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a breath of air

April 30, 2012

I feel fully recovered from my virus, but I’ve been waiting to feel better overall. I get plenty of sleep most nights (10 hours), but I wake up feeling tired, sometimes desperately tired. I lie in bed, thinking and often composing blog posts, but it’s a real struggle to throw off the covers, even when I’m hungry for breakfast.

I’m doing such good work psychologically that I know it’s not that kind of block.

I feel worn down and worn out, even though I barely do anything active anymore. Then when I do exert myself, I feel out of breath almost immediately.

When Spouse and I went to the clinic for his Lyme disease, the doctor dutifully investigated my self-described ‘flulike symptoms’, but his attention was really caught when I said my chest felt tight. I told him I was pretty sure the issue was my lungs, which he did listen to, but didn’t hear anything unusual. He asked me a bunch of heart-related questions, then ordered an EKG, which he said they have to do whenever someone mentions anything that might be heart-related. I told him I’d gone through this cycle with my primary care doctor 2 years ago: I thought I had asthma, or some other pulmonary issue; she thought I had heart problems. So I went to a local hospital and had all sorts of heart tests, including a nuclear stress test. There were some other big round machine I had to lie down for it to rotate around me, and I couldn’t breathe deeply to relax, because that somehow compromises the results, so I had to learn very quickly how to breathe shallowly to relax. Afterwards the technician showed me an approximation of my heart beating in 3-D on their screen. Everything was really cool. And my heart was fine. (Which I expected.)

Anyway so the clinic doctor took an EKG, which was also normal. And that’s supposed to be the end of it, except that my chest feels tight a lot. And when I have an anxiety attack it feels even tighter, which can confuse the issue for me.

Yesterday it occurred to me that maybe my issues are partly environmental. I spend most of my time in two rooms in our apartment: the bedroom and my studio. I don’t open the windows in my studio, to keep bugs out (although every summer wasps and other insects get in anyway). We do periodically open the window in our bedroom. But overall I don’t think our apartment has very good air circulation. So I wondered if maybe the air quality is poor. Maybe there’s something like hypoxia going on, in that the mix of gases is off, or in some other way, what I’m breathing is somehow deficient in ‘nutrient’ equivalents. Sort of like how soil gets depleted when there are too many plants taking stuff out, and nothing is getting cycled back into the soil. If that were true, with air, then the more time I spend in my apartment, breathing ‘dead’ (depleted) air, the worse or at least more tired I’m going to feel. So then I stay in more, because I’m afraid I’ll feel even worse if I exert myself. Which becomes a positive feedback loop, in a bad way.

Yesterday afternoon, Spouse and I went to the Hampton mansion in Towson. He took the house tour while I walked around the grounds. None of the formal gardens had even been planted yet, but wildflowers and shrubs and trees were ablaze with blooms.

I’ve read that global warming is making plants grow more vigorously, and produce much more potent pollen, in larger volume too. Even with my seasonal allergies, I used to be able to sniff flowers as much as I wanted. Now I have to ration sniffing, because otherwise I get a bad headache almost immediately, and then after that, my brain gets foggy. We never buy cut flowers anymore since a large part of the pleasure I got from them was their smell, and now I can’t tolerate it except in tiny doses.

I didn’t search getting so-called hay fever until I was in my mid-20s. I was still living in Illinois then.  My nose ran, I sneezed and coughed a lot, I got headaches. Then I got married and moved to Indiana, and my allergy symptoms worsened enough that wearing contact lenses became more trouble than they were worth, because now my eyes itched and watered all spring and summer. (I usually had dry eyes, so I had to use a lot of artificial tears during the winter.) I still had all the other symptoms as well.

Since we moved to Maryland, with a much warmer climate, and a much longer growing season, I continue to have seasonal allergies but my symptoms are different. I think I get headaches from allergies (although I get headaches for at least four or five other reasons, so it’s hard to be sure.) I do sneeze occasionally, I cough rarely. But I think about breathing, which I never had to do before. I don’t wheeze. I rarely have trouble getting enough air — I can breathe deeply and pull a lot of air in. But somehow internally I don’t feel like I’m getting enough of something that I need. (Hence my hypoxia theory.) So it doesn’t feel like I can say, “I’m having trouble breathing”, but something is definitely wrong. I just don’t how to describe it that makes sense to any doctor I’ve talked to.

Yesterday, out walking the grounds, it was warm. I bet I took in a lot of pollen. And then when I lay down to sleep last night, my chest was on fire. It was definitely my lungs, not my heart.

I have the bedroom window open right now. And it’s chilly outside, so maybe pollen is not as active as it would be warmer weather. In any case, my chest doesn’t hurt right now.

I’ll be having a medical procedure in a few weeks during which I will receive anesthesia. And I’m wondering if I should tell that doctor about my breathing issues, except I don’t know what they are. Could they make me more likely to suffer respiratory distress? Could I die during a routine procedure? But I don’t know what to say, because everything I’ve tried saying sends people haring off in the wrong direction.

Even on days when breathing isn’t an issue, I never feel energetic anymore. Doing active things, even ones I enjoy, makes me tired just to think about doing. I see old people twice my age tottering around, looking for someplace to sit, and I feel like we’re in the same boat. Gods, if this is what I have to look forward to — another 40 years of feeling like I’m already 90, I don’t think I have the stamina.

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