A Breath Of Death Air

, , , | Healthy | December 14, 2017

(I recently got home from an overseas trip. On the flight back I caught a fever and started having stomach issues. A few days later, I had to switch out with my father when driving because I didn’t feel like I could both drive and focus on breathing. I’ve always had asthma, but usually only have had issues when exercising and breathing very cold air. However, this is the second event in around a month where I couldn’t identify a trigger and the breathing problems lasted for a long time. The first time I went to the emergency room, was told it was a panic attack, and was sent home. When things didn’t clear up, I went to the school clinic where they said it was my asthma — not a spasm like I was used to, but inflammation — and gave me medication. Things cleared up. Because it is only a little after New Year’s, my mom doesn’t think our GP can fit us in quickly enough, so we head to an emergency clinic. Our new insurance only allows us to go to one chain in the area, and it’s 30 minutes away. There isn’t a doctor available, so we confirm we are fine with seeing the head nurse. I’m used to journalling some aspects of my health due to things like adult onset allergies, and have written specifics of the start and stop of the symptoms in a notebook, along with details from the other attack. Sometimes I also have difficulty speaking because of my focusing on my breathing.)

Mom: “She’s been having trouble breathing. We were here a couple days ago because she had a stomach bug.”

Nurse: “Can you describe when this started?”

Me: “Um, I noticed I had to focus to breathe. I was really aware of my breathing. It started last night, I guess? Um— I wrote it down, if it’s easier.”

(I hand her the notebook. She looks through it, but she looks skeptical.)

Nurse: “Okay, I know what’s going on here. Honey, you’re having a panic attack.”

Me: “I don’t think it’s a panic attack! It happened before around a month ago. I have asthma—”

Nurse: “The emergency guys thought that was a panic attack, too. Listen, I know you don’t want to hear this, but this is in your brain.”

(This sets me off for multiple reasons, one of which being that I DO have anxiety, but it is controlled and not the kind that results in panic attacks. Another being that I’ve been misdiagnosed with “stress pains” by my father’s urologist, who was checking for kidney stones, when we later found out I had some muscle issues in that area that were easily taken care of with physical therapy. I should also note my mother has been making some comments, but I can’t exactly remember them. She’s mostly worried.)

Me: “But the other doctor said it was asthma! I’ve had people dismiss things like this before! But when it was checked out by someone else they found something! I have anxiety, but I get those! I don’t have this problem!”

Nurse: “So you just keep going to doctors till they say what you want to hear. But I’m telling you, this is a panic attack. You said in your notes that talking is difficult, but you’re talking fine now. You seem fine. You just need to accept this. Maybe call your therapist or psychiatrist.”

(She ended the appointment. I was pretty hysterical once we returned home. I have been well functioning for years and even though I didn’t believe the nurse, she put the idea in my head that I was as well off as I thought. I should also note my mom is of the generation that often writes things off as stress, and seemed to be taking the nurse’s side, or at least playing devil’s advocate, adding to my stress. I blubbered to my mom and eventually my psychiatrist’s hotline. [Psychiatrist] quickly wrote a prescription for anxiety, but was very firm in telling me most of her patients didn’t end up using it and that often having it in their possession helped. She also said that if I felt I needed it to only take half and assess how I felt. Honestly, I didn’t feel any different. Later, my mom apologized that she helped upset me and called our GP. )

Mom: “[Doctor] made an opening for you tomorrow.  Guess what she said, though, when I told her everything that happened?”

Me: “…what?”

Mom: “In her experience asthmatics usually have panic attacks because they can’t f****** breathe.”

(My GP gave me a steroid inhaler and I started breathing better in a few days. I later went to my asthma and allergy doctor and found out I have a new severe allergy to dust mites, something that aggravates asthma. F*** you, nurse.)

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