Saturday, March 18, 2017

Flying Home Early

     As some of you know from my most recent Facebook post, I made the decision to come home a week early for spring break due to my health, meaning that I am missing a full week of classes. This past week was a very long one, and I thought I would provide some more detail here.

      I have struggled with seasonal allergies for my entire life. At the beginning of my senior year of high school, I began receiving weekly allergy shots in each arm in hopes of reducing my symptoms and reactions. North Carolina pollen can get pretty intense, and so I always kept Zyrtec, Claritin, and my albuterol inhaler nearby as springtime rolled around.

     This spring was my first in Louisiana, and things were much worse than I expected. My eyes were constantly itchy, I used one hundred puffs of albuterol in one week, I would sneeze six or seven times in a row, and my body felt "off." I was waking up many times during the night due to an inability to breathe, and I had to start to sleep sitting up. I also started having random, low-grade fevers at night. On Monday I finally went to the doctor, where I was given a breathing treatment and instructed to use Flonase and Benadryl regularly on top of the Zyrtec, Flovent, eye drops, and albuterol that were already a part of my treatment.

      Unfortunately, I also developed laryngitis on Tuesday, and since then I have only been able to whisper or speak in a very weak and broken manner that is difficult to understand. The pain in my throat was intense, and initially I suspected strep throat, which I was not pleased about. "I am going to punch a surgeon if I have strep," I told my roommates, reflecting upon the tonsillectomy I had in December to end the pattern of strep infections that plagued my fall semester.

      I went into the doctor on Wednesday morning for the laryngitis and a strep rapid test and culture, and was given a sheet full of pain-relieving strategies, which I was very appreciative of. However, I really cannot accurately describe in words how severe the laryngitis pain was. It was ten times worse than any of the strep infections I have had in the past and uncomfortable enough to remind me of my tonsillectomy recovery (not a pleasant experience by any means). Further, the combination of my intense allergies with the laryngitis and joint pain rendered me absolutely miserable. Normally this would have sent me into a spiral of tears, but my throat hurt too badly to cry, and so I texted my dad to discuss the possibility of coming home for spring break early.

Throwback to last summer when I was hanging out with my
family plus Mickey in Hawaii with highly functioning lungs
and a lei around my neck.
     We worked on the details of flying home early for a bit, which involved an email to my academic advisor and a trip over to our campus' disability services office. I walked in with a trembling body (wayyyyyy too much albuterol) and with a horribly rusty, quiet voice explained my situation. Consideration for tardies and absences is part of my accommodations, so I needed to figure out if going home a week early for medical reasons was even a possibility. As I was explaining myself to two women in the office, I broke down into tears, upset by my poor health and disappointed in myself for needing to miss classes. Luckily, some previously unknown saint whisked me into her office, provided an adequate supply of tissues, and listened patiently as I slowly whispered what was going on to her, pausing after every few words to suck in a wheezy breath. She helped me to develop a plan of action and put me in touch with some other people, most importantly a case manager, who could assist with the process. When I left the disability services building, I was planning on walking back to my dorm and studying for a test I had a few hours later. On the walk back, however, I gradually began to feel like I couldn't breathe at all, despite the four puffs of albuterol I had recently inhaled. I changed my path and returned to the student health center, where I had been diagnosed with laryngitis just a few hours earlier.

      By the time I was through the doors of the clinic, I was gasping for breath. Luckily, my favorite nurse was in the front lobby area, and she immediately approached me and could tell that I was unable to breathe. She brought me back to a treatment room right away, without even making me check in due to my urgent condition. My pulse oxygen level was not within an ideal range, and I was seriously panicking. I definitely have a history of panicking during asthma attacks like this one, but I feel no shame regarding this tendency of mine, because not being able to breathe is a legitimate thing to be scared of. Additionally, the amount of albuterol I have been forced to take over the past few weeks comes with symptoms of shakiness and anxiety, so freaking out was really no surprise to anyone. This time, however, the tightening felt like it was in my throat and not in my lungs, and I could barely communicate that due to my inability to speak (thank you laryngitis). A few other nurses started my treatment process.

