I’ve been working with my doctor for about a year now on my breathing. To say it’s been a long, slow process would be a vast understatement. Vast in a “the Grand Canyon is a pretty valley” sort of way.
But I’m hanging in there ‘cuz, you know, that whole pesky breathing thing. It’s not like I can give it up for Lent.
It was the fall of 2015. I went in for my annual pulmonary check up, went through the usual tests, then sat down with my doctor to review the results. Much like years past he told me my oxygen levels looked fine, my breathing tests showed a small blip but nothing significant, and that the trouble I was having was simply part of getting older. If I was short of breath then it meant I needed to slow down.
I’d like to point out I was 42 years old the first time this doctor uttered that phrase to me. I lived with a rescue inhaler for a couple of years, but in 2015 I was insistent – I needed help. It wasn’t normal at 44 to get winded climbing the stairs or vacuuming the house, and I wasn’t going to accept “it’s time to slow down” as an answer anymore. So the doctor added Singulair to my medications. Singulair reduces swelling in the airways and I saw some improvement once I began taking it, but not enough to feel like I was on top of things.
That’s when gem helped me find a specialist for a second opinion. Here’s (partly) how my initial appointment went with Dr. D.
- Tell me about your childhood.
- Well, I was born in the Philippines, and my mom always told me they’d come into the houses weekly to spray for bugs. It was the 70s so they just sprayed everything down – dishes still in the cupboard, food on the counter – plus I was a baby so I would have been crawling around touching stuff and putting my hands in my mouth. We were navy so I moved a bunch of times, but I spent most of my childhood on the mainland.
- Have you had long term exposure to toxins? Second hand smoke?
- I’ve always had a terrible reaction to cigarette smoke. Not an allergic reaction but a strong enough aversion to it that the smell gives me headaches. I’ve always answered no about second hand smoke, but I recently learned my mom may have smoked when I was very young so it’s possible. As for toxins…well, there’s the bug spray thing, and – (BrightSide prompts me) – oh yeah, that room where I taught in St. Louis used to be the janitor’s closet so who knows what kind of chemicals were in there, then another school had some sort of mold growing on the walls that they painted over every summer. And then there was that time I smelled an entire scratch ‘n sniff book when I was in first grade and my whole face swelled up like a balloon.
- Do you have any other strong reactions like that?
- Not as extreme, no, but I can’t stand strong smells. Overwhelming perfumes, room sprays, those industrial deodorizers they put in public restrooms – all of them can bring tears to my eyes.
- Do you have an exercise regimen?
- Ummm…well…no. No, I don’t. Not regular exercise. I mean, I used to, but then I stopped being able to breathe and, well, you know how that goes.
I left the initial appointment with four directives:
- get labs done
- schedule a breathing function test
- start a daily steroid inhaler treatment
- begin a regular exercise routine, even if it’s only walking in my own driveway
Walking in my own driveway. If that doesn’t make me sound like I’m eighty and wearing a housecoat then I don’t know what does.
Fast forward six months and we’re steadily working our way through a process of elimination for my shortness of breath. The first inhaler isn’t quite working so Dr. D cranks things up a notch and prescribes a stronger one. This one has a gross aftertaste and an even grosser warning that I can develop thrush on my tongue if I don’t rinse my mouth out well enough after the treatment.
Ugh ugh ugh.
Fast forward to this past winter when I struggle my way through a couple of bad bronchial episodes. During one of my e-mails to Dr. D I complained that I’d gotten on the scale, and while I wasn’t knocking out marathon sessions at the Y or anything, it didn’t seem right that I’d actually gained ten pounds since we’d begun treatment.
And you know what he says to me? “That’s the big, bad secret of steroids. No one likes to talk about the weight gain.”
No one likes to talk about the weight gain?! Um, yeah. Except a little warning would have been nice, if only so I wouldn’t feel like a cow for gaining the weight. Am I happy the drugs are packing on pounds? Of course not. But again, breathing. And knowing ahead of time would have saved me months of kicking myself for eating too much crap.
I was reminded of this revelation the other day. It was a beautiful day (sunny and 70s), and I was heading to the school to volunteer then meeting BrightSide for lunch. I was midway into my first reading group when I realized my toes were a little tingly. That seemed a bit random, until I looked down and realized my shorts were cutting off the circulation in my legs.
That’s right, my steroids had ballooned me right out of my shorts. Okay, “ballooned” might be a bit of an exaggeration since eventually the shorts stretched to be more comfortable, but still…
Nobody likes a surprise like that one.