Sunday, February 19, 2017

What happened when I got afraid

I got afraid twice this winter.

As a political progressive, I got afraid when the new president started signing executive orders that were frightened me. It wasn't exactly the orders that scared me. It was the idea I got in my head that the checks and balances built into our Constitution wouldn't hold against a challenge. When the executive order pertaining to immigration got overturned by individual judges and then by a court of appeals, and the administration decided to take another look at it, I was relieved. Since then, the wild ride that is the new administration is something I keep up with, but it's now out of curiosity rather than fear.

That's the political fear. The other one is entirely of my own making.

I have health anxiety. Whenever any issue comes up around my body, I immediately think of the worst-case scenario, and then I run with it. Here's what happened.

Just before Thanksgiving I caught a bad cold which I took with me on a plane ride from Tucson, where we live in the winter, to Seattle, where we have our family home. After Thanksgiving, I brought the cold back to Arizona.

The next week I noticed I'd feel out of breath after walking a block or so. I had an episode where, after walking two blocks to our activities office, I had to stand outside the door for a minute while I caught my breath. That scared me. My husband took me to a nearby ER where I was diagnosed with bronchitis - though I didn't have a cough - and prescribed meds for bronchitis.

The meds didn't work, but the breathing issues improved somewhat. I did notice, though, that when I'd read out loud, or have a conversation, I would sometimes run out of air before I was done speaking. And then, when I did take a breath, there was a soft wheeze. Probably my post-nasal drip, I thought.  I tried to put it out of my mind. Instead, my anxious brain went to the worst cases: lung cancer, COPD, heart disease. And there I resided for two months.

I told myself it was because my health insurance is through an HMO, which will reimburse in Arizona only for Urgent or Emergent care. I thought I ought to wait until May, when we return to Washington, to be checked out.

Here's what happened in the meantime:
  • I had three friends who commented that my breathing sounded funny, or my voice sounded hoarse. I told them all I had post nasal drip.
  • I started exercising less. Hardly any water aerobics. Very few recreational bike rides. Fewer walks, more driving.
  • I had two more friends express concern that I hadn't completely recovered from my cold. I told them I had post nasal drip.
  • I started missing nonessential scheduled activities because I didn't have a lot of energy, and besides, I didn't want people making comments about my breathing.
  • I isolated somewhat from friends I have at home, not emailing or texting as much. One of my very close friends, Deb, asked me what was wrong. I told her I was fine, thanks. I didn't return phone calls or messages from other friends for a week or more, and then responded tersely. 
  • I noticed that nothing sounded really interesting - not even my upcoming trip to Greece.

Finally, last week, I turned myself in to Mary Beth, the nurse practitioner at our resort. I already knew her from a shared activity. I told her what was going on. She said, "Yes, you have restricted breathing. I have noticed that for a while."

It was finally okay to tell the whole story. It felt like I'd gone to confession. Mary Beth took my history - including that my dad had tied of emphysema and cirrhosis when he was 57. She and I both noted that I have had my share of injuries - broken leg and arm and ruptured Achilles tendon - but that I have had few illnesses other than colds and flu. 

Then she said, "I think you have asthma, but I'm going to run a few tests." I got a breathing therapy session that day and the next. It was wonderful, as I rode my bicycle home after the first appointment, to feel the whole new gymnasium of air now available to me in my own body. The chest x-ray was normal. Lung capacity was normal as measured by a spirometry test. Circulation was fine.

When Mary Beth told me the chest x-ray was normal, I was thrilled and exhilarated and told her so. "No, you do not have lung cancer or COPD. Your worry about this is part of your anxiety disorder." What a relief that was. Embarrassing, but a relief.

She prescribed me meds for allergy-induced asthma to knock down the current asthma symptoms, an inhaler, and meds to minimize the possibility of future occurrences. She told me I'd feel better in a week, and I believe her.

