so lousy the week leading up to that, that I do something very unlike me. I call off on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. I hate calling off work and I almost never do it, unless I'm feeling half near death. I wasn't actually feeling that bad at this point, but I wanted a day to really rest and try to recuperate before leaving for Vegas. It didn't help.

Went to Vegas anyway, and although the "cold" got worse and worse, hey I was in Vegas, and how can you not have a good time in Vegas? We went to see "LOVE" the new Cirque du Soleil show which is a wonderful Beatles Tribute show, and Ron and I went to see Blue Man Group which I love. Ron hit for $800 on a slot machine (woo hoo!!) and I won $145 playing poker. So truly, we had a great time in Vegas; but I was REALLY sick and I was starting to get worried that this was not just a chest cold.

We flew home on Sunday and I promptly went to bed. Feeling no better on Monday, I finally called the doctor. I was connected to a physician's assistant - Deb and Deb had me describe my symptoms to her and asked me a whole litany of questions. Several times she asked if I had been running a fever which I had not. I was having chills and hot flashes, but no fever. She then said she would consult with my doctor and call me back. A couple hours later she called back and reported that she and my doctor agreed that I had a severe case of the flu. Now the problem with flu is that it is viral and can't really be treated. You just have to treat the symptoms (with over the counter rememdies) and get lots of rest and fluids and such. Deb faxed me a doctor's note to let me stay off school for Tuesday and Wednesday to rest and recuperate. So I called off work for those days, crawled into bed and didn't emerge until Thursday morning when I had to go back to work. Let me tell you, I felt like crap. It was now November 30th.

I slogged through work Thursday and Friday in a stupor - I'm sure the kids enjoyed my delerious lessons; I know I can barely even remember what I did those days. Once again, I was miserable all weekend and spent most of it in bed. I swore that if I wasn't feeling better on Monday I was going to call the doctor again. This just didn't feel like the flu to me. Sure enough, Monday comes (December 4th) and I'm feeling no better. It had been 3 full weeks of feeling lousy at this point and I had really had it. I went to work on Monday, but at lunch I called my doctor's office. Once again I spoke to Deb and once again we ran through the symptoms and the litany of questions. Once again she really focused on whether or not I had a fever and I was beginning to suspect something. But since I wasn't running a fever, I told her, no, I did not have a temperature. Well after consulting with the doctor again, Deb called me back and said they were perplexed with my condition and they both agreed I should come in for a exam. She managed to get me an appointment for the following day.

I called off work for Tuesday and went to the appointment at 10:00 a.m. The nurse at check in took all my vitals and not only wasn't I running a temperature, but the thermometer persistently kept giving a reading of 97.0 degrees (the nurse thought it must not be working properly - but it was). The doctor then came in and gave me an exam. First going through all the questions I had answered the previous day with Deb and 5 minutes earlier with the nurse. Then he did a physican exam - the regular stuff: checking my ears and nose and throat and listening to my chest telling me to take deep breaths (each of which caused me to go into violent coughing fits). He noted that I had diminished lung capacity (uh....duh!) and then proceded to say that it looked like I had a really bad cold or flu and that I would need to treat it symptomatically...blah....blah....blah. Fortunately, before I could reach out an throttle him, he amended with comments with the magical, "but just to be certain, I'm ordering a chest x-ray so that we can rule out pneumonia." He was quick to add that he was certain I didn't have pneumonia because I didn't have a fever, but he just wanted to be sure. He told me that he was ordering a "stat read" on the x-ray which means that the technician who took the x-ray would read it immediately and call him with the results. So he told me to come back to the office right after the x-ray was done.

I walked over to the hospital to which my doctor's office is connected and amazingly, radiology took me immediately and within 5 minutes I had a chest x-ray done. And so I walked right back over to my doctor's office. 30 minutes later (he was with another patient) he came out to the waiting room and said, "good news! you don't have pneumonia. The lower lobes of your lungs have collapsed because you aren't taking deep breaths, and that explains your diminished lung function. Just treat your cold symptoms with over-the-counter meds, get lots of sleep, take a few more days off of work and practice taking deep breaths and you will be fine." And he wrote me a note to take off the rest of the week and sent me on my way.

Practice taking deep breaths huh? Hello! The very act of breathing causes me to go into severe coughing seizures, but yeah, what ever, I'll get right on that. So home I go, call off work for the rest of the week, and crawl into bed. Along comes Wednesday (December 6 and we're moving into week 4) and I'm feeling absolutely no better. Around about 3:00 in the afternoon the phone rings. Hooray for caller ID because you know I have been ignoring the phone all day, but I happen to roll over in bed and look at the ID box and see that it is my doctor's office calling. I pick up the phone and cough a hello into the mouth piece.

"Hi Adam, this is Deb from Dr. Veldkamp's office. How are you feeling?"

"Lousy *cough* *cough* *cough*"

"Yeah, wow, you really don't sound too good. Well I'm calling because the radiology department sent your chest x-rays over to us today and the doctor just finished taking a look at them. Looks like you have pneumonia."

"What? *cough* *cough* But yesterday *cough* *cough* *cough*"

"Yeah, the x-ray tech totally misread the x-ray. You have pneumonia. Really strange though - you never had a fever. That's what kept confusing us. Most pepole with pneumonia run a fever."

Anyway, the phone call ends with Deb telling me that they are calling my pharmacy and and putting in a prescription for antibiotics for me and I can pick up later that afternoon. It's a simple 5-day course of Zithromax and Deb assures me that within 3 days I'll be feeling much better.

I took the first dose Wednesday evening and by Thursday I was already feeling better. No more chills or body aches and I was coughing half as much. Friday comes and the cough is almost all gone - I actually got out of the house for a little bit. By the weekend I felt like myself again. And here it is Monday and I'm back at work and I feel great. Modern medicine is a miracle - I love drugs.

But pneumonia - no, I definitely don't recommend it. I'm basically a healthy person, certainly I've never felt that sick before - even when I had appendicitis (well, that's a totally different kind of sick really). It was a miserable experience and I'll be more than happy if I never have to go through that again!

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