Hello! I'm back... Not quite myself though...
Once upon a time, there was a woman... who thought she was a real grown-up... Able to manage two cancers and their painful aftermath... And so many other things...
Until one day when she ended up not feeling so full of herself.
I am this woman. And I still can’t come to grips with the way I acted...
So stupid, so stupid it almost cost me my life.
I do possess an uncommon strength that allowed me to survive when most people would have died. But now I know that I can also be totally irresponsible meaning I won’t notice warning lights.
The “unsinkable Olive Oyl” sunk like a stone on the 28th of July...
Actually I had been sinking very slowly but inevitably while I was staying in Brittany, mid July.
For months, I had been taking long walks on the beach and one day, just like that, I found myself out of breath as soon as I started my daily walk. Out of breath? Almost gasping for breath...
At the time, it was so rainy that I shrugged and decided to put my walks on the beach on stand by for a while... I was feeling very tired and that was it. It would go away.
When we went back to Brussels, managing the stairs at home became such a struggle that we decided to go back to Paris where we were supposed to celebrate my birthday anyway... We did celebrate my birthday but I was feeling exhausted, really exhausted... We even had a good laugh about it because it was obviously going to be hard to get older in 2012!
I hated our polluted world and all the allergies it was generating in me and my lungs!
The next day, Popeye flew away to Mexico for one short week. And that’s when the heat wave hit Paris. I stayed cooped up in the apartment. No need to add that I wasn’t feeling good at all.
My last cancer check-up dated from early July and had been perfect.
I was rather convinced this exhaustion and the shortness of breath was more like a mild nervous breakdown even though I had never been depressed in my life... Plus the fact that from time to time, I also was overwhelmed by a feeling of anxiety.
2012 had been a very hard year for us through and through so there I was - Depression? Distress? Worries? Lack of sleep?
I went to the American Hospital of Paris (AHP) a couple of times during the week but I totally repressed the desire to complain about feeling exhausted. So arrogant of me. So careless. So reckless... How could the famously «unsinkable Olive Oyl» complain about feeling tired?
Popeye came back from Mexico and was so jet-lagged that I did not complain either...
Lucky me. My spirit was fighting against reality but my body finally gave up.
July 28th - 2 a.m. I wake up with a start. My whole left side is so painful I can’t lie down any longer... I feel like I have been hit and crushed by a steamroller.
You’d think that I’d wake Popeye up and beg him to drive me to the AHP. Oh no... I try to find one good reason - The night before, we went to a restaurant with conditioned air. That’s it. I am obviously suffering from intercostal pains.
And so I wait and wait and wait until 1 p.m when the pain starts to invade my right side as well. Breathing becomes unbearable. Actually not only unbearable but almost impossible.
Since I am very good at hiding my troubles, Popeye has left to do some shopping. I call him... By then I feel so wretched that I tell him that if he is too far away, I’ll grab a cab because I know that I have to go the hospital. Right now! He’s home 10 minutes later.
The 20 minutes trip to the hospital is hellish. But I still haven’t grasped that I am really ill. I’m pretty sure that they will give me some painkillers and that I’ll be back home in a couple of hours.
The ER doctor is very efficient. Of course, she has my complete medical records on her computer. She gives a few phone calls to my «dream team»... right in the middle of the week-end! «‘Olive’ is here... Blah, blah, blah... Any idea?»
Tons of blood tests.
I am running a high fever.
In less than one hour, she gets to the lungs. My lungs? «You’ve got to be kidding. I had a CT scan three weeks ago and they were perfect.»
«You go to the X-ray department. Right away.»
As soon as I get back with my X-rays... she shows them to us... Surprise, surprise! Both lungs look really weird... And there is some kind of grapefruit on the left side of my left lung... A grapefruit? Great. I am not loosing my sense of humor.
CT scan... emergency procedure! I get there on a wheelchair and I leave on a stretcher.
Back to the ER... The doctor looks very unhappy. «Oh dear, I am so sorry. You are suffering from a massive pulmonary embolism. Both lungs. With pleural effusion in the left lung.»
Very reassuring to hear that a grapefruit is not growing in my lung after all!
Popeye gets the paperwork done in a hurry and I’m wheeled to the ICCU (Intensive Cardiac-Care Unit) in a hurry. My room is ready. The cardiologist is already there along with a team of nurses. Screens everywhere, seems like. Impressive! They hook me up to all sorts of tubing and strings, IVs, etc... And they make sure I won’t move from nor in my bed! A camera is watching me. Not very friendly.
And then they start the real thing... Oxygen and morphine. Instantaneous bliss as soon as I’m hooked to the oxygen.
The pain will subside a couple of days later and then I’ll tell the nurse. «No more morphine. Thank you.» But I’ll be on painkillers for a few more days.
The weaning from oxygen will take longer though.
The cardiologist is a very nice man. Quite young. With laughing and twinkling eyes. We have many questions. He is very patient. He is a little bit surprised by my resistance to fatigue and pain but not for long because the «dream team» gets there real soon. And the «dream team» tells him how tough I can be.
And the «dream team» is not very happy with me and my toughness by the way... «How could you not let us know how bad you were feeling? We met twice this week, remember? We had appointments on Monday and on Thursday, remember? Do you realize how serious this is?»
I do, I do. The cardiologist told us. My whatever was left in my right lung was quite ready to quit breathing just like the left lung and then bam! Game over! My heart would have died on me... Bye bye Olive Oyl.
They are very upset. And they are right. Totally right.
They are upset but they will come and spend some time with me in my room every day until the day I leave. It’s a little bit strange at first but their friendly calls do make me feel better. They have been part of my life for so many years now but this is different. They are a real support. And we get to talk about millions of things other than sickness.
So there I am. ICCU... I don’t remember much about what happened there... Popeye was around as much as he could... I think I remember falling asleep a lot. I remember getting shots and blood tests all the time and sonograms too or whatever. I remember the screen blinking and beeping from time to time and nurses rushing into the room.
I remember willing myself to get out of the ICCU! I wanted to survive so bad. It was like lying on the bottom of a pool. I was drowning. All I needed was one kick - a strong one, a very strong one and I’d come back up to the surface.
I knew I could do it. And I did resurface. Swiftly actually.
On Tuesday morning, the cardiologist comes into my bedroom. He’s smiling. «Great news. You are making such an amazing recovery that you are leaving the ICCU this afternoon... We are moving you to the CCU. (It felt so good all of a sudden to loose one “I”.) You still need oxygen of course. We are currently monitoring the dose adjustment of your anticoagulants. It may take a couple more weeks before we let you out though.»
July 31 - 4 p.m - I am in my new room. I am still on oxygen, of course. But wonders of wonders, I have the right to get up and to use the bathroom even if I have to call a nurse to make sure I don’t fall down. And they tell me that I’ll be able to take a shower tomorrow morning, by myself! I hated so much to be sponged in bed like a baby! Freedom! Wow, I’m on my way to recovery!
Popeye and I have been warned that sometimes pulmonary embolism can be a sign of a nasty cancer recurrence. Just what we needed. Surviving a very wicked pulmonary embolism and dying from cancer #3.
August 1 - All the cancer tests results are excellent. So now they start wondering about what can have caused such an embolism. My last chemo was a killer. They suspect it has created havoc in my arteries and veins. Somehow a clot started it all... I have no idea how nor when it all started since I tend to bump into things all the time because I am partially sighted.
They also wonder whether it could be genetic and I agree to subject to the test. If positive, I’ll be on medication forever. Better than having recurring PEs. And it may save Swee’Pea’s life too if I gave him the bad genes.
In the afternoon my oxygen levels are good. I am off from the last tubing... Not for long though... I don’t pass the next test (their standards are very high!). I feel disappointed. Back on oxygen... Which should mean a few more days in the hospital.
