“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” Maya angelou
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” Maya angelou
I’ve been an asthmatic a good portion of my life. I genuinely empathize with so many that have been affected by this ongoing pandemic. I’ve lost count of the late-night visits to the emergency room and trips to asthma and allergist specialists, the ear, nose, and throat doc. After making so many visits, managing my symptoms throughout the years, I became a lung guru. I knew my triggers, the times of the year those triggers would most likely flareup, and what to do about things if I fell ill. However, in the era of COVID-19, the year of many uncertainties, I couldn’t have been further off from my traditional pinpoint precision.
On March 26, 2020, I came down with extreme lethargy. I thought the fatigue was the usual end of the week blues. After all, I’ve been seeing patients all week, teaching students in the evenings, and trying to maintain a household. Mid-afternoon, I had what I thought to be an asthmatic wheeze and a peculiarly strange noise of excessive secretions coming from my lower airways.
My first reaction was to medicate instead of carefully listening to my body. I took flight upstairs to my drawer of medical equipment and stockpile meds. I had to prove that I was mildly dramatic and that there was no way my airways were compromised without my knowledge. I grabbed my pulse oximeter – this is the small device that goes on the finger that measures oxygen saturation in the blood vessels – and then I waited. I expected to see 99%-100%, but then almost lost my mind when I started to get readings of 88, 91, 93, then it jumped to 97% and stayed there. I scratched my head a couple of times and looked at myself in the mirror, which neither helped to get my numbers higher; it was just confirmation that I wasn’t dreaming. I was very much awake and convinced I was having an acute asthmatic exacerbation. I gave myself a quick neb treatment and took 60 mg of the spare prednisone I had lying around. Walah! That should do the trick, or at least that is what I thought. I mean, after all, to err is human, correct? Not even four hours had passed before I felt I needed another neb treatment. I scratched my head again and then ran back to the mirror. I almost had a complete meltdown trying to do my health assessment. I must’ve called every medical and nursing friend I knew to see if I missed something in my health toolkit, but they had nothing more to offer; neither did I.
After the second and mildly successful neb treatment, I decided to visit the local urgent care. The tech took my vitals and wigged me out further. Oh, Ms. Hunter, your blood pressure is up a little bit, and yeah, your blood saturation is a little low. While she talked, I prayed. I was escorted into the next room and told the doctor will be right in. Moments later, I found myself thumbing through my phone from app to app to see if anyone else reported the same symptoms. To my surprise, there was a pocket of people complaining about vague symptoms, especially shortness of breath. One of my social media friends had posted she was recently diagnosed with double pneumonia and had to work despite how she felt. I cringed at the thought that she had to work with such a serious diagnosis. Then I thought about myself and wondered if I was overly worried about nothing. My thoughts are then interrupted as the physician walked in. We have a quick conversation about my symptoms. I went over the spill about being an asthmatic and having chronic problems with my allergies when the seasons change, but this has been by far the worse. I tested negative for the flu, ultimately told my airways were tight, and told to take a five-day methylprednisolone course. Big sighs! Steroids and I have this long love-hate relationship: They love to fix my lungs. I hate having insomnia and mood swings while they’re doing it!
Once home, I started to make preparations to contact my asthma and allergist specialist. I made a list of questions, concerns, and requests – with more nebulizer solutions at the top of my list. When I spoke with my specialist, he requested that I do a few things differently, like monitor my vital signs, log the entries, stay away from mucus-producing foods, follow up with him in a week, and notify him of any changes.
Monday morning, I noticed my symptoms were at a standstill. I was down to two methylprednisolones, had taken neb treatments almost every 6 hours precisely, yet I had little improvement in my condition. Now, if you didn’t already know, I will tell you that anxiety is the cousin of any airway compromising situation. You can, therefore, imagine my heightened awareness for doing things precisely. I stopped all mucus-producing foods in the interim of things, including the average Saturday afternoon pizza delivery. I changed my diet to include eating fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, plenty of water and teas, and vitamins and supplements, which I believe spared me some agony in weeks to come. However, when I was down to the last methylprednisolone, I started having a nasty cough. Lawd, this cough was like something I had never experienced before. I was coughing all day, all night, in what seemed like massive congestion. Ugh! Then the ‘cold’ moved to my nose. I was blowing like a trumpet. I blew my nose so long one night to the point that I occluded one of my ears and almost passed out. Talk about fun times! Anyway, Tuesday evening came way too fast. I had to teach that evening but still wasn’t feeling like myself. I mustered up the strength to go nonetheless, making sure I had my tea of unique ingredients prepared: ginger and lemon tea spiked with 1 tsp each of cayenne pepper, turmeric, and slices of garlic and more ginger. I sipped on this concoction the entire class, yet I still was feeling bummed out.
Interestingly enough, I was teaching the fundamentals of nursing that night, and as you’ve probably guessed, measuring blood saturation was part of the lesson. One of my students told me my pulse ox (blood saturation level) was 92%. I kept the device on my finger just a little longer, waiting for the numbers to rise, and when it didn’t, I knew for sure something else was wrong.
Most seasoned nurses triage and treat themselves, so you can imagine I followed suit. The state’s COVID-19 cases were heating up, and being honest, I, like many others, was scared out of my wits to enter another doctor’s office. Trying to find a COVID-19 test at this time was like looking for a needle in three haystacks. Even if they did have an available test, the media shattered all hope of me taking it. I instead did what most people across this planet did – I gave my spirit, body, and mind everything it needed to regain strength.
