Wednesday morning I awoke with an unpleasantly familiar sensation of tightness in my upper chest, as if something was squeezing my trachea, making breathing somewhat difficult. I say this sensation is familiar because it's a condition I've experienced countless times in my life, beginning at a very young age. My upper respiratory system is my Achilles heel - every illness begins and ends there, with coughing and wheezing and laryngitis. Oh my. This week's malady didn't quite follow the usual pattern, which is to start with the nasal passages and work its way into the pharynx and larynx, finally ending up in the bronchial tubes poised to attack the lungs if I haven't been smart enough to get to the doctor for antibiotics. This time it started right out with a dry, hacking cough. It wasn't too bad, though, not bad enough to keep me from sleeping at night or working during the day.
Until today, that is. This morning, I woke up completely congested and wheezing loud enough to be heard across the state. My cough had morphed from a polite little bark into the full blown seal bellow that scares the dogs out of the room.
So I headed to my local Urgent Care, where I found eight people in line ahead of me, all of them coughing with varying degrees of severity. I quickly became the champion in the group, drawing everyone's attention with my deep bass outbursts. "My goodness," I heard more than once, "you sound terrible!"
"You should be home in bed," my seat partner told me.
"Believe me, I'd like nothing more," I replied, 90 minutes into my waiting time.
Finally, I was called back into the examining area where I answered the usual series of obligatory questions. A very gentle Nurse Practitioner in training came in and listened to all areas of my chest with her stethoscope.
"Your lungs sound pretty clear," she said when she finished.
But the doctor, a nice older woman who looked a little bit like Jessica Tandy, disagreed. "Oh, you're really wheezing down there," she said after one listen. "You may have walking pneumonia. Let's get a pulse ox and an X-ray."
At first my oxygen level reading was rather alarming. I'm no doctor, but I know that anything under 95 isn't good, and I was starting out with a 93. The nurse instructed me to take deep breaths in and out of my mouth, which I did for a few seconds and the level rose to 97. "Good girl," I was told, and trundled off to X-ray.
After a few minutes, my doctor returned to the room. "All clear," she told me happily. "It's just a bad case of bronchitis. I'll get you a Z-pack and an inhaler to help with that wheezing."
I know a Z-pack, or Zithromycin, is the treatment of choice for bronchitis. It's been prescribed for me on two occasions in my long history of upper respiratory maladies. Both times, it did absolutely no good and I've gotten pneumonia shortly after completing the medication.
"Z-packs don't work for me," I told her.
"Oh, what do you take then?" she asked.
"Usually Levaquin," I replied.
"I would have prescribed that if you had pneumonia, but it's much too strong for bronchitis."
"But I've taken it several times before for these infections," I said.
"No, you don't need that," she insisted. "The Z-pack is what's always prescribed for bronchitis."
Hmm. I was no match for the "it's always done this way" monster, especially not today, sick and exhausted as I was. Nor am I surprised that doctors don't listen to us, even though we might possibly know what's best for ourselves. After all they're trained to follow the prescribed protocol, and it has been drummed into their heads time and again that not doing so can be dangerous - for the patient, and for themselves and their malpractice insurance premiums.
But still, I've spent 55 years with this body. I usually know what's good for it and what isn't. That's not to say I always do right by myself, either, although I always have my own best interests at heart.
We'll see if the Z-pack does right by me this time.
I'll keep you posted.