For the past week, my son and I have both been dealing with a cold that won’t quit … a real test on his asthma and our methods for managing it. (Photo taken during one of his treatments a few days ago.)
Today, he had a doctor’s appointment to get some new meds. Unfortunately, Martin could not join us, which meant I was on my own to communicate in German, to explain and describe what we’ve been experiencing. I was so anxious! Continue reading →
For the past few days, this kid was coming down with something, which meant restless nights of nebulizer treatments and sleeping in the rocking chair with him so he could breathe. It all came to a head a few hours ago when he got really weak and couldn’t catch his breath, so Martin took him to the ER.
I just sent Martin this selfie. I’ve been pretty sick for a week now — flattened by viral pharyngitis, fever, congestion, horrible throat pain, no voice, super swollen lymph nodes, poor sleep, lethargic — and this was the best I could do.
I look forward to having him home soon. He’s not allowed to leave the country during flu season again.
It’s been two weeks since I was diagnosed with shinglesfor the second time in my life, and today is the first day I actually feel pretty good and normal again. There’s a very faint soreness in the area where my skin turned red on my shoulder blade — I feel it if I move my arm a certain way — but that’s it. All things considered, I am very lucky. I know it could have been worse.
First time out of the house in a week for me, so we got some frozen yogurt! Still got some healing to do — lingering pain is probably gonna be around for awhile — but at least I’m feeling more like myself today.
This is the second time in my life I’ve duked it out with herpes zoster, which is not the same as the more common herpes simplex virus, but nevertheless, it’s still just as weird and unsettling to be told by your doctor that yes, you are ONCE AGAIN suffering for an unsavory and rare disease that usually affects the elderly.
The first time I suffered from this was in December 2005, when I was 24 years old, and just a few months into my new assignment at the Pentagon.
I blogged a poem about it in an attempt to be cheery since, you know, the holidays. But it was awful. And strange. I remember the right side of my scalp hurting, as if I had been whacked by a hairbrush, or like someone yanked a clump of my hair in an attempt to pull my hair out. Weird, especially since I couldn’t recall anything like that happening to me, but I figured it would go away. After about three days of this pain, I woke up with a visible knot in my neck where my lymph node usually hides, and a slight fever, and my office SNCO (senior non-commissioned officer, one of my bosses) ordered me to get checked out.
My doctor — a petite Indian lady with a thick accent — felt my neck, checked my scalp, took a look at my back, and declared, “You have herpes zoster!”
“I beg your pardon?”
“You had chicken pox as a child, yes? It lives in your nervous system. And it is active again. You must be under a lot of stress. You have shingles.”
So that was that.
I got heavy duty pain meds, anti-viral medication, steroids, and bed rest. I used the time learning about shingles, how the chicken pox virus lives dormant in various dermatomes, and the theories of what triggers it to become active. Because it was caught before a blistering rash actually erupted, I was fortunate: the pain and the skin sensitivity on my scalp could have been a LOT worse. It was mostly my head throbbing and my scalp itching.
I was back to work in a week, and any lingering pain was gone by the time New Years rolled around.
I didn’t catch it as quick.
At some point on Friday, my right shoulder blade started to hurt like I had pulled it. This didn’t alarm me, as I keep a tension band at my desk at work, doing arm and shoulder stretches throughout the day. Plus, we were planning on going to Ohio over the weekend, and I was lifting and carrying suitcases out to the van as we prepared for the trip. I couldn’t recall moving it in a way to cause injury, but who knows? The pain wasn’t unusual or unbearable. So I ignored it.
On our way to Ohio that Friday evening, while driving through the armpit of Maryland, our van’s dashboard lights lit up indicating engine trouble. Not wanting to break down on the side of the road overnight, we got a hotel room, and spent the night. I woke up Saturday morning with terrible shoulder pain in the same spot. I assumed that I had slept wrong on it in that unfamiliar bed, so I took some Tylenol and tried stretching it out.
Then I had Martin work on it, and when he got tired of that, I had the younger two kids stand on it. I kept asking them, “Do you guys feel anything knotted there?”
But they couldn’t feel anything odd, and that was the first time it dawned on me that perhaps this pain wasn’t muscular. But nevertheless, a warm shower and more Tylenol soothed it. Yet, it was *always* hurting.
