I’m writing this in between broken fevers and codeine cough syrup, so you’ll have to excuse any flashes of incoherence.
Two nights ago I had a terrible sleep, punctuated by dry coughing fits and the distinct pain of an oncoming sore throat. I’m prone to throat infections, so it was nothing out of the ordinary at first. I took a sick day from work, bought a humidifier and had it shipped to my apartment within a mere 3 hours using Google Shopping Express (since I assumed the dryness in California air might have had something to do with the dryness accumulating in my throat), ate some soup and self-medicated with a cocktail of Cheratussin, ibuprofen, Mucinex and Advil Cold & Sinus.
Around 3pm yesterday I fell asleep and woke up around 7pm feeling acutely aware of the tightness in my throat and how it was laboring my breathing. I could feel every inhale expand my chest with some difficulty, and I discovered that if any amount of nasal congestion came on, it would be extremely difficult to breathe through my mouth. Maybe it was the fact that I was coming off of several different drugs or the fact that I was about to enter another fevered state, but I started to panic, afraid that my throat would constrict further in my sleep and I would wake up in the middle of the night suffocating and unable to communicate. I didn’t want to end up like that woman in Texas, discovered alone and unconscious and eventually declared brain dead from a lack of oxygen. And I didn’t want to become a cautionary tale of yet another otherwise healthy young person in the Bay Area who succumbed to the flu.
So I called my mom and she told me to go the Urgent Care. With most Urgent Care facilities closed or fully booked for the night, the anxiety that my throat was going to suddenly close up began to intensify. I eventually found an Urgent Care facility that would take me and arrived just 15 minutes before they closed.
Both the nurse who took my vitals and the doctor who eventually saw me seemed alarmed by my racing heart rate. I could see the nervousness in my young doctor’s eyes as he told me that what I had could either be as simple as an infection or as worse as another diagnosis he was reluctant to say just yet. He asked me if I had a medical background, to which I responded no. He finally said that based on my symptoms, I could have a pulmonary embolism, a blood clot in my lungs, which would be rare but not uncommon in females of my age.
I sat there calmly, because I’m a calm mother fucking person. He asked me if I understood what he was saying. He asked me if I was ok. He asked me if I had any questions. He recommended that I go to the Emergency Room, where they would be able to give me a CT scan if they agreed with his prognosis. He said that if I was one of his family members, he would strongly recommend that I go. He said that, legally, he had to recommend that I take an ambulance ride over to the ER. I had to formally turn down a ride in an ambulance over to the ER so he could check some box on his form or some shit.
I met my friend in the lobby and told her she needed to take me to the ER. My doctor came out with directions to the facility, the fear and concern still in his eyes, and I’m pretty sure he said good luck to me as we walked out the door.
I arrived at the ER, where another nurse took my vitals again and again commented on my racing heart rate. He took a swab to test me for strep throat and then had me lie down on a gurney while he gave me an EKG test to check on my heart. He then took me to another room where I had to strip from the waist up and put on a hospital gown that was completely open in the back. I remember sitting there and thinking over and over, “Today is not the day I’m going to die."
My sister and my friend eventually arrived and waited with me in this room as another nurse and my doctor filed in and out to take my vitals and ask me questions. Eventually, my second doctor explained that my first doctor probably thought I might have a pulmonary embolism because my heart rate was extremely high but I didn’t have as much of a fever at the Urgent Care. Once I arrived at the ER, I had an "impressive” fever, which could have accounted for my heart rate. I don’t have strep throat, I might have some iteration of the flu, she didn’t know, she couldn’t confirm, but she sent me off with the recommendation to drink lots of fluids, continue to take ibuprofen to break my fevers, and to come back if I continue to have difficulty breathing or develop any new symptoms.
I haven’t left my bed at all for the last 12 hours, since I got home from my 3-hour journey to the Urgent Care and the ER. As someone who rarely (if ever) asks for help, it’s a harrowing experience to be told by a medical professional that you could have a medical condition that could be fatal.
I didn’t die yesterday, but for a couple hours there I thought I might.