Monday, 17 November 2014

Let's Take A Deep Breath... And Talk About My Crappy Lungs!

Pictured: How NOT to take an inhaler.

I've not blogged for almost a fortnight and I'm a bit cross with myself about it.  One of my New Year's resolutions this year was to blog every week and well... Like most New Year's resolutions, this has gone the same way as my promise to stop biting my nails.  Which I will totally do.  In 2015...

The thing is, I do have something of an excuse.  Last weekend (not the one just gone, but the one before that), I wasn't well.  Granted, I've already blogged about having not been 100% for quite some time, but on Saturday November 8th, I was really not very well.  I have asthma and, following a trip to Trago Mills to get a few bits and bobs, I started to find myself coughing and struggling for air.  Being an entirely sensible human, I refused to go to hospital and instead sat in the back of the car on the way home, chugging on my Ventolin, expecting it to kick in and everything to go back to normal.

It didn't.

Anyone with asthma will know that that little blue inhaler is pretty much your go-to weapon of choice when things get bad.  You have a cough?  Ventolin.  You need to do some exercise and you're worried your lungs won't cope?  Ventolin.  You're a bit breathless... Well, you get the idea.  Ventolin.  So when your go-to inhaler doesn't work, it's pretty damn scary.  Because the simple act of breathing in and out is something we just don't think about until we can't do it.  And believe me, when you can't, it's literally all you can think about.

So there I was, arriving home after a successful shopping trip, hacking away like I smoke 90-a-day (which is hilarious, because I couldn't so much as touch a cigarette even if I wanted to; cigarette smoke is one of my major triggers).  By this point, I'd taken my Ventolin three times (so six puffs) and it wasn't doing anything.  My chest felt like an elephant had taken up residence on it and actually trying to get any air into my unwilling lungs was so painful that I was starting to regret my earlier insistence that I was "fine."  

Yes.  I am.

Eventually, my mum (I knew there were bonuses to living with your parents at my age!) insisted on taking me to hospital,  During the journey, I was so breathless and in such pain with my chest, that I was actually trying to physically remove something non-existent from my chest; convinced that there had to be something actually on me that was causing such pressure.  Of course, there wasn't.  Just my lungs bashing against my ribcage in a painful spasm.  Thankfully, we only live 20 minutes away from a minor injuries unit, where upon arrival, I was immediately put on a nebuliser.  And where I immediately burst into tears, because not being able to breath is terrifying.  Seriously.  Think of the scariest thing you can imagine and double it.  And then double it again, because of the whole "I'm going to die" thing, associated with not being able to breathe.

Now, if you've just been diagnosed with asthma, or if you're a sufferer who's lucky enough to have never had a major attack, I'm honestly not trying to scare you.  Because what happened next is testament to our fantastic NHS and proof that we have fabulous, life-saving treatments available to us and that as long as we're sensible about our condition, we can live totally normal lives.

Like I said, I was put on a nebuliser straight away.  After 40 minutes or so, my breathing was much easier.  My peak flow had gone up, my heart rate was returning to normal (upon arrival, it was so all over the place that the nurses put me on a silent heart monitor machine so as not to frighten my mum with the erratic beeping) and my oxygen level was healthy.  I was treated with kindness, respect and absolute care.  I was given treatment that I desperately needed, along with a course of steroids to take home to stave off any future attacks.  And I didn't pay a penny for any it.  Our NHS is free at the point of use and we should cherish that.

Yes, I have a pretty major beef with the out of hours doctors service who, after being contacted by a nurse at 3:30pm, didn't get back to the hospital until well past 5:30pm and that was to tell the nursing staff that they weren't sending a doctor to see me until gone 7pm.  That was pretty crappy.  Thankfully, a passing doctor visiting the hospital agreed to come and see me and prescribe the steroids I needed, allowing me to leave shortly before 6pm instead.  I was incredibly grateful to him, because once the attack had passed, all I wanted was to go home, crash in front of Strictly Come Dancing and have something to eat.  Of course that week, Judy Murray stayed in and my annoyance at that almost gave me another asthma attack...

And I say that in the nicest possible way...

Anyway, since then I've been on steroids.  And if you want me to be a pedant, I'd been on them for a fortnight prior to the attack, too.  So that's four weeks.  FOUR WEEKS.

Again, if you've recently been diagnosed, or you're an asthma sufferer who's never been put on steroids, I'm honestly not trying to freak you out.  But guys, someone has gotta spell this out:  Steroids?  NOT FUN.  I'm now - finally - in the process of gradually reducing my daily dosage.  By Sunday, I'll be off them and I could quite happily jump for joy at the thought.  Or at least I would, but I'd probably need my Ventolin first...

So why do steroids suck?  Weeeeeeell...