Well, anyway, they are having the hardest time finding the right dosage for the anticoagulant I’ll be on for at least the next 6 months... probably because I am taking coagulants for my Wet MD (and they are adamant I keep taking them). It means that every day at 6 p.m I get one shot to get to the right balance.
Popeye is now officially on vacation and he does need to get some rest in Brittany as soon as possible. He’s been through a very dreadful year... (“Annus horribilis”) and he foresees a difficult return to work early September.
As soon as my oxygen level does stabilize, we have a long talk with the cardiologist. Everything is fine except the dosage of the anticoagulant. I’ll need one shot per day until my INR gets to 2. Right now, it is well under 2.
Popeye volunteers to give me my daily injection. He gave me shots over and over again during chemos. This injection is a little bit different so he’s at the hospital at 6 p.m sharp to give it to me under the supervision of a nurse. Three days later, he’s very good at it.
We call our druggist friend in Brittany. He gets in touch with a nurse who will come to Les Tertres every three days for my compulsory blood test. My blood will end up in Lamballe, 15 miles away, in a lab which will fax the INR and PT results to my cardiologist before 5 p.m. We’ll be in touch with the cardiologist and as soon as the INR gets over 2, we’ll stop the daily injection and he’ll prescribe the new dose of anticoagulants.
I should be on one tablet of anticoagulant a day unless the INR gets too high.
We’ll be in touch with the hospital as needed and if I don’t feel good, there will be enough time to drive me back to the AHP anyway since Brittany is not this far from Paris.
On Friday (August 3), I am allowed to take a walk in the hospital. I get dressed. No way I’ll walk around in my dressing gown! I feel so tired that it does not last very long. When I get back to my room, they check everything (pulse, blood pressure, oxygen level). I am fine!
On Saturday (August 4), Popeye and I are allowed to take a walk in the hospital garden. One hour. It feels so nice to be outside even if I spend most of the time sitting on a bench. On my way back to the room, everything is still fine!
On Sunday morning (August 5), the cardiologist comes into my room. Good news. I get a leave - from noon till 5 p.m! He suggests going to a restaurant and taking a walk in a park. The restaurant is fine. I am not hungry at all but it is so wonderful to be out of the hospital... Then it starts raining hard. We go to Swee’Pea’s apartment. It feels so good but I do not play truant!
The cardiologist is there, waiting for me (well, sort of). They check everything - of course! Just fine! One big smile and «Ok, you are leaving the hospital tomorrow at noon! And no, I am not lax just because you are a very strong woman. I know you can make it and much better in Brittany. I’ll be there tomorrow morning to have one last talk with you because you’ll probably be a little bit stressed out to leave the hospital!»
I am very happy and he’s right, I am very stressed out too. I don’t sleep very well... I mean less than ever. They still keep checking on me every three hours. The night nurse is a little bit worried because I spend most of the night reading on my Kindle or listening to my iPod.
One last check-up at 6 a.m. Blood test and everything else!
At 8 a.m, the day nurses are in my room... «Congratulations! You’ve made it! You, lucky girl!”
I am lucky all right... and exhausted. We have planned to leave on Wednesday and we still have suitcases to fill and... and... Well, I’m so tired that I have to sit down every 30 minutes for at least one hour or so but I am so happy. I have made it! And so incredibly quickly!
I can’t wait to be home in Brittany, watching the sea, breathing unpolluted air, listening to the waves and the birds... I don’t really care about blood tests nor dosages... Everything will be fine...
I am already planning long walks on the beach, wonderful moments at sea... swimming even!
I’ll never learn, will I? We’ve been home ever since the 9th of August and, oh well... I’ll let you imagine...
Popeye and Swee’Pea do take good care of me. At first it was a little bit hard to accept to be so disabled. But since I am definitely feeling a bit under the weather... I have stopped trying to overdo things. Most of the time!
“Slowly, slowly, very slowly” is my motto now.
Carpe diem! I am alive and all is well! (Almost! My PT and INR still need some big adjustments... The cardiologist is working on it!!!)
*Good Luck, and Good Night*