Thursday, July 31, 2014

Near Death Experience

A Sigh Of Relief
Touro Infirmary; Not bad....
I am breathing somewhat normally right now, about 12 hours after thinking that I was a goner.
I just came from Wal-Greens, where I was able to fill 2 out of the 4 prescriptions (thanks to the people at The Rebuild Center, who bent their policy of not taking any new prescription requests) which the hospital gave me this morning, before they unceremoniously discharged me.
It was a different hospital than the one that I had gone to on Friday.
An Ambulance Ride
But it was the one which the ambulance took me to at about 3 a.m. this morning; from the spot on the side of Decatur Street, where I had been slumped over; hugging my guitar and fighting to get as much air into my lungs as possible (while trying to relax at the same time) like a fish out of water.
I was in the back with an IV tube in my arm giving me steroids; and a mask over my face giving me something else; so I left the choice of hospitals and the driving; to them.
It had been called for by a cop whom I had flagged down.
I had endured his slightly skeptical looks as I panted out the information that I could hardly breath and felt like I was on the verge of fainting when I tried to walk. I had caught the "Are you sure you didn't just take too big a hit of crack?" expression flash across his face briefly.
After I had gotten on the gurney in the back of the ambulance, and repeated my complaint to the medical people, my voice still trembling with the fear of death; they had a brief pow-wow, during which I heard the older, female, one say to the guy, whose name turned out to be Josh: "I don't think this one's faking." It was then that they decided upon the medications and hooked me up..

Viruses Worsen As The Day Wears On
It began in the afternoon at the VA Center, after I had finished a long, hot shower and discovered afterwards; that my chest had tightened up, rather than loosened, in the steam.
This abated while I sat and watched TV, until the place closed at 3:30 in the afternoon; and I started to think that I could keep the thing in check by staying calm.
I went to the sign spot around 4 p.m., where I meditated and sipped on a gallon of distilled water laced with cayenne pepper; and felt as good as I had in a while..
I even fell asleep for a while, with my pack and guitar secured to a small tree; waking after sun-down.
Walking down Canal Street, though; I felt the weakness and shortness of breath returning. I was walking more slowly than is normal for me. It was about 9 in the evening.
I decided not to busk for a second night, but, rather to spend one of the 11 dollars left on my food card on a gallon of water and then go under the dock, where I had instant oatmeal and honey waiting, along with a loaf of 9 grain bread (earmarked for the rats; as it is a mucous producing food).
I headed towards Rouses Market, thinking about how viral infections "can last 10-14 days," but about how mine was on its 18th day.
I had to pause half way there to put my load down and catch my breath. I had never had to do that in the past.
Lungs Have Always Been Strong
I thought about how I used to play a game called "shark and fish" with the youngsters whom I babysat back in 1994, in Florida, and how I used to hang on to a 10 pound weight before submerging myself as "the shark," and could stay under for over 2 minutes... 21 years ago.
I wondered if I was capable of holding my breath for even 20 seconds as I sat there.
I thought about the construction job which I worked at in 2004, when I swung a pick-ax with all my might in the 98 degree Florida heat; in a rotation of a half dozen guys, each one swinging it until he was winded and then passing it on; each one outweighing me by at least 30 pounds...10 years ago. 

Then, up walked Lilly and Angelique, around 10 p.m., on their way to pick up Chantilly at the restaurant where the two girls work (at landing rich husbands -Lilly makes no bones about that) to chaperone her home.
As they passed in front of me, Angelique gave me kind of a prolonged look; making me wonder if I looked as bad as I felt.
Sitting there and resting had calmed my breathing down; but it was still shallow. 
Lilly told me that I needed to go to the hospital.
I'm Ill Prepared For This
I told her that I already had, but, couldn't afford the medications which they prescribed. I tried to say it in a way which wouldn't sound as if I was skeezing her for money.
Of course, had I known the nature of health care in this country; I would have already gotten my state ID and gotten myself on medicaide; but years of good health had gotten me to turn a blind eye to the whole fiasco.
Not Even Hungry Enough To Forage
I got to Rouses, and bought the gallon of water; leaving me less than 10 dollars to stretch over the next 5 days. I wasn't hungry enough to wait around for them to put any food out.
I headed for the dock; hoping that I could calm down and get to sleep, if I sat there quietly for a while before lying down.
I had to stop a couple times to put my stuff, now with the additional weight of the water, down to catch my breath.
Each time that I stopped, I was able to recover somewhat normal breathing; although it was shallow and choppy.
When I got to the river walk, the security guys just happened along in their golf cart. One of them said "It's after 10 o' clock, this area is closed. I need you to exit through the Toulouse Street exit! Now!"
I did so, but, daunted by the idea of carrying all that weight the mile and a half to the sign spot; I waited for them to disappear, and then returned and went under.
That decision almost killed me.
Hot, Stuffy Air
I got under the dock, took the water out of my pack, took off my shoes and sat there, waiting for my breathing to return to normal, but it didn't.
It started to worsen.
The air felt unusually hot and suffocating; even though the forecast had called for temperatures in the 60's for a second consecutive night.
My chest had expanded so much that my rib cage felt as hard as a rock with no flexibility to it.
I started to realistically fear that I might die under there.
I decided that I had to get out from under there and call 911 as soon as possible, and place myself in their care. What is 911 for, otherwise? I hate to tie up community resources; and God knows I would be running up a debt which my paying back would be speculative at best; but it was getting harder to breath each minute; and the idea of eating oatmeal and reading by candlelight and then resting peacefully seemed to not be plausible.
It was like I was racing against time. Had I made the decision too late to seek help?
The effort that I was putting into just breathing was winding me; in a macabre sort of Cath-22.
The position that I had to assume to put each shoe on and hastily tie it seemed to be squeezing air out of me.
My whole body felt deprived of oxygen; my arms and legs had a sickening tingling in them.
I had visions of rats being drowned by the bird in my head; the bird making them flail their limbs in vain to get them worked up, so that when she dunked them under; they wouldn't be able to hold their breaths.
I felt like I was breathing in bird down; picturing it floating everywhere; stuffing my lungs and triggering the inflammation and swelling.
Just being so afraid was making me want to breath harder.

