Friday, January 16, 2009

Scariest Moment So Far

I had the scariest moment of my life yesterday during what was supposed to be a fairly easy, routine procedure to drain fluid from my lungs. It turns out I had a lot of fluid in the linings of my lungs that was making it difficult for me to breathe.

We'd known that for a while now, but my oncologist thought it wasn't quite enough yet to warrant drainage. Maybe she thought it was too risky while I was still getting chemo. Yesterday, we got one liter (1.06 U.S. quarts) out of my right lung alone, in under an hour I think. That seems like a lot of unwanted fluid to me.

So here's the scary moment: After the draining tube was inserted into my right lung, the radiologist had stitched me up, and one of the attending staff was dressing the wound, I suddenly felt like I was suffocating under a massive load, as if somebody were stepping on my sternum so I had to gasp desperately for every breath I took.

I also felt sharp, stabbing pains on the right side of my back. But the worst was the suffocation. I've always been claustrophobic, so this was just unbearable to have to gasp for air.

My blood pressure and pulse went way up. Tony told me later that my pulse got as high as 135 at one point, which is very high for me. All my life, I've had a freakishly low pulse in the 60 range . And my oxygen saturation level fell as low as 88 at one point. It was usually around 92 when I was having simple breathing problems.

And all this time I was panicking, I felt as if nobody could understand what I was trying to tell them. One of the nurses went out and got some hot chocolate and crackers to offer me (at the doctor's suggestion), which indicated to me that we were very much on different pages of the book when it came to understanding the situation. We were reading different books, in fact. In different libraries. On different planets. You get the point. I can joke about this now that it's over but at the time, it was truly terrifying.

Then it hit me suddenly... and this was the really scary part... this could be the END. I could actually end up dying from complications during this simple procedure and I'd never see Josie or Toby again. I'd never see my friend Michelle again. That's when the terror of it hit me.

Thankfully, after what seemed like ages, the radiologist moved the tubing around a little bit (it was off by about three centimeters too close to the sternum) and it started to feel better.

The mistake, in addition to the incorrect placement of the tubing, was in draining too much fluid too quickly. My oncologist said later that we should've drained only 500 ml a day, not 1,000 in one quick, fell swoop. That sudden release of fluid shifted organs about and moved the heart (not very poetic in this context, I'm afraid), hence the tight feeling of suffocation on my sternum and chest.

As for the sharp, stabbing pains on the right side of my back - I figured that one out myself. That must've been the post-procedure pain after the local anesthesia and numbness wore off. Once I knew the source of the pain, I was fine with it. The suffocation and breathlessness, though, that's something I still have to deal with. That phobia might just continue to haunt me for the rest of my life!

No comments: