Saturday, August 15, 2009

Not Dead Yet

Over the last couple of days, I was again reminded of my (or rather the collective 'our') frailty when I was hit hard and hit swiftly by a bout of pneumonia. Not that I needed any reminders, as my accident earlier in the year is never far from my thoughts.

It all started mid-MIFF when, like Glenn at Stale Popcorn, I got knocked down by a virus. I figured I was run-down, typical MIFF-fatigue. I slowed down, cut back on films, got more rest and seemed to be OK before the festival was over. I returned to work on Monday but on Wednesday found I was getting the same shivers I had the week before. I left work early and crashed out that night, sleeping for the best part of 12 hours, sleep punctuated by fever and pains in the chest.

I took Thursday off work but by lunch-time the chest pain had escalated. My friend David is staying with me and promptly took me to the local hospital. Fortunately, the emergency ward was quiet and I received prompt attention. It seems I have a chest infection, hence the pain, and a chest X-ray confirmed I have a slight case of pneumonia. I was given a script for antibiotics and Panadeine Forte and told to take Friday off.

Thursday night was hell. I took the pain-killers. Panadeine Forte was more than enough after my motorcycle accident, but they did nothing for my chest pains. Movement was painful, breathing was painful, coughing all but impossible. The missus took the morning off work and took me back to hospital where they prescribed OxyNorm, a stronger morphine-based painkiller.

I took the tablets when I got home and rested, trying to catch up on the sleep I didn't get the previous night. The missus had gone to work, David had gone for his daily walk and I dozed off on the couch for an hour. When I woke, it seemed the painkillers had had no effect and the pain in my chest had escalated to the point that I found it difficult to breath at all. I wasn't exactly panicking, but I was a bit freaked out. It was a struggle just to get take each shallow breath, and I was trying to withstand the pain of taking deeper ones.

I phoned David, but struggled to talk. I just blurted out enough to get him panicking, and he ran back the three kilometres he was from home. I knew he would be freaked out, and unable to communicate effectively, I wrote this note for him:
It's hard to talk & breathe

I'm in a lot of pain

I just took another pain-killer

I'm trying to take deeper breaths which may alleviate the pain, but is itself painful

We may need to go to Footscray Hosp. at short notice - I'll let you know
My intention was to allay his fears, but he panicked anyway. He picked up the phone to call an ambulance but I told him not to. I was prepared to continue exercise my breathing but he wanted me to go straight to hospital. I agreed for him to take me, but told him not to panic. Twice on the way there, I had to tell him to slow down.

David dropped me at the door of Emergency and parked. When I entered, the triage nurse was dealing with a patient who seemed non-urgent so I interrupted and said "I'm having difficulty breathing". Another nurse came over and got me on oxygen which relieved the pain in my chest by reducing the need for deeper breaths. This was 3pm.

I didn't leave hospital until nearly 11pm, and I'm not going to bore you with everything that happened over those eight hours. It would bore me writing it. Anyone who has experienced a public hospital would understand.

My first hospital visit was at Williamstown, a quaint little institution that is a throwback to what life was like before Kennett and his massive hospital and school closures. I mentioned to a nurse that it's amazing this place still exists and her response was that it's probably the Bracks factor. Steve Bracks was, of course, the State Premier and it was probably his influence that kept it open. It's also ironic that the Federal Health Minister is also the local member of parliament.

After my second visit to hospital, on the Friday morning, I was told that if my condition escalates, I should go to Footscray, because Williamstown doesn't have any overnight beds. We'd headed for Footscray, because a hospital stay seemed likely.

At Footscray, I was sitting in the waiting area of Emergency with an oxygen mask. Eventually the oxygen ran out but even though the triage nurse was told, nothing was done about it. I was breathing OK by then, so no point was made of it. It was about two hours before they took me into the Emergency Ward. Again I was put on oxygen and the cool gas was relieving.

The missus and the kid arrived and the kid cried when he saw me in pain. I had to reassure him and told him I was in pain but would be OK. Over the next few hours I did a lot of sitting and lying around, dozing when I could. A chest X-ray confirmed that I had only a mild case of pneumonia, which didn't seem explain the amount of pain I was in. I was given two or three morphine shots which relieved the pain markedly, but not completely. I had a CT scan of my chest to see if there was any lung clot, but that came back all clear.

Normally, hospitals are not a place one wants to spend any time unnecessarily. On this occasion, I felt safe being there - they have the oxygen and the painkillers, even if their procedural systems are inadequate. All my vital signs were OK, so I was discharged.

We got home around 11pm. I hadn't eaten for twelve hours, and didn't feel particularly inclined to, but had a bit of toast to keep up the blood-sugar levels. I braced myself for another tough night's sleep and took a dose of OxyNorm and Nurofen (anti-imflammatory). I had nine hours of unbroken sleep and am now breathing normally - there's just a slight hint of pain on a deep breath. What a difference twelve hours can make.


Jake said...

Get well soon!

Paul Martin said...

It's the strangest thing, Jake. I was in an incapacitated condition yesterday, and today it's almost as if nothing had happened. I'm fine now, thanks.

Jake said...

Good to hear.

Glenn Dunks said...

Don't get addicted to the morphine like those characters in Morphia!

Glad to hear that you're okay now, but that all sounds frightening. I know the feeling though when I was sick during MIFF I'd wake up in the middle of the night (if I'd been able to sleep at all) drenched in sweat and feeling sore and having stabbing pains in my stomach. My doc said she'd seen quite a few people with pneumonia and that I was lucky to have not gotten it. Indeed.

It's strange though how one day you can feel like death and the next you feel fine.

Again, glad you're feeling better.

Paul Martin said...

Glenn, I was looking forward to the morphine, because up until that point nothing had worked. They wanted to keep giving me shots until I could feel no pain, then I'd have the CT scan. I'm notoriously bad at accepting injections so after the third one I said I was fine, even though I was still in some (albeit reduced) pain. Both my arms are bruised like a junkie's because they put various tubes in me too.

During that MIFF week, for two nights I was also drenched in sweat and I could hear liquid gurgling in my chest at night. I suppose that's what became the pneumonia.

I won't get addicted to the morphine. I only take as much pain-killers as required. You may recall that even after my motorcycle accident, I refused pain-killers for about six hours. I only gave in because they kept insisting.

I had no trouble accepting morphine because I knew that I needed it. Panadeine Forte did nothing and that was a bit of a shock to me. From that point it was a case of "give me anything, whatever it takes". To have pain in ones chest to the point that one cannot breath, that's a freak-out, man!

Lynden Barber said...

My god, what an horrenous experience. Glad you seem to have recovered ok....Maybe you need (and here I sound like your doctor) to take a good break....

Paul Martin said...

It sounds it on paper, Lynden, but when you're in it... oh fuck it, yeah it was pretty horrendous, but when it's happening to you, you just deal with it. I think it was more horrifying for the missus and tin lid.

And you're right, I need to slow down and get more rest. Even last night, I dragged myself away from Cinematheque. I saw Rossellini's Rome, Open City and even though I felt I could manage Stromboli, I figured it would be wise to get to bed early. It was the first time I'd gotten to bed by 10pm in a long time.