I performed lung exercises daily, sometimes two to three times a day. I found an article written by Johns Hopkins that vitamin A showed specificity against the virus. Luckily enough for me, a dear friend of mines introduced me to Total Life Changes and their product NutraBurst. Now, I did not write this blog to sell anyone. I am sure by now we all have a particular regimen that we hail by. I was just happy seeing the product had 1500 mcg of vitamin A combined in it.
Weeks went by, Maryland’s COVID-19 cases had skyrocketed, so a decision was made to move the classroom online. Needless to say, I am officially scarred by the end of the week because one Thursday evening, during class, all hell broke loose.
I knew something was wrong but could not put my finger on it. I asked my sons earlier that day if my eyes looked a little different to them. To me, they did. I noticed they were glossy-like and unusually reddened, almost as if I was coming down with another cold of some sort. Again, I attributed my self-awareness to the media sensationalizing COVID-19. Near the end of my zoom class, my right temple felt like someone hit me over the head with an ax! I had a splitting headache that came on fast and hard. Ouch! You can imagine I went for the bottle of Tylenol. I took two 500 mg of Tylenol with tons of fluids, thinking I might have been dehydrated. One hour later, the headache grew progressively worse. I stopped the class a few minutes early and called a friend. What came next left a permanent stain in my memory that I never wish to relive.
I headed to my shelf of vitamins and supplements when I started to become confused. I uttered, “something is wrong.” Of course, my statement concerned my friend, and they wanted to know what was going on. I couldn’t tell them. I had no idea at all. By the time I reached the kitchen where I had stored my health toolkit, my entire body had gone cold. I want to be clear with my statement so that you, the reader, understand. In other words, my body felt like I didn’t have a pulse. That’s how cold I was. I immediately turned the heat up to 85 degrees! Then came the rigors. Never in my life had I ever experienced anything like this! I was shaking so bad I felt I was about to have a seizure!
I went down the row of my supply, one by one, popping everything I could in my system. Someone had told me that should my family or I get sick with the virus, do not become dehydrated, or else, there will be devastating consequences. Therefore, I prepared at least five tall cups of beverages to sit next to my bed and sip on every hour that night. I had lemon water, regular water, my concoction of tea, orange juice, Gatorade, and a bowl of garlic chips and ginger slices. I set my alarm to wake me up every hour, on the hour, so that I could sip a little more. I called my family and next-door neighbors, making them aware of the situation. I also told my sons to call me on the phone but don’t enter my room. The last thing I wanted was for anyone, more so my sons, to feel what I was feeling. I repeatedly took my temperature and measured my blood oxygen saturation that entire night. Both levels were within the normal range. I received heartfelt messages and prayers and was grateful for each that replied and checked on me throughout the night and the next day. To date, I remain thankful for the outpouring of support. It is one thing to be sick, it is another to be isolated, and it is an entire horse of a different color to endure both without support.
The totality of my symptoms lasted nearly two months. It is now November, and my normal lung function has not fully returned. In case you are wondering, I measure my breathing with a peak flow meter. Before getting sick, I could reach numbers of 550 easily. I have now been reduced to 450, 500 if I take a neb treatment. Either way, I am appreciative of each breath and mindful that many others were not as fortunate.
Throughout this year, many of us endured unparalleled anxiety; some more than others. While we aim to share our stories and improve our physiological health, please make sure to equal the playing field for your mental health. It also matters. Many moons ago, I read a book that specified unchecked stress is equivalent to making a dollar’s worth of pressure, but you only spend a dime’s worth. The question is, what happened to the ninety-cents? If you don’t spend it, or in the case of health, expend, then your body takes on that ninety-cents worth of pressure and manifests into other undesirable conditions. Essentially, if you don’t take your mental health into accountability, with or without acquiring COVID-19, a person can still end up having a heart attack, a stroke, or worse.
However, don’t fret! You can take charge of your health to come out the victor.
If you have been historically anxious or recently developed a new mood, I strongly encourage you to share this information with your primary care provider. They will help you with the next steps. Next, I would begin staging your home into a zen den. You know you best, what makes you comfortable, and what gives you peace. Arrange your house accordingly. I tend to use tons of aromatherapy to mist the furniture, the curtains, and the linen. Given I am asthmatic, I use evergreens, tea tree oil, and eucalyptus essential oils, therapeutic grade only. This same regimen also applies to candles, bath and shower bombs, body lotions, and creams. I also enjoy classical music, smooth jazz, and other soft-sounding instruments when I am stressed. If this works for you, great. If it doesn’t, stick to what soothes your soul. I also suggest unplugging from the everyday monotony of life. Now, before you throw cyber stones at me, hear me out.
Remember how I was at the doctor’s office, thumbing through my phone, going from app to app? If you did not recognize this behavior, I would tell you that it was a form of anxiety, insidiously masked as a usual way of life. I was anxious and used my phone, those apps, as a quick solution to calm me. Supposed I’d come across something at that time that would’ve increased my already heightened awareness? I was already dealing with anxiety from having shortness of breath. The last thing I needed was to read or see something that would’ve ended up complicating the matter.
The next thing you should try is to allow yourself to enjoy a day without social media. Unplug from it all. Bask in the ambiance of health motivation, knowing that the center of your focus is you. Align your health. Balance your spirit and mind, and take back what is rightfully yours – oneness! You deserve to be whole, complete with a sound mind and a heart of gratitude. Always remember you were born into this world because you can handle it! I am praying for you, for me, for our country, for the world at large.
I would love to hear from you. Please feel free to leave a message to let me know if this story resonates with you or someone you know. Likewise, if you have other thoughtful tips that can help the next person leave those messages.
Until the next time, cheers for excellent health, better mental health, wholly health!
Raw stories, by real people.