In which I Get Croup and Learn a Lesson
This is what it feels like to have croup:
Croup is terrifying.
Every breath is an effort. It starts by feeling vaguely short of breath, progresses to being aware of every breath, and then you start feeling the muscles and tendons in your neck as you take each breath and you begin to hear a noise called stridor as you breathe in. Oddly enough, breathing out is not an effort, but things get worse when you lie down. With each stage, the panic rises, your body instinctively kicking into hyper survival mode. It is not right to feel the effort that goes into breathing.
You can’t talk without coughing and your cough sounds like the bark of a seal. As the swelling intensifies, you have to take a long deep breath in to have sufficient air in which to cough. You can’t physically do the sniff it takes to smell something or get rid of a bit of moisture in your nose the structures in your body have changed. You can’t cry because that requires breath and a movement of your throat that you no longer can do.
The thing I have been the most scared of for the past eight months happened. My throat swelled, including my vocal cords. This is what happened on March 30 after I was extubated — my vocal cords swelled so much I had to have a an emergency tracheostomy. And it has been haunting me since.
By last Thursday, things had deteriorated from severe voice strain. I was reduced to only being able to whisper, the breathing was worse and so was the cough. Back to my doctor I went and she got out her blood oxygen metre. Thankfully, it was 98% despite everything, so that assuaged my anxiety a little. She also prescribed a burst of prednisone, some antianxiety meds, and lots and lots of steam.
Over the next four days, prednisone and steam worked wonders, but it didn’t help the flashbacks. This whole experience has been an intense trigger, both because of the symptoms and sitting in my doctor’s office with my blood oxygen metre on my finger. That happened back in March, as well. I don’t remember it, but I’ve been told the story. And now I had several days of being terrified that I’d wake up in February with a tracheostomy (or, let's face it, not wake up later).
Because that’s the fear. I don’t remember anything about that happened during the medical adventure back in March. Only not feeling well and then waking up with the trach. I was told that I had increasing problems breathing, but don’t remember anything about the experience. The Boy kept reassuring me that this, the croup, was entirely different and that I was not in distress the way I’d been before, but here I was having a hard time taking a breath and the flashbacks persisted.
Me waking up in the ICU with a tracheostomy. Medical staff telling me that every now and again, someone has to live the rest of their life with the trach. The overwhelming worry of how a permanent trach would impact being a writer who depends on voice recognition software.
Hello PTSD, my new companion.
Flipping the fear
Photo by David Govoni
I’m better now. My breathing is fine and as long as I keep the steam going, I don’t sound like a seal when I cough. I even have my voice back, although it gets very croaky very quickly when I talk. So I try not to talk too much (it took me three days to dictate this post).
The sure sign that I’m on the road to recovery is Lucy’s return to normal. Since last Wednesday, she’s been glued to my lap and lying next to me in bed, watching over me. The last two nights she’s ignored me completely and gone back to sleeping in her box.
And somewhere in all of this silence, with all if this time to think, something occurred to me. That this was another type of illness that did not land me in the ICU. Another thing for which I had the remedy. Another infection that didn’t win. And knowing this made me feel stronger, pushed against the flashbacks and the triggers. And I took another step on the road toward my future.
I’m in for the long haul, but every time another virus doesn’t bring me to death’s door, I will feel a little more normal and in so doing, gradually reclaim my life from the maw of fear.