Bronchospasms, tiny pills, and the 65-hour work week

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.


A bad week sends me to the ER

Last week picked me up like a rag doll and slapped me against the ground hard.

It started with neighbor problems during Memorial Day weekend that led to emails and conversations with the police during the week. Then our yellow lab tore her ACL and went in for a $5,000 surgery for her knee. A rough week at work rocked my equilibrium in the way only work can do, and Saturday morning my heart lost its rhythm and off to the emergency room I went.

Home sweet home.

That’s the executive summary. Here’s the full scoop.

Our neighbor problems continue. Based on my complaint and other neighbors’ complaints, the police visited the parents to let them know the neighborhood was stressed about their daughter. I’m not sure how much it helped. The email from the officer stated the parents understood, but were “not appreciative of all the complaints.”

If we were renting our house, we’d be gone. Owning a home is overrated. My advice is to own a mobile home instead. I wish we did.

Now I spend every night looking at and every available house in our price range. No luck. There’s limited inventory these days. And something about having to move because of uncaring neighbors really upsets me. We may have to move, but it’s not going to be a fast process.

Our six-year-old lab hurt her knee last year. We went to the vet and he took x-rays. He saw a small speck, but felt it was nothing because she was walking okay. But our dog grew more bothered by the knee, so we went back and he gave us the name of a specialist, who diagnosed a torn ACL. In she went in for surgery the very next day. And now our bank account is light almost 5K. We love our dogs in this family. Or I should say we love the yellow lab because we got her when my daughter turned four. She and my daughter have a bond. I can’t explain it. It exists. And my wife loves the dog too.

I may work for one of the top 100 best companies to work for, but that doesn’t mean every day rains gummi bears and I spend half my day at the beach. The term “work/life balance” makes us laugh daily when we talk about the workload. I am going to write more about this in a future post. All I know is that both my wife and I work for large companies and I’m thinking it’s time they started hiring more people to do the work.

Welcome to the ER.

All of this led to my heart going into Atrial Fibrillation Saturday morning and an ER visit. It’s interesting because I thought a heart with no steady rhythm would be a big deal when I got there. It felt like a big deal to me. But despite the my pulse jumping from 60 to 160 and back again, they didn’t exactly rush to help me. I guess if I’d said I was having chest pain, first class service would’ve kicked in. It felt that serious to me. Eventually, they got around to doing something. They gave me a shot of ativan, an aspirin, and a large IV bag of fluid and my normal rhythm returned. But I wonder which came first, the panic attack or the crazy heart rate? I’ll never know.

Now I have to go see a psychiatrist. I know I have a problem with anxiety and need to manage it better than taking an occasional Xanax Skittle. The A Fib episode gave me a scare. I don’t want to go through it again.

And I should add this. I’ve had time to think about the week and what caused the stress. Yes, all of the above happened. And all of the above contributed to the problem. However, it was really the fear of what might happen in the future that pushed me over the edge. What if the neighbor retaliates and hurts my wife or daughter? What if I can’t negotiate my way through the politics of this project? What if I lose my job? My insurance? It really comes down to worrying about the unknown.

I don’t believe in God, but that doesn’t mean I don’t speak to her sometimes as if she existed. And I asked her for a sign. Something to show me I should continue and not give up. To continue to put up with the challenges of life. And she delivered one of my favorite songs, “Blackbird.” Interesting choice. I guess it’s like a dream – it’s my interpretation that matters most, not the dream or the song. And though I thought about not mentioning this part because it feels embarrassing, I’m leaving it in. It is what it is. And it happened.

Bye bye, Tooth. Hello Happiness – I think I’m gonna cry

It’s gone. Lost forever. Pulled out by an oral surgeon who went to medical school to learn how to do it without a hammer and chisel, or string and doorknob. Or black magic. Thank the universe for good, old-fashioned science.

This is the same type of x-ray they took for my tooth extraction. Scary looking. It reminds me of the alien Predator. Creative commons.

It wasn’t as bad I thought it would be. I tapered off the blood thinner to avoid a small gusher when he pulled it, but it wasn’t as bad as the root canals I’ve had, which last a couple of hours.

Five minutes of tugging on it while I was loaded up on a full dose of Xanax and listening to Mumford & Sons’ “The Cave” and life was good again with a piece of gauze to bite down on for an hour.

I was so happy when it was over I think the dentist thought me to be a wee bit mad, as in “Mad Hatter” mad.

It’s just that the stress of the decision to get it removed while stabbing myself with generic Lovenox twice a day worked me over in the head for a few weeks. I had visions of bad things happening, something I’m sure a mere dentist couldn’t understand.

And when I lived, I was so damn happy, I must have confused him by acting like a lottery winner who was happy to lose a tooth because he still had a million bucks in the bank.

I’ve alive. How do you like those apples?

Pulling my big fat tooth, which cracked thanks to the stressors of life causing me to grind my teeth, didn’t kill me – yet. I survived another medical procedure, one of hundreds, which I’m experiencing like restaurants on a “Best of” list.