     After taking two more puffs of albuterol and experiencing no relief or increase in my pulse oxygen levels, I was given an allergy cocktail of Benadryl, Zyrtec, and some other drug that I had never heard of before. Luckily, after some nurse-guided assistance in the "you seriously need to chill out" process and the kicking in of the allergy cocktail, I was able to breathe much better and my pulse oxygen level went back up, although my lungs felt extremely weak, my throat was still sore, and my breathing was labored. My favorite nurse, who was not even assigned to my case at that point, came by just to give me a hug and declared that I was her favorite patient. "How's my little one? I had to come check on her, she's my favorite," she told my nurse. I was given some disgusting sugary orange drink that I swallowed approximately two sips of before giving up and a packet of crackers in an effort to raise my blood sugar, and I was instructed to remain in the room for monitoring for a little while.

    Naturally, I picked up my printed notes and began studying for my health care test, which at this point was in only about two hours. "Uh, no," one of the nurses said with raised eyebrows, "We just gave you Benadryl. It's going to knock you out, you're not going to be able to take your exam today." First of all, I was definitely going to take this exam, because there was absolutely no way that they were going to physically restrain me and I was well prepared and ready for the test. Second of all, Benadryl never makes me sleepy (superpower?) and although I pleaded this case to the nurse, she was highly skeptical.

Shout out to whoever created inhalers,
I appreciate you even if they do come
with some rough side effects.
    About a half hour later, all of the nurses were genuinely confused on how I was still awake while laying down in the treatment room with dimmed lighting and quite a lot of Benadryl in my body, but when my doctor finally gave me the option to leave a little while later, I popped out of the bed and headed straight for my test.

    Naturally, I questioned several times whether or not coming home was the right thing to do, despite knowing in my gut that is was. My dad rebooked my flight for Friday night and my grandfather kindly agreed to take care of me during this upcoming week while my parents will be at work and my sister will be at school. I am too afraid to be left alone for long periods of time at the moment, because my lungs are in a fragile state and I likely will not be able to drive myself to the pediatrician if I need a breathing treatment.

     I forced myself to make it to class on Thursday and Friday (although I could not really participate, because my speaking abilities were quite limited). At the start of my first class on Friday morning, my professor walked into the room, pointed at me, and asked, "You surviving?" which I think is a fairly good indicator that my decision to fly home that night was a good one. Luckily, all of my professors were more than supportive of this decision and made it clear that they agreed with my choice. Sometimes it is surprising to me how poorly my health is perceived by those around me when I think that I am doing a decent job of keeping my issues under wraps.

    Luckily, the strep rapid test and culture both came back negative, but unfortunately I still do not have my voice back, my lungs feel small, exhausted, and constricted, and the arthritis in my hips and jaw is not cutting my any slack. Thankfully my family is taking good care of me and my time outside (and therefore expose to pollen) has been eliminated over the next few days.

    The flight home last night felt miserably long because I could not stop coughing and could barely communicate my need for orange juice to the flight attendant, but I knew my dad would be waiting for me at the airport when I got in and I was excited to go home and recover. Before my final flight, he texted me that he had "just finished making [my] bed with newly washed sheets," which is about the most exciting text a sick person on a plane can receive, and I was especially grateful because I knew that it would help to reduce my allergies through the night. My parents are always so generous and supportive of my medical decisions. "Just wanted to say I love you, I am very proud of you, and I am glad you're coming home this weekend. I think it is the right thing to do," my mother texted me after I declined her phone call on Wednesday night due to my inability to talk.

    When I finally crawled into my North Carolina bed, I told myself that my room would have to stay a pet-free zone. My family has two dogs and two cats, and while I love this little zoo of ours dearly, they are not particularly beneficial to my lungs. Right as I was beginning to fall asleep, I heard my tiniest pet, a small cat named Brooke, scratch at the closed door of my bedroom, begging to be let in. I initially resisted, but then she stuck her teensy black paw through the crack under the door, and my heart completely melted. I have no resistance whatsoever. Which would I regret more, not letting her in and breaking her heart or letting her in and having allergy symptoms? I thought. And so I took two Benadryl and opened the door, just as my friends and family have done for me over the last year as I have dealt with infection after infection and medical challenge after medical challenge. I like to think that we all deserve love, even if it hurts sometimes.

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