Preface: This is a LONG post, so grab yourself a cup of coffee, tea, or a glass of wine and sit back for a read.
Part One: The Happening
On Wednesday, October 14th, at about 4:30 PM, I walked five blocks from my apartment to the Jefferson Hospital Urgent Care facility and had to stop three times to catch my breath because I could hardly breathe and could not stop coughing. And after the doctor on staff took one look at my lung x-rays he walked into the room where I had been sitting, and with a very serious demeanor and panicked expression in his eyes said, "Mr. Carnavil, from your x-rays I can see that your entire left lung is filled with fluid.There is also a dark mass at the base of the lung which is very concerning. I won't even allow you to walk to the ER, I'm calling the paramedics so that they can drive you there. You are a very sick man and this is extremely serious."
I just sat there and blinked in shock. I immediately thought, "Holy shit, I've got lung cancer."
The rest of that afternoon and night were pretty much what I guess many people experience when suddenly whisked into ER and the doctors and nurses are desperately trying to figure out what's wrong with them. I was examined and questioned over and over again; many being the same questions from different specialists. I also had many (and I mean MANY) tubes of blood drawn from my veins in the hopes that it would detect why I was so sick, why I was coughing, and what had caused my lungs to fill with fluid.
I laid in the hospital bed thinking I was dreaming and would wake up and the nightmare would be over. The only other time I had been in a hospital for an illness was when I was 6-years old for a tonsillectomy, so I was apprehensive and frightened. Yet it's odd, because I didn't stay frightened for long. Somehow I knew that I would be okay and was in good hands. I also knew that freaking out about being sick and in the hospital wouldn't make it any easier to handle. This was one of those situations in life where there wasn't a damn thing I could do to change it. I just had to accept it by staying in the moment; taking one moment at a time and not jumping ahead to what my fearful imagination was conjuring up as being the worst thing possible.
This was one of those situations in which I was out of control and I hate being out of control. But there was nothing I could do except keep the faith that no matter what was wrong with me, I would be taken care of. And oddly enough, once I accepted that, I felt much calmer. I could sense that this experience not only had to do with the physical, but also (and even more so) with lessons I needed to learn about things beyond the physical.
Allow me to quickly interject here that I was in the hospital for 14 days. Yes, you heard me correctly, TWO weeks. That's how long it took the team of doctors who worked on me to figure out what was wrong. They could see that I had a very bad infection in my lung (and eventually discovered that it was not cancer), but they couldn't figure out where the infection came from and how it got there. I literally had a sonogram on all the major organs of my body. I also had several CAT scans. And from what all the test results revealed, outside of my lungs, the doctors could find nothing else abnormal.
Their immediate concern, however, was to remove the infectious fluid from my lungs so that I could breath properly again. Therefore, I was scheduled for a lung drain the following morning. That night I was transferred to ICU and was closely cared for by a group of very kind and compassionate nurses. I was literally hooked up to every machine you could imagine. I had an oxygen mask on my face to help me breathe, I was also hooked up to a heart and lung monitor. I had two IV's (one in each arm) - one that administered two very strong antibiotics, and the other was just in case I needed painkillers. I was given morphine once, but not for pain because I really wasn't in any pain. However, I was given a small dose of morphine by one of the nurses to help halt my chronic cough so that I could sleep. And it worked. Bless that nurse!
I suppose you're all wondering, "Ron, when the hell did all this start and why didn't you go to a doctor before it got so bad?"
That's a good question.
It all started in August when I got that really bad flu, remember? Well, the coughing part of the flu never went completely away - it would return and then go away for a few weeks; then return. And because I felt better, I never concerned myself with going to a doctor because I thought that the cough might have something to do with an allergy. So many people I talked to and work with had been coughing and sneezing throughout late summer and early fall, and said it was allergy's. So, I thought I had developed an allergy. Or perhaps the start of asthma.
Then, it was during the end of September I started to notice that not only was I coughing, but other weird things were happening. Like my taste buds were out of whack because I couldn't taste food properly. Also, coffee and wine tasted horrible so I stopped drinking them. My whole body felt "off" and I began to quickly lose weight and developed swollen hands and feet. I also had a hard time breathing and would get easily winded if I walked too far. And although I didn't miss a day of work, I was very tired and wanted to do nothing but sleep all the time - and that is SO not like me. During this time I took a lot of natural herbs, vitamins and holistic remedies, which helped, but they didn't completely cure me of whatever was wrong.
Then, on the afternoon of October 14th, I decided that I needed to get myself to a doctor and find out what was going on because it was getting very scary. I felt completely disconnected from my body.
The following morning, I was wheeled down to the respiratory unit of the hospital where I had my very first lung drain. And although it sounds painful, it didn't hurt at all. I don't know what kind of drugs they used to numb me, but they were faaaaaaabulous! I wasn't asleep during the procedure, I was totally awake and conscious yet, I was relaxed, carefree, and completely void of any pain. The procedure took about 30 minutes. And after it was done, I could instantly breathe better, felt better, and was suddenly very hungry. So when I got back to my hospital room, the nurse on duty asked if I wanted some breakfast and I said, "Yes...I'm starving." I ate scrambled eggs, hash browns, toast, orange juice and coffee.
But even though I felt better after having the initial fluid drained from my lungs, the drain had to stay inside my body until all the fluid had been completely removed, which took many, many days. I had a tube that ran from the left side of my rib cage, down to a plastic reservoir that held all the fluid. So that whenever I had to use the rest room or walk around, I had to carry the plastic reservoir with me.
Everything was going very well until about the forth day, when my doctor informed me that although the drain was working, he noticed from one of my recent x-rays that there was a pocket of fluid on the upper part of my left lung that was not being drained; therefore they would have to go back and put in a second one. So the following day I was scheduled for another drain procedure.
All in all, after the two draining procedures, a liter and a half of fluid had been cleared from my left lung. And after doing some tests and closely examining the fluid, the doctors finally figured out that the infection in my lung was caused from an infection that came from my mouth when I had a tooth abscess last winter. Apparently, the infection traveled down to my lungs and harbored itself there until I got sick last August with the flu and then blew up.
Throughout the following days and week, I got much, much better. In fact, my doctor and attending nurses were so surprised that I responded so well to the treatment. My doctor even admitted to me one day that when he first took on my case and saw what I initially looked like, he was very frightened for me and thought I would need invasive surgery to heal my lung.
And as I got progressively healthier and stronger, I was given a hospital release date of October 28th. However, I was told that I would still need follow-up x-rays and appointments with my doctor, just to make sure I continued to heal. Additionally, I would have to stay on antibiotics for four more weeks to be sure the infection was completely out of my system.
So here I am today, after having seen my doctor for a second visit since getting out of the hospital and got a rave review. In his words, "Ron...you look better and healthier every time I see you!"
Next Monday will be my third and final appointment with my doctor.
I learned SO MUCH from this experience. And in my next and conclusive post, I will share what that is.
Have a super week everyone!
And to all my American blogging friends...have a Happy Thanksgiving Day!