Here's the deal, though. My fear and denial kept me from making that appointment for six weeks. During that time I ignored or disregarded the concern of my friends. I avoided activities that wouldn't allow my denial to persist. And I spent a lot of time in my anxious mind - which is a dangerous neighborhood.

Yesterday I was talking to a friend, a retired nurse. She said, "Linda, I told you twice last year that I thought you had asthma. You said no, you didn't." So this must have been a developing thing. I don't recall having any symptoms last summer in Washington or on any of the eight trips I took. But maybe I did.

I have relatively few fears - health issues and falling from a height - but both have been personally limiting. It may be time for me to do something about them. 

In the meantime, I want to make amends to the friends I disregarded. That's a first step, at least.


Deb Shucka said...

Sending you love.

Linda Reeder said...

Interesting. So are you saying you do have asthma, exacerbated by anxiety?
Anyway, I hope you are on your way to feeling, and being, better.

#1Nana said...

Good for you for facing your fears. Isn't that the first step? Hope you're on the mend now. Looking forward to having you back to AWESOME...I can't do it all on my own!

Linda said...

I've been wheezing off & on for a while. Family insisted I tell doctor. Last week I had pulmonary studies done including test for asthma. I'm pretty sure I don't have asthma. I didn't react to any of the drugs used in that test. The respiratory therapist said my numbers were consistent with what they expect to see in a smoker. I've never smoked even one cigarette. Your post reminded me I need to call tomorrow and get the results. Perhaps I'm not dying since no one has called to tell me that. Thanks for the reminder, I'll get on this tomorrow.

I think you sound worse than me. I hope you feel better very quickly. Arizona should be a good place to live if you have asthma, right? Washington, maybe not so much?

Nancy/BLissed-Out Grandma said...

Well, I can understand why you would put off that medical appointment ... glad you finally did go and that you got good news. I hope you'll be feeling lots better very soon.

DJan said...

I had seen some mention of this on Facebook, but this is the first time I've heard the whole story. I'm so glad you are okay, and that you "only" have asthma. I've been putting off my yearly wellness visit, so I'll call for an appointment as soon as I finish this comment. See what good you have already done in the world by writing about all this? Sending you big hugs, Linda! :-)

Arkansas Patti said...

I am so happy that you finally took charge and found the culprit and that it wasn't as bad as it could have been. Denial is so easy, we all do it. My sister developed asthma late in life and is doing fine. Come to think of it, I have a lot of those symptoms also. Hum--maybe I should get it checked and quit blaming post nasal drip also. Thank you for this post.

Olga said...

I am glad that you have overcome those blocks and found out the cause of the breathing problem. It sounds like you have wise, caring and knowledgable friends -- well worth listening to them!

Elizabeth said...

I think health anxiety is very common. Who doesn't suffer it actually?!

Barbara said...

I didn't realize there was such a thing as health anxiety and I have it in a big way. I can feel something not right in my body and I immediately jump to the worse case scenario. I'm glad to hear that other people suffer from this. I don't feel so stupid. However, even hearing what you went through and finally did, I don't think I have enough strength of mind to be proactive. I am, however, going to work on this. Thanks for sharing. It has really been a blessing.

Tom said...

Glad you're okay. I think that's a problem we all face -- we have to be the first ones to diagnose ourselves, to decide whether it's worth going to the doctor or the clinic in the first place. If we only had a "school nurse" to check these things out for us ...

joared said...

Certainly glad you've been able to address your breathing issue. Two things come to mind from what you say. One is our tendency to do what you did, not seeking medical consultation for some issues that arise -- for me it's not due to fear, it's because the issue is so mild that I think it will probably go away, or don't recognize that it's as problematic as it ultimately turns out to be. Secondly, for too many people -- as you stated for yourself, you thought you'd wait until you returned to Seattle because of your insurance coverage in Tucson. Too many people put of seeking medical help because of their insurance limitations. There's something terribly wrong with such a system -- especially in this reportedly wealthy nation. The Affordable Care Act has helped some but no one seems to know what will happen with that, but I seriously doubt it will resolve the problem described here for too many people.