Greetings from the 14th floor isolation room a top the Moffitt building at UCSF medical center in San Francisco. Your guest host for tonight’s show is..well, me of course. I’ll be discussing how much fun it is being a patient in the hospital with severe asthma.
Just happy to be alive, I was hoping to broadcast live from my hospital bed last Saturday night, but I was too sick. In case you hadn’t heard, your favorite middle-aged marathon walker managed to rack up his 104th trip to the slammer and his 18th intubation for asthma. You heard right.. 18 intubations!! (we’re talking science fiction stuff here). Anyway, I must have been really sick, because it took me 4 whole days to get online and get word out about what was happening to me.
To hear the ICU doctors tell the story, it was my participation in the Boston marathon that did me in. The first thing that many of them said when introducing themselves to me was… Is it true you did the Boston marathon? (Most of them thought it was pretty cool). One of the residents had even read my blog and remembered me from an earlier hospitalization.
The fact is, I was breathing really well the day I left Boston and a full 5 days before going to the hospital. The marathon may have caused some major leg pain and body pain, but it didn’t cause my breathing to spiral out of control. What did me in was a nasty bug that decided to invade my chest, which I probably caught on the flight back from Boston. I knew I was in trouble that Sunday when it turned into bronchitis. With me, chest colds and asthma can be a deadly combination.
Knowing that any delay in seeking treatment would only make things worse, I only fought the attack for 2 days before hightailing it to the slammer, for which I was incarcerated for 12 days. A rather lengthy stay… even for me.
Not wanting to worry about leaving my car in the parking lot or on the street, I decided to take BART and Muni from my home in Crockett,Ca to the hospital in SF. I wasn’t in a lot of distress at the time, so I figured taking public transit wouldn’t be a big deal. As always though, I misjudged just how sick I was and by the time I completed the 90 minute trip to the hospital I was definitely in trouble.
I checked in at the triage desk in the ER and only had to wait about 10 minutes to be seen. It wasn’t really until the triage nurse was working me up that I realized just how sick I was. My sats on room air were only 84% ( they were 92% when I left the house) and my BP was through the roof at 220/114. I thought..oh shit here we go again. I could actually die from this freakin flare.
From the triage area the Nurse downgraded my condition to serious and put me in the cardiac resuscitation room (you know you’re sick when they put you in that room). A million people came rushing in trying to jab needles in me and place those sticky monitor leads all over. They began the usual protocol cont nebs, mag sulfate, steroid bulus, chest xrays, blood work, etc. Took em about 20 minutes to get an IV in me and get ABGs. After about an hour in the ER, the ICU staff came down and evaluated me. Because of my notorious history, they decided it would be safer to monitor me in the ICU.
I arrived at the 13th floor ICU sometime around 10 pm. Early blood gas results had shown that I was starting to retain CO2, so in addition to the 20mg/hr of cont albuterol and a huge bolus of prednisone they decided to put me on Bipap. After 2 hours on Bipap they rechecked my gases, but my CO2 was still climbing. At that point they decided that since I would be requiring frequent ABGs, that it would be better to insert an Arterial line, which they did. It was shortly after that that I remember them saying that my gases were getting worse and that I needed to be put on a ventilator. Reluctantly, I agreed and 20 minutes later I was out for the count.
The next thing I remember is waking up on the ventilator choking on the ET tube. Shortly after that I was breathing on my own and extubated. Total time elapsed from intubation to extubation was appx 21 hours( a fast turn around for me). I found out later that the reason they extubated me so soon, was because I had pulled out my A-line (a potential catastrophic situation) and had also threatened to self extubate ( pull the breathing tube out). Of course, I don’t remember doing any of this, but I did find it odd that my wrists were tied when I woke up. I also found an IV in my foot and another in my shin! Not mention a Foley catheter and and an NG tube in my stomach. Too many freakin tubes and wires!!
I spent the remainder of the day in ICU where things were starting to look up. While there they set me up with a PCA, so I could self-administer Dilaudid whenever I got short of breath. ( yes, I use opiates to quell my breathlessness)
Anyway, the following morning I was transferred to the step down unit and was on track to be discharged home 2 days later on that following Friday.
Ah, but that expectation was shortly lived. Just hours before my planned discharge , I started wheezing and coughing uncontrollably. It was as if I was experiencing some massive allergen exposure to something in the air. It was bizarre. My nose became plugged up and then started dripping like faucet wide open. My lung sounds went from clear to sounding like a washing machine during the wash cycle. You could here me wheezing from down the hall. I somehow managed to pick up ANOTHER freakin virus right there in the hospital. Once it got in my chest, that was it, I couldn’t breath again. It was like the asthma attack was starting all over again. Not knowing what kind of virus they were dealing with, they moved me to a private isolation put me back on high dose continuous nebs and bumped up my pred to 120 mgs . I stayed on the continuous nebs for almost 4 days before the attack started to ease. Finally, 12 days after the initial attacked started I had met all the criteria they had set for discharge and was allowed to go home.
During the 12 days I spent in the slammer, I lost 11 pounds. I was so dehydrated that they skin on my toes was dried up and was peeling off.As far as battle scars go, I counted 66 holes in my arms and legs and of course that wonderful black and blue bruising you get from all those Lovenox injections in your stomach. Amazingly, I don’t have a sore throat from the intubation.
The first couple of days at home have been rough. Yesterday I was so short of breath I thought I was gonna die. My FEV1 had dropped to 22% ( .65 liters) The lowest its ever been. Part of the problem is that I was discharged from the hospital on high doses of pred ( 100mg) and sometimes this can actually have a reverse effect on my breathing. Today I’m down to 90mg and plan to wean by 10 mg per day till I get down to 50 mg and then slow the taper from there. Considering the trauma that my body has been through ( again) , I think Im doing pretty good. I think the training for that marathon helped me get through this better than most people would.
Spending time in the slammer is never fun, but all the Doctors , Nurses and RTs I encountered this time around were awesome… many remembered me from previous admissions. Dr Wenzel of course was a big help as was one of the attending physicians Dr Thompson who put in a good word for me to a local pulmonologist Ive been trying to hook up with.
Most important though, I wanna thank all my friends for the their love and support. I received over 200 emails and letters, not to mention some real artwork. Thanks Kerri and Sara M.