I decided to just leave my backpack there; laptop and harmonicas and all; suddenly it didn't seem so important. I just wanted to get out into the open where an emergency crew could spot me; should I be laying unconscious. I thought about that movie where some kind of vessel laden with gold bars was sinking; and some were drowning; trying to swim to the surface, taking a bar with them...
I got both of my shoes on and had only made it a few feet; after grabbing only my guitar; when I had to stop and sit down and breath with all my might. But I was further down the bank of rocks and closer to the river and the air seemed a little less stifling.
I decided to pray; and said something simple like "God help me," in between gasps of air. As I did so, a voice, in something like the taunting tone of Leslie Thompson was almost palpably saying something like "Good luck with that!!" and recalling all my doubts about God into my mind, making me feel like it was "too late for that, now!"
But, no sooner than I had uttered it; thoughts came to mind of countless TV shows which I have seen where the medical personnel tell the victim to "just relax, relax."
I relaxed and felt a bit less suffocated; and was able to make another foray out from under the dock.
I sat down again; realizing that I would be within sight of anyone on the Natchez steamboat, but saw no one.
That is usually a welcome sight in my comings and goings but, now, I was prepared to yell "Help! Can you please call 911?!" to anyone who might appear and try to run me off.
Phone Fails Me
I took my own phone out and dialed 911.
I could see the timer ticking but heard nothing on the other end.
I hung up to try again; when they called me back.
There was still no sound coming from my phones speakers.
I gave my location and said that I needed an ambulance, anyway; in case they could hear me; but I not them. I would have sounded like I had a sucking chest wound if they could.
Nobody was showing up, and, after another minute of laying there; I had the "strength" to mount the bank of rocks to the river walk.
There was a thin, kind of homeless looking black guy passing by; the first person that I had seen after coming out from under the dock.
"Can you call 911 for me?" I asked.
He told me that he didn't have a phone, but then told me that my phone should "automatically" dial 911, even if out of minutes, which is true.
I explained the problem with the speaker.
He said "Let me see?" and I handed him the phone.
He looked it over as if trying to find a button to turn the speaker back on; and/or weighing if he wanted to walk off with it; with me hunched over and laboring to breath. But he handed it back.
I then tried to call Lilly, in my desperation; without any luck.
The air seemed a bit cleaner up on the river walk; and I eventually; after the guy promised to call 911 for me, once he got to the casino; was able to make it to Decatur Street and flag down the cop as already detailed above; by walking very slowly and taking huge, wheezing breaths along the way.
The people at the hospital were friendly and tested me every which way.
I had hyper-extended lungs, according to the lung doctor, who was female. She said that my lungs were already quite expanded; and "that's why it's so hard to breath out, but why you breath in so quickly."
They took almost a dozen tubes of my blood; gave me a cat scan, regular chest x-rays and kept periodically taking my blood pressure and putting the mask on my face, full of vapors.
The cat scan guy asked me if I had ever "had iodine" before. I wasn't sure, I said. I am positive now that I would have remembered if I had ever had iodine. What a nasty sensation it was; which I could feel in my lungs and in my testicles. His test showed nothing about my lungs which wasn't normal for a guy who smoked a pack of cigarettes a day for 20 years. 
They concluded that I had had a "flare up of COPD" (which means chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) and that, yes,
it could have been triggered by inhaling the down from the bird; as I have never had such a flare up in my life; and I have never had a bird flapping its wings in my face in my life. The timing of the onset matches with the arrival of the bird. I would like to blame it on something; otherwise I will live in fear of it recurring at some random time and place.
They unplugged me in the morning and showed me the door, after handing me prescriptions for 4 different medications.
Again, I told them that I hadn't played music all week because of the condition and had no money.
They reiterated that the door was right there....sorry, we don't know what to say about that.
Fortunately The Rebuild Center gave me a voucher for 2 of the 4 medications -one of the more expensive ones; and one of the cheaper ones; but 2 of the more effective ones, according to the nun, who is also a nurse.

1 comment:

alex carter said...

Wow COPD? That's what fat old guys who smoke cigars and hang out in bars get.

Birds not only shed little feathers, but also a sort of dust, that keeps their feathers in good shape but ... if a bird is flapping around, you're inhaling some of that bird dust and it really bothers some people.