It’s a skill to open a box and bottle of baby aspirin in Rite Aid while you’re having a panic attack, can’t breathe, are bloated from eating 11 plates, or over 22 pieces, of $2 sushi for dinner followed by Baskin-Robbins Watermelon sorbet on a sugar cone, sport an irregular heartbeat, have a blood pressure reading of 150/99 measured on Rite Aid’s free blood-pressure measurement device, and have the strong feeling you’re going to fall into the pharmacy shelves dead, shitting your pants right next to the boxed enemas.
Ironic, it’s the best way to die.
I chewed one pill, then another, and one more for good measure, making sure I didn’t take too many and cause other problems, like coughing up blood, or a another nosebleed from hell.
I walked in measured steps to the Rite Aid cashier and presented her with a mangled box of generic baby aspirin. She didn’t skip a beat scanning the bar code, and I wondered if I was the only one to ever hand her medicine that looked like a bear had opened it.
“Would you like your receipt?”
“Sure. Thanks,” I said, suppressing the urge to ask, in my calmest and most relaxed, “hey, life is grand, and sorry to bother you with this,” voice, “but can you tell me where the nearest hospital is?”
I left with aspirin and receipt in hand and climbed the sloped parking lot, careful not to raise my heart rate and feel more out of breath. At the car, I opened the cap of my personal pill bottle and removed an anti-anxiety pill, Ativan, which is the smallest pill I’ve ever seen, and exactly the opposite size you want to be finger-wrestling with when your hands are shaking. Could the makers add some bulk to it, please? Handlebars? Make it stick to the skin? Something to reduce the stress of thinking you’re going to drop it and watch it roll down the slope of the Rite Aid parking lot, under a car, and into a tar pit of oil slime.
And what choice would there be but to go face-down on the black top, stretch for it, and flick it out, hoping the owner of the car didn’t show up and run you over, or wasn’t a card-carrying member of the Rancho Cucamonga mafia with a fear of people planting a bomb under his car.
But that didn’t happen.
I held onto the pill and swallowed it with a bottle of water that had been rolling around my car for a couple of months, as I forgot to buy one in Rite Aid and didn’t want to walk back. And who knows what I put in my body from drinking hot water filled with leaching plastic chemicals. I’m thinking it will be years before it catches up with me, and odds are that something else will take me out sooner anyway.
While waiting for the tiny pill of happiness and good times to kick in, and hoping my heartbeat didn’t go into A Fib, which I hate, I had the usual internal debate that comes with my panic attacks: To E.R. it or not?
That is always the question, and the answer is always a trip to the E.R., where I calm down and leave with instructions to follow up with my personal physician. But this episode was different, as the CF team had prescribed two weeks of my arch nemesis: Prednisone.
No drug hurts me like this tiny little fucker. It’s the wicked witch to the anxiety med’s tinier good witch. It raises my blood pressure, makes me nervous, delivers hallucinations, and, during tapering, makes me angry like the Hulk, but red, not green.
I waited in the car, then out of the car, then in the car, out, in, out, for the anxiety med to switch on.
Should I try to drive the 70+ miles home? What if I am having a heart attack? Would I die driving?
I practiced my relaxation exercise of taking a deep breath in through my nose while pushing out my already bloated-stomach filled with $2 fish and rice, lots of $2 fish and rice, and blowing out slowly by pulling my stomach in, not the most comfortable process.
And I repeated my usual mantra: I am such an idiot. I hate cystic fibrosis. Breathe. I am such an idiot. I hate cystic fibrosis. Breathe.
And I waited.
My work week started at 7:00 a.m. Monday morning and didn’t end until late Friday night, which I don’t think gives away the ending that I lived. At most I found time to eat and sleep during the week, but the rest was work or thinking about the time-sensitive, large-budget “so everyone has an opinion” project at work. And the pace was intense and filled with barbed wire to climb over.
And then I took a crash course in Bronchospasms 101 and wished that I had purchased my new FEV1/FEV6 meter years ago. At least I had it now and was able to track the TOBI Podhaler shooting down my lung function and oxygen saturation days before a meeting in Rancho.
Ah, more CF cruelty: new med, lower lung function. Are you kidding me? Really?
After numerous emails and conversations with the CF Team (a great group of caring people), I killed the Podhaler and replaced it with the drug created by the devil himself, Prednisone.
For the first time in seven or eight years, I dropped all antibiotics – nothing or nada in my mouth or veins with “mycin” in the name.
Cold turkey, baby. Where’s my one hour chip?
So, with my FEV1/FEV6 way down, I replaced antibiotics with steroids. Again, are you kidding me? Who thought up this cruel joke?
But once again life proves why a valid medical degree trumps an Internet research certificate: my doctor was right and my lung function started going up once I dropped the Podhaler and swallowed the steroid. But that didn’t keep me out of the Rite Aid Parking lot.
I took a risk sitting there in that parking lot and drove home with my pants unbuckled to make room for my whale belly and my “on the go” breathing exercises. I didn’t care if I lived or died. I just didn’t want to go to ER again. Couldn’t do it. No way. I hate the process too much to endure it. The hours of waiting. The questions. The strange looks. The “you have CF?” comments, followed by something like, “but you look healthy.”
When I got home, I didn’t tell my wife what had happened. I stripped off my office work clothes and put on my work-from-home work clothes. I gathered my breathing treatments, stepped on my treadmill desk , fired it up, and went back to work.
And tomorrow came, again.