I ambitiously set myself a goal in my head of making it through the summer without having any trouble with my breathing. The date (1 September 2018) became more concrete in my mind as I breezed through July without any issues…if I made it to September, the date that marks a new academic year, kids back to school and the end of the summer holidays seemed to be realistic and would to me, indicate that I’d had a few months of being back to normal Olivia again.
On Monday 13 August I had a really positive and productive day at work. I’d bought a bike to start cycling with Mum in an effort to improve our fitness and I’d sorted out all kinds of boring life admin that I’d been putting off for ages. Monday was a good day! I went out for an evening walk with Mum, feeling completely fine and happy and then a few hours later… cough, cough…cough.
The cough itself would be absolutely fine (yeah it sounds a bit weird, it’s loud and sounds worse than it feels), it’s not hard to deal with. The thing that bothers me more is that it completely takes my breath away. It makes the standard ‘in-out’ breathing quite uncomfortable, laboured and just not easy at all.
Even then, it was okay. I knew what the plan was. I knew that I needed to increase the amount of time I was spending on my saline nebuliser – let’s clear this. It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine…we have a plan. So, I threw myself in to taking more of my nebuliser, more inhalers and just decided to be a little kinder to myself. I’d already been making much more of an effort to take my medication religiously, I’ve been hellbent on doing everything I can to put myself in the best possible shape for winter.
I went to work on Tuesday, admittedly I didn’t feel great but I didn’t feel as awful as usual and thought I’d give it a go. This was a mistake, I should have stayed at home. The coughing became more severe, the breathlessness became too much to ignore so I took myself home and started to allow myself to consider that I might not be very well.
Weirdly, I’d forgotten how odd it felt to be breathless again. To be breathless getting out of my car, to be breathless when making a cup of coffee and to find it really uncomfortable to just sit and breathe at rest. It made me zoom in and focus on listening to my body.
I continued with the nebulisers and inhalers but I just couldn’t shake the feeling that I wasn’t getting better and wasn’t getting any relief. I was starting to get more exhausted and uncomfortable but weirdly, the rest of me felt ‘well.’
But if I felt ‘well’ what was it that caused the cough and the breathlessness? I didn’t have a cold, I didn’t have a temperature and I didn’t have any aches or pains. It didn’t seem to me as though I had an infection. I wasn’t really sure what to do next to get relief (being out of breath is really uncomfortable, especially for a couple of days) so I referred to the letter from my consultant about what to do in am emergency.
The ‘plan’ (you know how much I love plans) was to start a course of antibiotics immediately. Now, I’m really not a massive fan of over-using antibiotics or using them when I don’t really need to so I wasn’t keen to start these as my body really wasn’t giving me any signs of infection.
The point here is that when I feel unwell, I doubt my body. After being told for years and years that my breathing issues were ‘just asthma’ I still can’t shake the feeling that I don’t know my body. It’s useless at giving me signs, my breathing often deteriorates without any warning and so I’m constantly second-guessing what it’s doing. This is why I rang a GP for advice as to whether to start the antibiotics given I wasn’t seeing any signs of infection. They said that I couldn’t be too careful with my airway and that I was a complicated case so should always be over-cautious and start the antibiotics. I did this because I love to stick to a plan!
A few days later I was still struggling and my breathing was getting worse so I decided to go to the hospital. This time, after lots of investigations that included stethoscopes, blood tests and x-rays my suspicions were confirmed – no infection. It actually turned out that some of my medication had been causing me issues. The saltiness of my nebuliser had been drying out my throat, irritating it and causing me to cough… damaging the problem more. Argh! I’d only been trying to follow advice from my consultant.
I guess the moral of the story for me is to listen and trust my body, see myself as an expert in me and just continue to learn how best to handle it in terms of how much/little I need my nebuliser and finding the pattern that works best for me. Big learning curve, feeling like my airway is very similar to The Princess and the Pea – one of my favourite fairytales!
Are you wondering “What the hell is tracheomalacia?” – give my first post a read.