JUST CALM DOWN

It doesn’t take a severe asthmatic to know stress can cause a variety of negative side effects.  One important factor to remember if you can’t breathe is to stay as calm as possible throughout the ordeal – sounds easy, right?

I’m not a very high-strung person and grew up in a family that didn’t really complain about health problems.  In fact there are probably many times I should have gone to the ER in the past but I haven’t because in my mind it just wasn’t “that” bad.  I always distinctly remember an ambulance trip to the ER back in 1995 where the paramedics showed up and were having me hold the tank for the supplemental oxygen they were giving me as well as a few other things.  Another person showed up and immediately wanted to know why I was having to hold everything while having breathing issues.  I think the first two guys were volunteer firemen.  They were cool and all, and before the ambulance pulled away with me in it they decided to start an IV line.  This is also the first time I remember someone having to dig and dig and dig to get one started.  Why’s that – oh, another reaction to stress.  When your body is undergoing trauma one thing that can happen is all your veins hide.  They eventually stuck me in the wrist and I still have a tiny scar from it today.

Eventually we got to the ER where they assessed me, gave me some breathing treatments and what have you, and eventually sent me home.  It wasn’t what I’d call a “bad episode” in the grand scheme of things but I do distinctly remember a nurse or respiratory technician who kept getting in my face and yelling,

JUST CALM DOWN!  YOU NEED TO CALM DOWN!  YOU’LL BREATHE BETTER WHEN YOU ARE MORE CALM!

The problem was I wasn’t freaking out.  I was just lying there, on the bed, similarly to that CD Manolo found on the floor in Burn After Reading.  If something similar were to happen today I’d most likely respond with, “calmer than you are,” but The Big Lebowski was just a gleam in Joel and Ethan’s eyes back then.  I wasn’t thrashing, straining, hyperventilating or sporting crazy eyes.  I was trying to chill out and this woman was screaming in my face.  Kind of counter-productive if you ask me.  Fortunately medical people I’ve dealt with in the past 15 years seem to understand yelling at asthmatics won’t help them breathe any better.  My mom later mentioned to me this would always happen to her sister, a fellow severe-asthmatic, in hospitals and emergency rooms.  I’m glad to see this is really a thing of the past.

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It’s been ten days since my last ER visit and I’m starting to see some real progress on getting better.  I don’t have daily coughing fits and I’m not constantly feeling the need to lie down.  My peak flow numbers are slowly creeping up to 600 and I haven’t dipped into the 300s for several days.  I even had a decent ride on my bike yesterday where I rode longer than 30 minutes.  I don’t think that’s happened for two months or more.  This coming week I’ll be seeing a new doctor for evaluation and diagnosis as well as beginning my participation in a research study, after which I hope to return to work.  With everything going well, I’m feeling better, new doctors on the horizon, and life getting back to normal you’d think I’d be stress free right now.  Well I have four words for you in the form of an acronym – FMLA.

The Family Leave Medical Act of 1993 is a law requiring employers to grant eligible employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from the job within a 12 month period to:

  • Care for their own serious health condition or that of a parent, spouse or child
  • Care for a newborn
  • Adopting a child or the foster care of a child

That’s not totally comprehensive, but it’s basically what the law does.  If you need to go on either full or intermittent leave, paperwork should be provided by your HR department which needs to be filled out by a doctor documenting the medical necessity of you not being at work.  This isn’t the first time I’ve needed to use FMLA and most definitely won’t be the last.  I’ve always thought this was no big deal with my breathing problems, but this summer has been interesting to say the least.  You would think six ER visits, a hospitalization, six courses of anti-biotics, three months of prednisone, numerous xrays, CT scans, blood tests and more doctor visits than I’d like to tally would make it obvious I’m not trying to “scam the system.”  While most of my experiences this summer have been positive, I’ve also had a less than awesome time dealing with my HR department at work.  My actual supervisors have been very understanding and great, it’s just been trying to get everything squared away with human resources, on which I don’t feel the need to get into specifics.

So that’s what is currently stressing me out.  It’s not the breathing, being stuck at home, shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, insomnia, medicine, needles, breathing treatments, hypoxia, bilateral subsegmental atelectasis, bronchitis, possible pneumonia, chest pain, not working, paying bills, the shakes, being prednisone crazy, trying to care for a three year old or figuring out what to name our new child that will be here in a few months.  It’s HR and FMLA – two things which are supposed to be looking out for me and making sure I’m not getting screwed.