The dental assistant told me it would take 45 minutes, which meant from the time I got in the chair and received the many Novocaine shots, including one into my infected gum that brought tears to my eyes.

“That area was a little sensitive, huh?” the dentist said, which makes me think it would be hard to lie to dentist, as they’re probably good at reading minute changes in facial expressions, and could have second careers working for the CIA ferreting out lying informants, thus bringing down the need to waterboard every enemy in Iraq.

So, I drove home, carefully, but happy I didn’t transform into a Bellagio Fountain of blood and that it didn’t take 60 minutes of chipping away and drilling to dig the tooth out. Pull, pull, pull – it’s out, go home. Yay.

But I do miss my tooth because, slowly, life is chipping away at me one piece at a time, most of which I cannot see, but feel.

But I can see the bloody socket where the tooth was and work at it with my tongue.  I have a feeling of loss, along with memories of drinking 8 16-oz bottles of Coca-Cola a day when I was younger. And letting the sticky soda work its magic on my teeth for hours at a time.

It all catches up to us at some point down the road, they say. And they would be right, whoever they are, #&$#@*s who want to be right all the time. Well, they are.

When life attacks

I spent yesterday afternoon in the ER – as a visitor. My wife went there because she had the panic attack of all panic attacks and her blood pressure skyrocketed. I wished I could have changed places with her.

I felt terrible that life had overflowed her bucket with lice, my hemoptysis, her crazy workload, and upcoming trip. I realized I was seeing a version of me when I go through anxiety attacks. It scared me because she’s been bulletproof up till now.

What’s kind of nutty is that I had to take a Xanax when she went to the ER because I had a panic attack. It was amusing when the doctor gave her a dose, too, as I was there to drive her home. I smiled because my little pill had kicked in for my pharmaceutical joy ride to the heavens. Sure, Doc, I’ll drive her home. My rocket ship is parked outside and ready to blast off. Maybe we’ll stop at a bar on Mars and knock down a couple of Xanax chasers.

It’s amazing how life and work become so overwhelming and hard to keep up with some days. My sincere thanks to the corporations for ratcheting up worker productivity the last few years. Companies may be right that high productivity is profitable, but they fail to factor in the cost of increased health care expenses. Even my healthy co-workers have problems dealing with the load. Some of them make secret ER visits and numerous doctor visits for their possible stress-related illnesses.

Tomorrow, my wife leaves on a business trip.  I want her to go because it will be good for her. But I don’t want her to go because if I cough up a lot of blood, it’s going to be one crazy time taking care of my daughter. She’ll have to stay with friends or hang out with me in the hospital. “Daddy, let’s go over your symptoms again. From what I can tell you’re experiencing what’s known as a panic attack. Now get over it so I can go back to playing Pokemon?” Okay, I will for you, bossy little princess.

The next three days are going to be like walking around with wet dynamite in my chest, hoping I don’t jostle it. Wish me luck.

When my mind goes south

[Adult language and themes]

I’ve been trying to figure out what happens when I have bad days and feel like ending it. I wrote the camel story the other day because it described that it’s not the single straw but the load that breaks my back. My doctor once described CF as carrying a full bucket each day and it only takes one or two added drops to cause it to overflow. Overflowing is bad. That’s when I end up in the ER because I think I’m having a heart attack.

My thought process can be positive six days of the week and “bam,” day seven arrives and everything goes south in a hurry when a couple curve balls come my way. I realize I’m not thinking straight, but I feel trapped. And only one solution sounds reasonable as an escape. I know I’m screwed up, but I can’t do anything about it.

Here’s a sample from the other day.

Blood streaks. Fuck me. Not good. Where will this lead? Hospital? No. I don’t want to go in again. I can’t go in again. I can’t do it. I can’t take another trip there. I have a ton of work right now and important deadlines to meet. I don’t want to talk to HR again or call my bosses and explain.

I should end it.

I have to fly to New Jersey at the end of March. I haven’t flown in almost a year. When I walk through the airport, I’ll be carrying heavy bags and exerting. Exertion equals blood. I don’t want to cough up blood in the terminal. I don’t want to cough up blood on an airplane again. What hospital will I go to in New Jersey? I can’t spend two weeks there on IVs. What if I need another embolization?

I should put an end to all of this.

An email saying I have to go to Detroit for training later this year. De-fucking-troit. No. Another plane trip. I can’t fly. I don’t know that city or anyone in it. What if I cough up blood there and have to go to the hospital? Two weeks in Detroit. I don’t want to go on that trip. How can I get out of it? How many special favors do I require at work compared to every one else. Fuck CF.

I’m not sure it’s worth going on.

I have a growth near my ass. How funny is that. I won’t mention this on my blog. Too embarrassing. Great. What doctor do I see about this? I’ll start with the skin doctor. Seems like a fatty tissue. Gross. I think it’s been there awhile. It it was cancer, I’d be dead by now wouldn’t I? Have it checked out. I hope it’s not serious, but I’ll ask the nurse to leave the room when the doctor looks at it. I’ll have to put one leg up on the chair. Embarrassing.