Firstly, there's the weight gain.  Steroids make you hungry.  But not like: "ooh, I fancy a sandwich."  I mean, like: "Ooh, I fancy EVERY sandwich EVER.  Two of each!  No, three!"  And you eat.  And you're full.  And then half an hour later, you fancy a snack.  It comes to something when the actual list of side-effects printed on the leaflet you get with a packet of steroids is "moon face."  Cheers for that, pharmacists.  I'm half expecting people to ask me if my face is made of cheese.  

And of course, steroids not only make you starving hungry, but they give you acid indigestion as a lovely little extra bonus.  Pro-tip to anyone reading this who's recently been prescribed steroids?  Take those pills in the morning, after breakfast with a pro-biotic yoghurt drink.  It'll protect your tummy.  Plus those drinks are really quite nice...

Then there's the lucid dreams.  And I don't mean dreams that are a little bit vivid.  I mean crazy lucid dreams.  One morning last week, I woke up from such a realistic dream that I was utterly convinced I was in Blackpool.  Why Blackpool?  I have literally no idea.  But I was totally shocked to find myself in my own bed and I had to stop myself from contacting one of my friends to ask how I'd gotten home from "her place" in Blackpool.  The only thing that stopped me from doing that was remembering that said friend lives in Canada and I'm not sure she's even been to Blackpool in her entire life.  Such is the craziness of the steroid-induced dream.

The worst thing, though, without a shadow of a doubt?  The way steroids play with your emotions.  "'Roid Rage" is a thing, people.  As is, apparently, "'Roid Snotty Crying At Nothing In Particular."

Yes, over the last four weeks, I've been a bitch queen from Hell or an oversensitive wreck.  Case in point?  On Saturday I went Christmas shopping.  My mum asked me to text my sister's girlfriend a photo of a gift she was thinking of getting for my sister.  A harmless little request and one I obviously granted.  But then my mum and I separated so we could buy presents for each other and I spent most of the time we were apart messaging my sister's girlfriend in response to the original text.  I love my sister's girlfriend - she rocks and I think of her as an extra sister - but my brain went: "OH MY GOD, WHY IS MY PHONE BEEPING?  I KEEP HAVING TO GET IT OUT OF MY BAG!  WHHHHYYYY?!"  Even though I was happy to send messages back and forth, the sound of my phone going off and interrupting my shopping was so irritating to me that I started wanting to throw it.  Preferably at someone.  Of course, I hated myself for feeling that way and I was equally confused about feeling that way, because I was texting someone I think the world of.  By the time I arrived at one particular shop, only to discover they'd sold out of the very thing I'd gone there to buy for my mum, I literally had to gulp "okay, thanks" at the poor shop assistant and then leg it out of there before I burst into tears.  On my way out of the store, some hapless woman stopped dead in front of me, blocking the exit and I yelled: "MOVE!" and barged past like some ignorant bitch.  If I could go back in time and politely say "excuse me," I would do, ten times over (although that would be a bit excessive).  Upon making it out into the street, I could literally feel adrenaline coursing through my veins and I wasn't sure whether I was going to scream at the world in general or have a massive breakdown and weep right there in the street,  My poor mum was amazingly patient with me and didn't flinch when we met up again and I announced that I hated literally everyone on the planet.  I knew what was causing my erratic moods, but I could do precisely nothing to control them, other than keep taking deep breaths and apologise.  And apologise.  And apologise again...

Literally nothing and nobody was safe from my ire.  I arrived home from our shopping trip and tried to fit presents for my friends into gift bags I'd bought.  One bag was too small for all the presents I wanted to fit into it and I actually yelled at it: "WHY DO YOU HATE ME SO MUCH?  YOU'RE RUINING CHRISTMAS!"  And then I cried, because STEROIDS.

Thankfully, I've gone from 8 per day, to six and now down to 4.  My moods are bordering on normal as I decrease the dosage (I say "bordering," because I've never been quite normal :P), much to not only my relief, but probably everyone who has ever met me.

But you know what?  As my very sensible friend Richey pointed out last night; these drugs might be incredibly annoying to be on, long-term and I might hate the side-effects.  But thanks to them, I've not had another attack in the past fortnight and I've become able to do my morning exercises again without collapsing in a breathless heap.  They might be irritating, but they do the job.

And at the end of the day, that's all we can ever ask for.  That when we're poorly, we get the right treatment and we get well again, whatever it takes.  I'm on the mend now and I promise to update this blog more regularly and to crack on with my Sunday Challenges again - I've missed those!

So if you're asthmatic and you've read this and are thinking "OMG, I never want steroids..."  Well, I don't blame you.  But the alternative is way scarier than the side-effects.  Like... Way scarier.  My advice?  Take whatever they give you.  Just ensure your loved ones are a safe distance away from the blast zone when the moods kick in...

I promise to keep this blog updated more regularly.  And who knows, I might even keep to another New Year's resolution and stop biting my nails too...  In the meantime: here's to getting well again, here's to our fantastic NHS and here's to this weekend's Sunday Challenge, whatever it turns out to be! 

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