Guess it was only a matter of time before I got to be a guest at the ER but nothing prepared me for my experience on Thursday.
I had been experiencing shortness of breath in the days leading up to my surgery but not enough for me to mention it or to think it was time to do anything about it. However, by Tuesday last week, the shortness of breath was much worse and I’d be out of breath after taking literally 5 steps! Suddenly, going up the stairs wasn’t something I looked forward to anymore and dancing with my little one was out of the equation. I probably would have gone on this way if not for the chest pain that developed. I woke up on Wednesday morning feeling like my rib cage was going to crack open. I was speaking to my cousin that afternoon and even for someone who doesn’t wear her emotions on her sleeve, I could tell she was worried. She encouraged me to consider going to the ER and she thought I was crazy when I said I was going into work on Thursday.
When DH got home from work on Wednesday, I told him I was really struggling with my breathing and the chest pain. He checked some stats and was worried, he suggested we go to the ER that night but I have this strange philosophy that no matter how bad things are, it’s always better in the morning. I told him I would sleep it off and see how I felt in the morning. Well, the morning was no different, if anything the pain was worse. DH had tried calling my oncologist but he was yet to get back to him. We went for my one week post-op appointment for the Thyroplasty surgery and I had the dressing removed. The surgeon was happy with the results and encouraged me to use my voice more as I was apparently whispering and afraid to speak up; that’s what 10 months of losing your voice does to you.
I sent an email to work that I would be working from home that day. I actually managed to respond to a few emails on our return from the appointment. At 4pm, DH decided the best thing would be to go see my family doctor as we were yet to hear back from the oncologist at this point. He mentioned before we left the house that there was a chance she’d ask us to go the ER but in my head, I was thinking things weren’t that bad.
Well I was wrong, within 10 minutes of seeing my family doctor, she referred us to the ER. She thought my pulse at 120bpm was too high and that my heart was working extra hard. She was really sorry she had to be the one to tell me I would be spending the night at the ER but she thought that was the best course of action. She promised to call the ER so they knew to expect us.
We got to the ER at 5pm on Thursday evening and painful was the first word that came to mind about the process. There were all sorts of people waiting there and I couldn’t help wondering what brought each one to the Emergency unit that evening. We joined a queue and we were called in to see a triage nurse when it was our turn. She had got a call from our family doctor and had an idea why we were there. She asked a few questions and took my vitals. She made a comment about how I looked so well for someone with stage IV cancer; I still don’t know what to make of that comment but I didn’t take it as a compliment in any way. I hate when people think they are licensed to pass comments on what they think I should look like just because a report tells them I have cancer, DH encouraged me not to focus on her comment and that if anything, it was at least positive.
We were sent back to the waiting room and that was where the painful part of our trip really started. I met a lovely elderly couple (88 and 89) who we chatted with for a while. The woman was hilarious and I remember her shock when DH told her I was an Engineer. She went “how can this little girl be an Engineer”! I asked her how old she thought I was and she said SIXTEEN!!! Can you imagine that! I told her I was at least twice that and she thought I was blessed with incredible genes. I know I look young for my age but 16 is a new low! She was old and nice so I guess she meant no harm.
3 hours and 30 minutes after we got to the ER, we were called in to see a doctor. We met a lovely doctor who had read my charts so she knew what the situation was. She agreed the chest pain could be a result of the pleural effusion but she also suspected pulmonary embolism. She told me they will send me for a chest Xray, a CT scan and some blood work before deciding the best course of treatment. In the meantime, they will make me comfortable and give me something for the pain. Next step was to set a line for an IV. Two nurses and five pricks later (boo!) they were in. They gave me some morphine for the pain and it reminded me of the effect getting epidural had on me in labour – pure bliss! For the first time in days, I felt no pain. Once I was feeling relieved from the pain (albeit drowsy from the drugs), I was wheeled to the labs for the chest Xray and then I was taken for the CT scan.
At 1am, the doctor came back to discuss the results of the scan and Xray with us. Apparently, there was so much fluid in the lining of the lungs that it had flipped my diaphragm (her words1) and the pressure was pushing my lungs into my chest wall hence the pain I was feeling. The next step would be to arrange getting the fluid drained. She had to get the oncology team involved as I was technically their patient.
At 2am, an oncology resident came to have a chat with me. She asked me loads of questions and then she left to have a chat with her attending officer. She came back 45 minutes later to say that they needed to find me a bed on one of the wards as the draining of the fluid won’t happen till the morning. At 4am, they finally took me to a ward in the cardiovascular ward as that was the only unit with a spare bed.
I wasn’t able to sleep at all for the rest of the night as the ward was crazy loud. Good thing was, DH got to go home for a shower and a couple of hours of rest. He was back at the ward by 8am (bless him!) and was glad I would be going in for the procedure soon. Well, it turned out to not be as soon as we hoped. It was another 3 hours before I was sent for. I was taken down to the USS department on a stretcher.
I got into the room and I met the doctor and his assistant. He explained the procedure to me and said I shouldn’t experience too much pain. He pleaded with me not to cough under any circumstance once the needle was in as that could puncture my lungs amongst other complications. The procedure was ultrasound guided, once he found his entry point, he injected my upper back with some local anaesthetics and that prick was the extent of the pain I felt. With DH holding my hand, the doctor drained a litre of fluid from the lining of my lungs! I instantly felt relief although the chest pain was still present; he explained it will take a couple of days for the pain to resolve. He was surprised I went for as long as I did with that much fluid in my pleural.
I was taken back to the ward on the stretcher and after an hour, another oncology resident came to check up on how I was doing. An hour after that, two nurses came to do an ECG of my heart. My pulse had reduced from about 110 that morning to 80, my poor heart finally got a break. At about 3pm, my oncologist came into the room. Have I told you how much I like my oncologist? I really like and respect him except when he’s not sharing news of my bone scan with me!
He was apologetic for not getting back to DH earlier (they eventually spoke when I was at the ER) and he was sorry our experience had been so painful. He explained that he had gone through the reports from our stay and was surprised by how much the fluid had increased. He couldn’t explain why but he mentioned sample of the fluid had been sent to the labs and we should have more information once the results were back. He also explained that there was still a lot of fluid in the pleural and that I would need to have a few more draining episodes (boo!!!). I have another CT scan a week on Monday and I am seeing him a week on Thursday to review all the reports.
On this note, he discharged me from the hospital and DH and I were excited that I was coming home. I came through the door and fell in love with our home again. Nothing like an emergency hospital stay to let you appreciate the blessings of a home filled with love and my favourite people in the world.
I’ve been home now for two days and I’m feeling so much better. Shortness of breath is no longer an issue, my old voice is back and better, I watched my sweet bean playing and dancing all weekend and I am just super grateful for all the blessings in my life. I am alive, I am well, I have a husband that puts my needs first and I am surrounded by love. For today, I choose to focus only on those things x