Tag Archives: medical

Glumping into Golden Age

images-1            Everything that happens to me lately, I blame on becoming older. Like I thought something was wrong with my ability to hear. I was listening to Morning Joe on Stitcher and it seemed everyone was talking extremely fast. I could barely understand what Mika was saying. It took me a couple of weeks, but it suddenly occurred to me to check the speed control: Sure enough, it had moved to 1.5 speed. A quick flick and I was back to normal speed. What a relief!

I’ve also been having trouble sleeping—the bane of Golden Agers. I was feeling quite anxious and blamed it not only on my life-long anxiety, but on my frustration with navigating this week through today’s health care system. I was just trying to get answers about test results and it wasn’t happening. Was I just too old to do it? I’d given up on getting a diagnosis—that seemed an impossibility for the UCLA system. They’d brought me to my knees just trying to get a human being to talk to me. I couldn’t even make an appointment in one office until the physician’s liaison got back to me. What is a physician’s liaison anyway?

“What is your husband’s diagnosis?” the receptionist asked.

I looked at the phone in disgust. “I don’t know his diagnosis!!! That’s why I’m calling to make an appointment!! That’s what we want to know!! I was an English major—no medical training here!! I’m not sure what the blood test is saying but when I look it up on the Internet, their interpretation is not comforting. And I’m pretty sure that the symptoms I’m now exhibiting as I talk to you, are indicative of high blood pressure and an oncoming stroke!!!!

I only actually said some of the above and I didn’t shout, but nothing phased the receptionist anyway.

“Is there someone there that can give me a hint if this is a serious situation?” I finally begged her.

“No, but the liaison will call you back with 48 hours,” she said. “Is this the best number to reach you?”

I could feel something throbbing in my head as I tried to slam down my iPhone.

Seeing that phoning was not working, I tried writing another email to our primary care doctor. Just let me know what we’re dealing with, I wanted to write. I like the idea of a health care portal and that you can write your doctor a question. I really really like it when they write back. But these portals shouldn’t release test results to lay people who don’t know how to interpret them. Then you go on-line and the answers you find are always the worst case scenario. I’m tired of being scared out of my wits.

Meanwhile, I didn’t get any answers back and had trouble sleeping that night.          The next day the physician’s liaison did get back to me. She talked in a hearty way, but would give me no information either.

“Okay. I’m guessing you’d like the next available appointment,” she said.

“Not really,” I said. “I want the next ASAP appointment.”

“Pardon me?” she said.

“I want the soonest available appointment,” I explained.

“Oh, sure. I can understand that.”

What did that mean, I wondered.

We got in two days later. We could have gotten in the next day but my husband was playing in a golf tournament and wouldn’t cancel. First things first! (Did I mention that while I was working my way into being a stroke victim, he was playing golf?)

I had no idea what the doctor would be like when we met her or him. She is FABULOUS!! She quickly explained that the alarming blood test told nothing by itself. She explained that more tests were needed. She explained what could be happening. She explained that there was nothing to worry about. It would probably turn out to be nothing. “I’ll tell you if you have to worry,” she said.

Of course she had no idea that she was talking to me, the poster girl for Worry Wort in the dictionary. I worry if I’m not feeling worried.

So, to get back to my first point about blaming everything on getting older, this frustration and non-worrying is why I thought I could barely sleep last night. But I was wrong. It was more about the bombing of Syria. I know this because when I woke up and before I opened my eyes, I thought, we’re still here, we’re still alive. I hadn’t even known my psyche had gone to Nuclear Winter.

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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.

 

 

 

Superwoman Bites the Dust, Part 2

You know how people say, “Listen to your body,”? It occurred to me this morning that I rarely do that. Instead I say, “Listen, body, do what I want.”

Since I had pneumonia, I must have had fifty people say, “Listen to your body.” I jokingly reply that the doctor should never have diagnosed walking pneumonia because I just kept walking around. Instead, she should have said, “Cindy, you have ‘going to bed and resting pneumonia.” I’d end up in bed only because I couldn’t do anything else, and I’d feel guilty about it.

Although I’m much better (I’ve turned the corner!), I’m still a work in progress. I may start off well when I get up, but I can hit the wall at about 11:00 A.M. Then I might be done for the day. So I’ve been trying to short circuit the fatigue by resting before I’m overcome by exhaustion. I make plans for what I can do—things that I never counted before like going to the market or dropping stuff at the cleaners.

When I walked this morning, I got quiet and went inward. I tried to listen? What was my body saying? It was hard to perceive any instructive advice because I’d turned that voice off years ago.

“How the hell should I know?” were the only words that came out—and those were from my mind. Which continued: “You can walk a little farther. You should be able to! You were walking five miles some days before. You need the exercise—you gained weight on your vacation! No pain, no gain! Don’t be a sissy!”

All of a sudden Dr. Phil was there in my head too. “And how’s that been working for ya?” he asked.