We got home on Saturday afternoon after the local mechanic in Maryland deemed it safe enough to return home, and I spent the rest of the evening wearing my heating pad strapped to my back. By Sunday morning, it was more of the same, but then I also noticed that the skin below my right armpit, wrapping around my torso from that spot on my shoulder blade, actually stung like razor burn. Or like someone snapped me with a rubber band.
Nevertheless, I sucked it up, took more Tylenol, and headed off to the local amusement park with the family that day.
But as Martin drove us there, I googled ” right shoulder blade pain” on my phone, and it led me almost immediately to shingles articles.
However, I didn’t have a fever or headache or fatigue, which were the other major symptoms. I only had the pain.
I mentioned it to Martin.
“You can’t get shingles twice,” he said. “You were too young to get it in the first place! Nobody gets it twice.”
“Yeah, but … isn’t that my luck? If it was my muscle, and I pulled it, wouldn’t the heat and massage help it by now?”
Before I went to bed on Sunday, I stood in front of the mirror and stared at my back for awhile, at the spot where the pain originated. The skin looked normal. There was nothing to see. But I couldn’t shake the feeling.
And sure enough, Monday morning, I could barely move my right arm. My shoulder blade was throbbing and the pain along my armpit was raging, and there on my back — in that spot — there was redness and the beginnings of four or five little bumps.
I hollered for Martin. I showed him my back. He swore they were just zits. I swore back at him.
Without much more discussion, we got the kids dressed and headed to our providers’ Urgent Care. (Since we had planned to be in Ohio, I was already on leave from work.) The whole time, Martin tried to convince me I was just getting panicky about b’acne.
I hoped he was right.
However, it took less than 10 minutes for the Urgent Care doctor to diagnose me. He said it was a good thing I got to him within 72 hours of the rash first appearing because the anti-virals can stop it from spreading. But I would still be dealing with a slight rash.
And then he asked, “So? Are you under a lot of stress? More than usual lately?”
All I could do was laugh.
Since Monday, I’ve been home in my bedroom, pumped up on pain meds, anti-virals, and steroids, all taken on a very strict schedule.
They make me groggy and loopy.
The bumps on my back never did grow bigger, but the pain definitely intensified. In the moments when I’m waiting for the pain meds to kick in, I stare at the ceiling and try to think of ways to describe what I’m feeling.
It’s like the most intense razor burn after knicking off a few layers of skin from one’s ankle bone while shaving one-legged in the shower. Surely, other women can relate to that moment when it doesn’t yet hurt, but you know you cut yourself, you know it’s gonna scar deep, and you know it’s going to get worse when the water actually hits it. And then the water hits it, and it’s not just a burning pain, but it’s like acid being poured and seeped into the area around it.
That’s how it feels around those small little bumps that still look harmless and non-threatening.
I can’t imagine how it would feel if I had waited longer, and they actually blistered and turned violent like I saw on those online photos of other people with shingles.
And then there’s the discomfort along my torso and under my armpit, which feels like I dry-shaved the whole area before slathering on some kind of irritating lotion or deodorant.
I’m not the only one who has ever done that in a rush, am I?
In fact, I thought I actually did that — even though I couldn’t remember doing so — but the doctor explained the pain is just the virus stretching out along that specific dermatome under my skin. Had it run its course without medication, I probably would have broken out in a rash along there, too.
There’s always a silver lining.
For me, the silver lining is having this time with my family. All of the kids have had the chicken pox vaccination, so they can be around me, and it’s nice not being completely isolated. Usually, I’m the family doctor and nurse, the one who bandages wounds, distributes the medication, and changes the bedsheets every day so feverish little heads have something cool and clean underneath them.
Now, it warms my heart when I see my kids try and do these things for me. I have a very groggy, but very sweet memory of Lola sneaking into my bedroom to put a clean blanket on me as I napped, leaving a kiss on my cheek. Miss C brings me books and ice water throughout the day. And Jaz checks in regularly, too, asking if there’s anything I need, and quickly getting his Dad if I do.
And speaking of Martin, even though he’s shouldering all the family and house work this week, he gets a silver lining, too.
