Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A Panic Attack Saved my Life

Many of you already know I am a lung cancer survivor after sharing it with my wonderful on-line family. I have often been asked how I figured out I had it, because there is usually no symptoms until it is too late. I was one of the lucky ones that found out in time to save my life. Here is my story...

It was the beginning of February when things started to get wierd. My anxiety was off the charts and I ended up in the emergency room a couple differen't times. The first trip to ER they gave me something to calm down and help me sleep. A week prior to this hospital stay, I was anxious, wasn't sleeping, I was pacing, and couldn't for the life of me, sit down. Finally, my family couldn't watch me suffer anymore and my older brother(Bless his soul ) drove me to the nearest ER at about 2AM. When the medication they gave me, finally kicked in, (it took a while)I slept for the next 18+ hours. Upon discharge from this episode, the Dr. referred me to see a psychiatrist to find out what was going on. I must say, I wasn't real surprised by the diagnosis, which was "anxiety" and "depression." This first trip to ER and the extreme anxiety I had been struggling with the past couple of weeks, was all part of a puzzle that would soon reveal itself. Read on...

It had been about a week since my scary trip to ER. I wasn't pacing anymore and was sleeping pretty normal since starting the anti-depressant. I felt like things were starting to look up and I welcomed this with open arms.

It was the third week in February and things on this particular day seemed pretty normal. It was about 7PM and I was relaxing on my favorite couch, watching the Minnesota Twins baseball game. I made myself one of my favorite snacks, celery with cream cheese. From out of nowhere it seemed, came a blast of that frightening anxiety. I stood up and walked around my apartment. I tried some calming techniques so the anxiety wouldn't build. I was doing some positive self-talk, rubbing my feet into the floor to ground me, and trying to focus on the baseball game on t.v. Nothing was working and my anxiety started getting worse. I was now having heart palpitations and other unsettling symptoms. I was now convinced that I was having a heart attack. What does Linda do when she thinks she is having a heart attack?? She calls her best friend Laura, her twin sister. History repeating itself, I dialed her number and said, "Laura, can you bring me to ER, I think I'm having a heart attack." God Bless Laura and her patience, as many of these episodes turn out to be recurring anxiety. She picks me up and drives me to ER. I told them adamantly, that I was having a heart attack and needed assistance immediately. The normal procedure to assess for heart attack is: X-Ray and Electrocardiogram. Laura and I are now waiting for word on my test results. Have you ever seen two twins that are connected at the hip, waiting for results? Trust me, it wasn't pretty. If taped, we probably looked like two insane women hugging eachother to death. I'm sure the fear in the room was palpable to any who dared enter. Oh, Here comes the doctor with the results...

Noticing that Laura and I were coming unglued, the woman doctor spoke in a calm and comforting manner. She told me that my electrocardiogram looked great and I had not suffered from a heart attack. I gave a big sigh of relief and prepared to hear what I have heard in the past. That it was a panic attack or extreme anxiety. She calmly stated that the x-ray revealed a spot on my right lung. l was confused and asked her what she thought it could be. She explained that in Minnesota, many people get spots on their lungs because of mold that grows here. She said if this was the case, they would have me take an anti-biotic and that's usually the end of it. She asked if I was a smoker and I prouldy exclaimed, "No Way, Never." She assured me that it would be rare for a non-smoker of fourty-one, to have lung cancer and this was probably nothing to worry about. She asked me to follow-up with my primary physician to rule out cancer or any other lung disease. I walked out of that hospital feeling very confident that this was just a little bump in the road. Unfortunately, on March 1st of 2004, I received the phone call that noone wants to get. "I'm sorry to have to tell you this Linda, but you have lung cancer." I repeated back those scary words, to be sure I heard it right. The next thing I remember was hearing a loud thud and finding Laura passed out on the floor next to me.

I will always be grateful that my body spoke to me during those early weeks in February, especially the night they found the spot via the x-ray. My body was telling me things were not right and warning me. I will never complain about the panic attack that saved my life.

