Saturday, September 07, 2013

Update from The Glad To Be Alive Dept.

Doctor Whooo?
(You can buy this cool sculpture here.)
It occurred to me that there may be a few of you who may not know the state of my health given this post a couple of weeks back. Bottom line: I'm much, much better and I'm heading back to work today.

To recap: I'd been having trouble breathing, I collapsed on a Wednesday morning after a Tuesday morning stress test for my heart which had been ordered by a cardiologist recommended by my general practitioner. If my wife had gone to work that morning, I might have died. That's not really an understatement or hyperbole. I was that bad and I'm that stubborn a patient that even though I couldn't breathe I might have lain on the carpet in the living room until she came home. Fortunately she hauled my ass into the car and got me the care I needed.

Wives are the best, especially when they love you despite all your stupid, stupid ideas and tendencies.

So once I began to recover, we started asking why this had happened at all. I mean, every doctor I spoke with in the hospital (and each one is getting his piece of the insurance, I assure you) said that I befuddled them all because I didn't fit the profile for someone who had blood clots. And I didn't have just a few, my lungs were filled with the suckers, my left one carrying the much greater burden than the right which is probably how I went so long with trouble just catching my breath.

There may be an explanation, but it's not at all satisfactory because it's not definitive. It's a best guess. Here we go. (I'm sharing this in the hope that it'll help someone else not because I want my medical problems on display for the world but if someone reads it and decides to avoid the issues that could arise for him, then it's worthwhile.)

I have a condition called ulcerative colitis which means that part of my colon (about a foot or so in length and right in the middle of the colon) is angry and irritated and had been bleeding for a while. I put off getting the colonoscopy because I was scared of what it might reveal. I put it off for nearly two years, until I couldn't ignore the things my body was telling me.

And in the summer of 2012 I was depressed for a couple of reasons that I choose not to share. Suffice to say that I was depressed and that depression did two things to me: I stopped exercising every day like I had been for several years AND I put on fifteen pounds. When I took the new job in Fall of 2012 I added another ten pounds and still failed to exercise on a regular basis. I knew my weight was getting away from me but I didn't do anything about it.

So I was heavier than I'd been in a couple of years and approaching the most I'd ever weighed in my life when I noticed that when I did go for a walk on the odd occasion in Spring 2013 I wasn't as fast as I used to be and I had trouble breathing. I chalked it up to being too fat and failed to do anything about it like go to the doctor or stop eating so damn much.

Something happened that convinced me to go to the doctor to see if I had hemorrhoids that were causing the bleeding. It was concerning enough that I walked in on a Saturday to get checked out. They sent me to get the colonoscopy. At the end of July I was told about the ulcerative colitis.

Through summer of 2013 (even before I went for the colonoscopy) I noticed I was having trouble going up a single flight of stairs. Sometimes I'd get winded just walking across campus and I'd have to sit and catch my breath. One day at work just after the colonoscopy I had tightness in my chest and I went home and went to the doc. They couldn't hear anything wrong with my heart or lungs and gave me some albuterol in an inhaler thinking it might be asthma. That's when I was referred to the cardiologist.

I'm still working during all this. School is starting up and things are about to get busier than (choose your cliche). I take the morning off on a Tuesday to do the stress test and I'm so wiped out from that I call in sick and spend the day on the couch. My wife is concerned when she gets home and so is my son. I'm still thinking it's asthma.

So that gets us up to landing in the hospital. I'd had a number of warning signs that I wasn't in the best of health and in fact was a potential statistic. Two weeks after being released from the hospital, I meet again with the pulmonologist who tells me that it's possible that the ulcerative colitis causes a thickening of the blood which in turn could contribute to the clots which brought me down.

If I hadn't put off the colonoscopy, I might not have developed the blood clots. If I hadn't given in to the depression (well - if it hadn't been so overwhelming) I might not have put on all the weight which contributed to my overall unhealth. If I'd kept up walking every day I might have noticed that I wasn't doing so well a lot sooner.

Maybe.

Who knows? There's not enough data. There are a lot of 'ifs' but nothing solid. There's no test that says 'hey your blood is thickening up like gravy and that's going to kill you' and there's no instant way to link ulcerative colitis and blood clots.

Believe me when I tell you that I've smacked myself in the head and called myself 'dummy' a thousand thousand times for not paying attention to what my body was telling me. I try not to be a hypochondriac, and my insurance is excellent, but I don't always go to the doctor when I think I can treat myself with rest and something over the counter. I don't want to clog up the system for people who are really sick.

Like I was a couple of weeks ago.

The lesson to learn from all this is that when I feel bad, mentally and/or physically, I need to get checked out. So do you. I'm 45 years old and while it's not unusual for these things to have happened to me, it's rare. And maybe I could have avoided it.

I urge you to listen to what your body tells you. If there's blood where there shouldn't be any - go tell your doctor and find out what the cause is. If you can't breathe like you're supposed to, if brisk exercise knocks the wind out of you, if you end up in a heap on the floor at 5 o'clock in the morning, you need to go get yourself checked out. Please.

Because there are people that care a great deal about you and who want you in their lives for a long, long time. Do it for them, do it for you, but do it. Don't wait.

Give yourself the chance to be smacked in the head and called 'dummy' for not doing something sooner. And give yourself the chance to say that you're glad to be alive.