With pain like the kind I just described, it hurts like hell to have anything touch the skin on my back and torso. I have one silk tank top that hangs loose enough to tolerate, but for the most part? No shirts. No undergarments. No bed sheets above the waist. Even the breeze from my ceiling fan creates little irritating whispers of a burning sensation.
So, most of the time … I stay … comfortable.
With that said, I was having a moment yesterday afternoon. My hair was a mess, my face felt swollen from sleeping so late, I was feeling weepy from the pain, groggy from the meds, annoyed that this was happening, frustrated that I couldn’t do anything about it, and woe is me, and all that jazz.
Martin sat at the end of the bed, nodding, listening, all with a goofy grin on his face.
“But, you know what?” he finally said. “I know you feel bad, and shingles is bad, and I don’t like that you feel bad, but if you’re gonna be sick, and I have to be your nurse, well, I can’t complain about the view.”
And then he nodded at me with that silly grin.
I couldn’t help, but smile, too.
That’s my life.
Married and shingled.
There’s a reason I’m sharing all of this.
Yes, it is rare for a person under the age of 35 to get shingles TWICE, like me. The numbers say this happens to less than 5 percent of people who ever had chicken pox.
But anecdotally, just within my social circle, I know many young people — ages 20 to 50 — who have broken out in shingles at least ONCE.
Fortunately, there’s now a chicken pox vaccine given to children so they never get the virus in their system, so they won’t later come down with shingles.
But if YOU are a part of my generation, and you had chicken pox as a child, you are at risk for developing shingles at some point in your life.
So read up and be aware of the symptoms. They are easy to overlook, especially if you tend to overlook and tolerate mild pain issues. But the sooner you recognize the symptoms and get treatment, the better.
Last week, I mentioned to Martin that we should schedule a date night and have dinner in downtown DC.
I should have been more specific.
Instead of a romantic evening over candlelight, we spent Friday evening together sitting on a hard, vinyl couch on the top floor of the Children’s National Medical Center downtown, eating Chinese take-out from Styrofoam containers as our son slept in a metal crib nearby.
It wasn’t romantic, but nothing makes you realize how much you love, adore, and depend on your spouse like watching him step up and care for your sick child.
In this case, our son Jaz was hospitalized for his asthma.
A few days earlier, he started with the sniffles.
It was going around. Both his sisters had the sniffles as well, but with them, all I needed to do was put out an extra box of tissue.
I was hoping whatever caused their congestion would skip over the boy, but it didn’t.
It made me nervous. The last time Jaz got a head cold a few months ago, he also experienced his first asthma attack. And since then, I’ve noted that the slightest congestion required extra puffs of his albuterol, either through the puffer or his nebulizer.
At-home treatment usually did the trick, and things seemed manageable.
But by Thursday night — which was only Martin’s second night home from military training — Jaz developed a slight fever and his wheezing started up again. After giving him his usual nightly treatment, I mentioned to Martin we needed to keep an eye — and ear — out on our boy, and left his bedroom door open.
And then I checked on him every five minutes.
Somewhere close to midnight, I had reached the point where I didn’t leave Jaz’s bedroom at all. He was not improving with the additional albuterol I was giving him, and I didn’t feel confident anything else I could do was going to help.
I had Martin hold onto him while I called our health provider’s 24-hour help line.
The nurse on the other end was cordial as I rattled off Jaz’s information, history, and symptoms. She asked if she could hear him over the line.
Jaz — who was mildly awake at the time — lifted his head from Martin’s chest and leaned into the phone, wheezing with a vague smile on his face as he offered up a greeting.
“Hi,” he said, before rasping heavily into the phone.
The nurse was less than cordial when I put the phone back on my ear.
“I do not like how he sounds at all. You need to hang up with me and call 9-1-1 right now to get him to an emergency room,” she said. “In fact, do you want me to call them for you?”
I looked over at Martin, who heard the nurse, too. For a split second, Martin looked as startled as I felt by that direction, but wordlessly, he started to move toward the hallway just as I told the nurse that we would take Jaz in ourselves.
In less than five minutes, Jaz and Martin were out the door and on their way to the local ER.
