Thursday, June 24, 2010

Dodging Bullets

In April, I had a nasty chest cold: Productive cough, fever, the usual. It went away, but left a little dry cough now and then, and a tight feeling in my chest.

Okay, that happens a lot: The bronchioles get irritated and inflamed and you develop a case of acute bronchitis. No big deal, two or three weeks, usually, sometimes a month, it fades away.

Two months later, it hadn't gone away. A little tightness in the chest, shortness of breath -- working out or singing, I noticed, now and then a little hacking, still dry. A small wheeze at the end of forced exhalations.

Acute bronchitis is no big deal, but chronic bronchitis, left untreated, whatever the cause, can lead to bigger problems.

And, of course, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so there is a worry about the other crops that can grow and ferment and froth about in one's lungs, and they can range from mildly debilitating to widdershins-down-the-drain-fatal. Asthma, emphysema and other forms of COPD; fungal infections; neoplasms. Couple of my aunts had lung cancer. After seventy years of smoking, my father has emphysema. One of my writer friends died a few years back from COPD.

No fever, no particular misery past what I've already described. But still, it's nothing to screw around with.

So I sucked it up and made a doctor's appointment. Got listened to -- lungs sounded clear. And to be sure, given that I grew up in a family where both parents smoked, plus the family history and all, a couple of other things: A chest X-ray and a spirometer test.

Been thirty years since I had a chest X-ray. They're digital now. Back in my day at the clinic, the tech would shoot the image and the cassette with the film in it went to the dark room where it was removed and fed into a developer the size of a double-wide deep freezer and you waited for it to roll out the other end where it could get stuck up on the light box.

Now, you don't even have to take your T-shirt off. Thirty seconds after the shot, the image scrolls across a computer screen, nicely back-lit. The tech doesn't make diagnoses, and the doc will call me back later, of course, but I know enough about chest films to usually spot something ugly that ought not to be there, and I didn't see that.

Naturally, I prefer a more informed opinion. I'm a long way from my clinical practice days.

The spirometer tests lung function. You take a deep breath and blow into a tube until you start to turn blue. Do that three times for a baseline. Then, in my case, I got a couple spritzes of an Albuterol inhaler -- a bronchodilator -- waited twenty minutes, and repeated it. FEV1 and 6 lung function numbers are beyond me, but I saw the graph and it was normal for somebody my size and weight the first time and not much different the second -- and that could have been because of me figuring out how to do it better.

Could be it's a mold allergy, Lord knows there is enough of that growing around here, we've had record rains and only two days that topped eighty degrees here this year, and it might make it that high today. Maybe if we ever have summer, that stuff'll get cooked.

Or maybe it's just some stubborn remnant of the bug I had. I can get an inhaler to use, though it doesn't seem as if it's going to make much difference, and if it doesn't go away or gets worse, there are always more tests.

My previous visit to the doctor was to get my knee fixed, in the fall of '08. And even though I worked in a clinic for years, I still don't like sitting on the other side of the receptionist's desk.
Not nearly as much fun, though I feel better for having done it ...


J.D. Ray said...

I know you're not real big on the whole idea of smoking, but over the years I've found that, if I've got something stuck down in my lungs, about half a cigarette irritates the bronchial passages enough that they throw out whatever's down there. Mind you, I gave up smoking regularly over twenty years ago, and was never much of a smoker even then.

An occasional cigarette also seems to work as a histamine blocker. Dunno if it's the nicotine or one of the other myriad additives they put in smokes these days, but one or two coffin nails a year keeps me away from bottles of allergy medicine.

Steve Perry said...

A lot of useful medicines are basically very small doses of poison, so one could argue that a bit of this or that might do more good than harm. A glass of wine or a beer now and ten seems worth the effort

Having a couple of relatives who died of lung cancer and another one who can't walk more than thirty feet at a time because his lungs are messed up, and all of these from cigarettes doesn't encourage me to go that route.

My father-in-law died of lung cancer when he was younger than I am now.

I tried 'em when I was a kid. We used them to make us look older when we went bar-hopping. In retrospect, all they did was make us look like kids trying to look older ...

I quit cigarettes the day the Surgeon General's Report came out in 1964.

I did fiddle with a pipe for a couple years, but that was a writerly-affectation, and while I loved the scent of good pipe tobacco when somebody else was doing it, the first draw from a pipe pretty much short-circuited my sense of smell so I couldn't get that while I was doing it.

Anonymous said...

"A beer now and ten": deliberate, typo or Freudian slip? :)

Steve Perry said...

Love to take credit, but ... a typo ...0