Flavin's Corner  March 2002

The Wonky Way

I’ve sometimes promoted better living through chemicals, though my chemonautical investigations were recreational and fairly harmless.  Last week a bout of flu caused my lungs to shut down and for two sleepless days and nights I rasped and gasped, and barely grabbed a nod or two upside-down like a bat.  I felt sanity and life slipping from me.  I couldn’t breathe.  It was time to follow the wonky way and I called for an ambulance.

Apparently the front-line against asthmatic complications is a portable nebulizer pump, which transforms medicines into a fine mist and allows deep penetration into bronchial passages.  So, I’m flat on my back, knowing my heavy smoking has something to do with my current condition, and am being asked to hit the pipe, as it’s supposed to make me breathe easier.  Right, smoking will make it all better. Actually, it helped.

A chest x-ray revealed nothing nefarious, my blood work didn’t merit any calls to the CDC, and the chunk of lung that I coughed up as a specimen wouldn’t be expected to start growing cultures for a few days.  I was parked in a back room, given some anxiety drugs, and offered the pipe every half an hour or so.  My condition stabilized and in the afternoon a doctor asked me what I wanted to happen next.  This confused me.  I was told the doctor could perhaps “put in a word” and get me a room or he could give me some drugs and inhalers and send me packing.  So, I elected to go home.  Wrong choice.

I was home all of five minutes before the shortness of breath returned.  It was pure panic.  No matter how hard or fast I tried to breathe, it didn’t feel as if I was getting any oxygen.  A frantic call for a taxi brought a young kid screeching to a halt in front of my apartment building.  At the hospital the kid said the ride was free, but I tossed him a five because I was touched by his offer.  Okay, so I’m at the hospital again and I can’t breathe.

The admitting area was filled with a couple of dozen people, though I couldn’t discern a hospital employee among them.  I opened various doors, looked in rooms, and tried to find someone who could help me.  Sleep-deprived for a couple of days, unable to breathe, and with that hunched over lurch usually reserved for the criminally insane, I was finally noticed by a young woman who yelled out to no one in particular, “He can’t breathe!”  One of the doors I hadn’t tried opened and an admitting employee came out, grabbed my arm, and led me into the emergency ward.  Within a minute I was sucking on the pipe and life was good once more.  I hadn’t realized how much fun breathing is.

I was wheeled upstairs and given a bed.  The nurses put me in a gown, started me on pure oxygen, and placed an intravenous line in the back of my hand for some eventual use.  A doctor informed me my assigned doctor would be around at some point.  I made a request to be knocked out, as I hadn’t slept for a couple of days and felt sleep would benefit me greatly.  I guess that was asking too much, though I was given a mild sleeping pill which essentially did the trick.  I slept four hours and awoke covered in blood.  I’d pulled the IV line out and my sheets looked like I was a victim of a slasher.  The nurses were cool about the accident, changed my sheets, put in a new IV line, and I passed the rest of the night without further mishap.

The next morning I met the doctor who would be in charge of my case.  He told me that my breathing problems were rooted in anxiety and recommended Zoloft, a popular psychiatric medication.  I was given some steroids to make my bronchi more manly and asked to schedule an appointment in a couple of weeks.  My breathing improved, the guy in the bed next to me died, and a couple of days later I checked out.  It wasn’t the happy ending I was expecting.  I was wonky and not pleased in the least.

According to the literature, it generally takes two to four and sometimes up to eight weeks for Zoloft to take effect.  I’ve been popping these tiny purple 50mg pills for a week now and, perhaps it’s just my imagination, but I feel different about a half an hour after ingesting a pill.  Things slow down.  I’m tired.  It’s like a mild sedative.  It’s creepy.

I had a minor horror-show with the gal-pal last night.  She accused me of becoming a pacifist wuss zombie and demanded I stop taking the Zoloft.  There was mention of a lack of spirit and complaints of no yelling, screaming, and cynical banter.  I’ve promised to be a jerk and get into a big fight with her tomorrow night.  It’s the least I can do.

My anxiety has been a dear companion for many years.  I often enjoy my heart pounding in my chest as I fret and worry about this and that.  Now, with borderline high blood pressure, years of smoking, and getting into my middle years, I’ve lately been concerned with following Philip K. Dick into that big stroke that ends the tale right when it starts getting good.  Rudy Rucker touched on this in his novel, Saucer Wisdom (see: 8-13-99).  Death is a lousy co-author.

I’ve got a followup with the doctor in a week.  I’ll ask to lose the Zoloft in favor of something that makes me feel less wonky.  Feeling groovy is okay, but I miss being miserable.

Trying to think bad thoughts,
Rick

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