When the pulmonary specialist had said, “Don’t push yourself. Don’t walk too far so you’re too tired to walk back,” the words floated to my memory bank but not my conscious decision making center.

But Dr. Phil’s a big guy. His booming voice stood out in the crowd of bullies in my brain who urged me on. So I listened to him and turned towards home.

There’s more to this never-ending story, which I’ll share later. It includes chest X-rays, CAT scans, blood tests, pulmonary tests, inhalers, netty pots and a “No cancer,” diagnosis. It also includes me needing to make an attitude adjustment, which I’m working on. It’s hard to give up the feeling that you’re invincible. I don’t like it.

 

 

 

Seeing is Believing?

 

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I often find pennies when I walk. Twenty years ago, I found one next to a vacant lot in my neighborhood. My back was hurting so much at the time that I had trouble stooping to pick it up. I’d been suffering from back and neck pain for about a year. The anxiety crippling me came around the same time.

I was coming close to being agoraphobic. I was quiet about it—ashamed really. I could fake it pretty well so no one knew. I could manage the grocery store if I were alone. Driving, thank God, wasn’t an issue then.

When I saw a documentary about agoraphobia, I saw myself and knew I needed help. I got a referral and began seeing a therapist. I also took Paxil. Both the talk therapy and the medication helped me a lot. I also got into other types of therapy, like the emotional freedom technique and EMDR, which were beneficial on many levels. I read Jack Sarno’s book on emotionally triggered pain in the body. The panic attacks became less frequent and my physical pain almost disappeared.

The night before I found the penny in my neighborhood, my husband and I watched an Andrew Weill special on television. He told a story about finding four leaf clovers. “When I give a lecture, I’ll tell the audience, ‘If you believe you can find a four leaf clover, you will’,” he’d said. “Then during the break, people will go out onto the grounds and twelve will come back with a four leaf clover.”

This was unbelievable to me. I’d always been told four leaf clovers were extremely rare and you had to be extremely lucky to find one. Lucky pennies were a dime a dozen. Anyone could find one of those. You just had to look down.

That day, twenty years ago, I knew I wasn’t a lucky type, but since I’d bent down to get the penny, I decided to look in the grass, just in case. I leaned over, resting my hand on the grass. When I looked down, my thumb was on a four-leaf clover!

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I can’t tell you how I felt. My heart soared. I know that’s a cliché, but it’s the only way I can describe my feeling. I still remember that sensation.

That’s the moment I look back on that started me healing. I began to believe in myself. I began to believe in the limitless nature of the universe. I started on a path of healing: physical, mental and spiritual. My fears quieted.

Believe it or not, I’ve found more than a dozen four-leaf clovers since then. Some were in my back yard, some were in Europe. I don’t look often, but when I do, I usually find one. I tell this story to my grandchildren and two have already found four-leaf clovers with me.

Seeing is believing, or is it if you believe, you’ll be able to see it?

 

 

Blood Lust

 

 

 

 

imagesMy fellow Phlebotomist phobics, do I have a story for you! Last week I had to have blood drawn at UCLA Medical. I have veins that can be extremely hard to find—a family trait—but haven’t had trouble lately. I was taken into a room by two young women in white coats. Then a man came in and introduced Holly and Nicole: students at UCLA who would be practicing on me.
“My veins can be difficult to find,” I warned.
“Not to worry,” James, the phlebotomist, told me. “I’m sure Holly will be able to find a vein. And I’m here to step in if needed.”
Oh great, I thought as they all gave me toothy grins.
Holly actually did find a vein, but the needle wasn’t in exactly the right spot so by the time Dr. James intervened, the vein had dried up. He was distressed (because he looked like an idiot, I think) and couldn’t find any more likely veins on my right arm so we turned to the left. I’d already pointed out that my left arm was even less giving than my right, but Dr. James poked anyway.

 

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“Did you drink water today?” he asked sharply when the only blood available was from the pokes on my arm.
“Yes,” I said.
“Well, you didn’t drink enough. You’re dehydrated. You need to drink a lot of water if you’re going to have a blood draw.”
I almost apologized but caught myself. He was the professional, for goodness sake! I did give him a pleasant smile. He was beginning to sweat and I wanted him to be calm–I had a couple of more vials to be filled.
He started looking up and down my arm and then at my neck. I swear he began to grow fangs. I quickly pointed out an almost invisible vein in the crook of my arm. It was lucky that it worked. I was ready to bolt. No way was I giving him a field day with the rest of my body.

“Ah, I think . . .” I started to say when Dr. Phleboto breathed a sigh of relief.
“Got it,” he said. “Holly, hurry, get me another vial.”

I hazarded a look. My blood was flowing now. I wasn’t sure if Holly was going to move fast enough, but she did.

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I left the examining room with two bandaged arms, shaking my head. This would never have happened to my husband, and not only because he has good veins. He’d never have put up with the trainees. I wonder if someday, I won’t.