I stayed up until about 2 am, texting and exchanging information with Martin. Eventually, I fell asleep. While I was concerned, I wasn’t too worried since I knew Jaz was in good hands.
I figured he would be given some steroids, some more albuterol, and be kept around for observation. I assumed that after a few hours, Martin would sneak back into the house, put Jaz to bed himself, and quietly return to me.
Yet I woke up with a start the next morning, realizing my men weren’t yet home.
That’s when I learned from Martin that Jaz didn’t respond to treatment at the local ER, and the decision was made to transfer him to the children’s hospital in downtown DC.
I don’t know what threw me off the most: the news itself or hearing Martin get choked up as he relayed the information. I immediately felt guilty that I had sent Martin unprepared for what he was experiencing, that I had downplayed things too much while he was away at basic training and tech school.
Martin’s always turned to mush whenever our kids are sick or injured, and here was Jaz, struggling to breathe, getting an IV and hooked up to monitors, and being transported to another hospital because his condition was that serious.
I told Martin that I would meet him downtown just as soon as I got things squared away at home. And that’s just what I did after notifying my work and arranging care for the girls. I packed an overnight bag and drove straight to the medical center.
I found both my men exhausted and drained.
Martin was in a reclining chair. Jaz was fast asleep in an elevated metal crib. He was hooked up to a bunch of monitors that tracked his heart rate and oxygen levels, and his arm was wrapped, covering an IV line in case they needed to administer medication quickly.
Martin explained Jaz was now on a two-hour schedule of nebulizer treatments and observation with the goal of getting him to four hours without needing one.
It took more than 24 hours to do that.
Jaz responded well and sounded better after each nebulizer treatment, but it didn’t take long before he started wheezing and struggling to breathe again. The doctors agreed it was the head cold that was triggering him, but since it was viral, there wasn’t much we could do but let it run its course.
So, we waited.
We became friends with the nurses who came by to check on Jaz. He particularly grew fond of one named Allison. (We did, too, especially when she brought us extra blankets and recommended some take-out places for us.)
The next 24 hours were mostly long and uneventful. For the most part, we entertained the boy and did our best to distract him from all the monitors attached to him, but we also managed to catch a few hours of sleep here and there, too.
On Saturday morning, we were finally able to go more than four hours without needing to give Jaz a nebulizer treatment. His oxygen levels were good, and his lungs no longer sounded like they were lined with fur. The pediatrician gave her blessing to send him home, and then it just became a waiting game for the discharge paperwork.
We spent that time blowing bubbles, setting up a picnic there on the floor when lunch came, and watching the med-evac helicopters come in for landings right outside our window.
Finally, the nurse came by with all the paperwork and checked us out of there.
We could finally go home!
The rest of Saturday was pretty low-key. I took a nap and edited photos from Martin’s tech school graduation. The kids ate cereal for dinner, and Martin began cleaning the house again.
Then, after putting Jaz to bed, Martin spent his time playing a card game with the girls while baking me a pan of brownies.
As I watched him patiently explain [again] the rules of the game to his girls, I couldn’t help but reflect on how awesome he was at the hospital with Jaz the night before.
How he was so meticulous with all of Jaz’s paperwork and information, and remembered all the details the doctors relayed to him.
How he paced the room while holding Jaz until our son fell asleep.
How he went ahead and ordered Chinese — and then waited in the hospital lobby for it — because I was too hangry and being very defeatist about it.
How he insisted on sleeping in the plastic recliner chair so I could stretch out on the couch.
How he found a million ways to entertain Jaz when the albuterol made him hyper and stir-crazy.
How he had everything packed up and ready to go within five minutes of the doctor saying, “You guys can go home.”
How just him being there made the situation so much easier.
As I made my final round before going to bed Saturday night, pulling up the blankets and touching the heads of all three children in their beds before snuggling up next to Martin, I finally felt I could breath a sigh of relief.
7:29 a.m. -Nothing like waking up to the sight and sound of a giant yellow helicopter coming down on you for a landing. Jaz’s room is right next to the hospital’s helicopter pad. From my view on the plastic couch under the window, it was seriously a “OMG!!!! WTF? WHERE AM I?” moment as the hospital’s helicopter hovered just outside the window before touching down. Good morning!