"God, I love her dearly, but really, must I go through my twin sister's pain"

Identical twins, like Laura and I, have an uncanny connection and relationship that many find intriguing. I can honestly tell you that my life has been chalk full of great opportunities and fun because of it. In later hubs I will share some really exciting stories about some of these great opportunities.

This special relationship does come with a price because of the very nature of our intense connection. Here is one of my many stories of the down side of twinhood.

As I shared in an earlier hub, I went to ER in 2004 complaining of symptoms similiar to a heart attack. The x-ray they had taken, showed a spot on my right lung. She (the doctor) wasn't very concerned because I was forty-one and a non-smoker. She told me to make an appointment with my primary doctor, just to be safe. Long story a little shorter, after doing another x-ray, it was clear that the spot had grown. I was told to set up an appointment for a biopsy. I could not believe this was happening.

The morning of the biopsy, Laura, the kids and I, said a prayer that the procedure would go safely and smoothly. We got the kids off to school and hesitantly left for the hospital. I checked in at the front desk and filled out all the necessary paperwork. She handed me a pamphlet on the possible complications of having a biopsy. It basically said, that in rare instances, there can be lung collapse. This is mostly seen in the elderly or people with emphysema. Having read that, I was feeling confident that there was nothing to worry about. I am forty-one, I've never smoked, so no emphysema. Ok, I am ready to do this, let's get the dreaded biopsy behind me.

I am rolled down to the operating room after hugging my sister to pieces. I said, "Laura, this is gonna be a piece of cake." It's always harder on a loved one and I could see the fear in her face. They gave me a Very Mild sedative from what I could tell. As the needle was approaching my chest, I prayed it would'nt hurt too bad. I found myself letting out a big scream when it penetrated the lung. It really hurt! Anyway, they wheel me to a recovery room where they monitor you closely. They keep listening to your breathing to make sure it sounds right. The nurse tells me after about twenty minutes, that my breathing sounds a little laboured and I will have to go get x-rayed.

Laura and I are now waiting in the hallway for the doctor, to let me know the results of the x-ray. He says, "Linda, your lung is collapsing from the biopsy and you will need a chest tube put in to re-inflate it. We need to do it now before you are no longer able to breathe." Poor sis is now crying and I put on my brave face. I told her that this was just a little bump in the road and I would be fine. She didn't tell me until after I left the hospital, but she knew how painful it was gonna be. Our highschool buddy was the x-ray tech and told her that getting a chest tube was one of the most painful procedures you can have. He should have known better not to say that to Laura. He was right though, it was excruciating!

Laura is out in the hallway waiting very anxiously for the surgery to end. She clutched her bible close and read the whole time I was in surgery.

Again, I was given some kind of sedative. You don't sleep with it, just relax a little, ya, right. The surgeon's instructed me to breathe out when they said go as it would help reduce the pain. I was given the green light and took a deep breath. It felt like someone was stabbing me with a knife. I let out a very loud groan. The surgeons who were downplaying the procedure earlier, were now congratulating me on how tough I was. I guess I know what it feels like to be stabbed with a knife. Yes, I would agree I am tough!

I guess in my groggy state, I kept asking for my twin sister. The surgeons were cool guys and knew it would be to my benefit to see her right away. As Laura tells me, the surgeons snuck Laura through a private tunnel for staff, to get me to her faster. The minute I saw her I cried and she held me in her arms. She gave me that sisterly, twinly love that I needed after such a traumatic procedure.

I told you that the twin connection, in all it's joy's, has a down side. When I was released from the hospital and feeling better, she shared this story with me...

She was in the waiting area reading her bible. From out of nowhere she felt like a knife went through her chest on the right side. She looked up from the bible and prayed..."Lord, I love her so much but please take away this pain." And just then, the pain was gone.
Please feel free to listen to the song I dedicated to Laura for always being there for me. Van Morrison's, "Have I Told You Lately That I Love You."http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UFF1wJN75Z0