I can’t do this anymore.

My wife is going on a business trip for three days. I told her to go, but I wish she wasn’t. I have to take care of our daughter. That’s a lot of work. How will I do it? It’s the week before my deadlines. What if I cough up blood while my wife is gone? How fast can she fly back? Who will my daughter stay with? Probably one of our friends. How many days could I make it coughing up blood and not going in? The hair brushing and homework and all the stuff my wife does. I don’t know if I can do it.

I should just end it now. That’s the best solution. I can’t do all of this. I just can’t do it anymore. I’m embarrassed. It’s just not worth it anymore. I don’t want to fail.

So, that’s how it goes. At the time it happens, it’s serious, a wave that comes over me as the load becomes too heavy to carry. And I can’t break away from the thought process. It is a feeling of being trapped, and I have to escape. Then, later that day, I feel okay. Sometimes it takes a Xanax or two. And it’s ironic because every other day I’m worried about losing my life. This, however, I do know: It’s hard to be this screwed up and know you are.

Use the Force next time an anxiety attack happens

After two visits, my new heart doctor suggested I should go on Prozac. “Forget you” very much, doctor. At what point did you not notice my extensive list of medications? The one that comes on a scroll and unrolls onto the floor.

Sure, let’s add another med to the list. Genius idea. Especially a drug like Prozac, which can do all kinds of strange things to your head. May I have a prescription for a .44 Magnum handgun, too? Pretty please with mustard and my brains on it?

How did I get here?

My fantastic regular heart doctor is getting up there in years and is a 60-minute drive each way, plus the two-hour visit. So, every time my heart does its samba, giving up four hours of my day is a real drag just to be told I’m alive. So, I spun the doctor wheel of fortune and picked a new one close by. The five-minute drive rocks. But the new doctor ain’t my old one.

During the first visit he was complaining about his older patients and how slow they moved and how long the visits take. During the second visit, he mentioned how the children of dying patients don’t accept the fact their parents are dying and nothing can be done. He wasn’t making a big production of his frustration, but was whining. And, as I’m the king of whining, I can spot when someone else is stealing my stage time.

I was also thinking he has life pretty good. He’s a doctor, married with kids and doesn’t have cystic fibrosis. Right there he’s ahead of the game. No whining allowed, Doc. What the hell are you complaining about? Where’s the genie that gives you CF for a month to teach you what you should already know? You’re living the high life.

Back to the five-minute Prozac diagnosis.

Along with the suggestion for Prozac came a few suggestions that showed he hadn’t listened closely to why I was anxious, and ended with the simple advice “don’t worry so much.” Oh, doctor, it’s that easy? Why didn’t I think of that? I’m so lucky. You cured me with your brilliant wisdom. May I kiss your stethoscope to show my eternal gratitude? I promise to name my next boa constrictor after you. The one I’ll let wrap me up and squeeze me to death while I’m high on Prozac.

Prozac this. I’m insane, not depressed.

[“Cranky tonight, I am,” as Yoda would say – if he were not on Prozac, though we all know he is.]

Kicked to the canvas today

I’m not sure what hit me today, but I got punched hard.

I was feeling well early in the day. I did 30 minutes of light exercise bike during a conference call. Then, I made and ate my lunch. Then everything came crashing down fast. First, I felt like my eyes and were tearing and burning. It felt like an allergic reaction, but I’d taken my Alavert. Felt a little like I couldn’t breathe and was very sleepy and nauseous. My stomach was bloated, too, and I felt like I had to bring air up. Had some trouble swallowing. Then the anxiety kicked in thinking that my lung may have collapsed again, which I haven’t completely ruled out.

Took some xanax, which helped, but 7 hours later I feel like I’ve just reached my knees at best. Still feel like my stomach isn’t right. I have to admit in these moments I feel like giving up. The only thing I did differently today was take my zithromax at lunch instead of dinner. Maybe I had a reaction to that? Could the light lunch have allowed the zithromax to react differently in my stomach? Hard to say. Will call doctor tomorrow if not better.

Apologies for the post tonight. Better one coming tomorrow, I hope.

Never turn your back to the ocean – the joy of panic attacks

What a fun day – the panic attacks started early and I tried to fight them off, but there is only so much I could do.  Like a giant wave, one engulfed me in the late afternoon with such an intensity that I thought I was having a heart attack or one of my lungs had collapsed.  I was convinced of it.

I’ll never understand how my mind can overrule itself.  I know it’s possibly a panic attack, but my mind is reading the physical symptoms and telling me something major is wrong.  Had to resort to half a xanax and felt like such a wimp.

That’s the downside of cf and aging – you have to constantly read the signals your body gives you.  Am I SOB?  Is that chest pain? Are all systems functioning properly? There’s a lot to monitor constantly.

Add to that the stress of work today, and “bam” I got churned in the whitewater.