8:25 a.m. – This was my alarm clock this morning. Fortunately, it wasn’t bringing in a patient.
10:15 a.m. – Jaz is doing much better this morning. We were able to disconnect him from all the monitors for awhile and wash him up a bit. He was looking a little grungy there. His lungs sound a lot better and he’s “moving air” more easily. However, all the treatments have left him with a really raspy voice. I think he sounds like a young Jonathan Taylor Thomas while Martin thinks it’s more Louis Armstrong. In any case, the pediatrician hinted we’ll probably be discharged this afternoon.
11:24 a.m. – He’s been cleared to go home!!!
Now, we’re just waiting for the folks to come by with the discharge paperwork, which may take more than an hour. But we don’t mind waiting. The folks here have been SO good to us, and we know now that Jaz’s asthma is viral-induced, which will help determine our game plan during his follow-up appointments next week.
We appreciate all the kind words and support here, too! It’s especially reassuring to hear from those who live with childhood asthma, too, either through their own experiences or through their children. The advice and encouragement is so helpful. A huge THANK YOU to all!!
3:45 p.m. – We are finally home!! As we pulled into the driveway, Martin said, “Just so you know, I refuse to leave this place for any reason any time soon.”
11:55 a.m. – Martin took Jaz to the local ER shortly after midnight when our at-home efforts didn’t help our son’s breathing. Six hours later, the decision’s been made to transport Jaz to Children’s Hospital. Jaz’s breathing is normal right now and he finally fell asleep, but it’s taking more effort than they like to keep it that way. I’ll be joining them once Jaz gets to the new hospital.
1:55 p.m. – Martin and Jaz are now on their way to the Children’s National Medical Center in downtown DC, which I just learned has one of the best pediatric asthma clinics in the country. I’m both relieved and overwhelmed that he’s on his way there right now. And SO grateful we live where we live and have the care that we do.
2:15 p.m. – Martin just sent me this pic of Jaz in the ambulance (above). Just like everyone else in a non-emergency, he gets to sit in morning rush-hour traffic, too. I imagine he’s thinking, “Can’t you guys just give the lights a swirl? Just once?”
3:27 p.m. – Martin’s text to me just now: “Pack for an overnight stay.”
3:40 p.m. – Martin’s cleaning frenzy is paying off: he unpacked all his bags and neatly organized his clothing drawers, along with mine, making it VERY easy for me to pack this overnight bag for Jaz’s hospital stay. #winning
3:57 p.m. – (Martin’s online post) We have a very nice room here and he got great snacks.
8:45 p.m. – Update: We’re still hanging out here at the Children’s Hospital in DC. The goal is to space out his treatments to every four hours, but he’s still needing it every two hours for now, so here we stay. It seems like the only person who isn’t aware of how hard he’s breathing, the tightness in his chest, or how painful it all sounds, is Jaz himself. He’s upbeat, smiling, flirting with the nurses and doctor, and tossing a glove-balloon with us. He slept for a little bit, and ate some Goldfish crackers. There’s always room for Goldfish crackers.
8:47 p.m. – He finally got some sleep! 🙂
10 p.m. – So, we’re staying overnight for observation. He’s still on a two-hour treatment plan, which we’ll try to spread out over the course of the evening. Jaz is absolutely in love with his new nurse, Allison. His face lit up when she came in to introduce herself. She’s here checking his vitals, and for the first time ALL day, he’s willingly offering up his hand, foot, patiently letting her listen to his heart … all the while babbling up a storm. It is cracking all of us up!! As it turns out, she grew up a Navy brat, and doesn’t normally work on this floor, but is floating tonight and just happened to end up as our nurse. It was meant to be! LOLAnd Martin and I are wondering where to order from for a food delivery. We were handed some pizza/Chinese take-out menus, but we’re in DC, dang it. Surely there’s gotta be some good stuff nearby.
10:49 p.m. – Yup. I look like Alice Cooper. #tired #latenight
11:30 p.m. – Jaz finally fell asleep and now Martin and I are sitting down to eat some Chinese take-out. I had mentioned earlier this week that we should schedule a date night and grab dinner in the city. I should have been more specific.