I started putting my little story down a couple of weeks ago, not knowing if I wanted to publish it or not, but then I read a post over at Bonzai Aphrodite, and Sayward inspired me to get it out there on the interwebs. There's an important message in here, and it's one a lot of people need.
It’s been a while. How are you? I feel like I’ve neglected this blog long enough. The truth is, I just haven’t felt compelled to write. Inspiration has eluded me as of late, and with everything else going, the blog has taken a back seat. In all honesty, I’ve been a little depressed. Back in September, I started my yoga teacher training. During our second weekend of class in early October, I managed to injure myself in a very strange way, and have been dealing with the fallout from that ever since. Let me enlighten you.
I have a history of heart palpitations. Nothing serious, but something I’ve experienced for years, without any diagnosis that would explain them. My mom also has had them for years, but no one knows why. In July, I had an episode while at work where my heart fluttered a little longer than usual, during which time I became light-headed and dizzy, my hands began to tingle, and I blacked out for a very split second, not even long enough to fall. My co-worker, who I was talking to at the time, said my face went completely white when it happened. My heart immediately began to beat extremely fast, so I sat down and did my deep breathing exercises, which helped return the rhythm to a normal rate. I’d never experienced anything specifically like this before, so it was terrifying, as I’m sure you can imagine. I made an appointment with a cardiologist and saw him a couple of days later. This appointment led to me learning I had a slight murmur I never knew about and to me wearing a heart monitor for what was supposed to be two weeks, but became nine days after I sweated it off. It WAS July, afterall.
During the time I wore the monitor, I had two more incidents that weren’t quite as scary, but felt like more than a regular palpitation. Once the monitor was off, I had to have an echocardiogram, which showed zero abnormalities in the structure of my heart. That was great news! So, without any clear cause and no obvious heart condition, the doctor sent me on my way and said to call if I had another episode.
Flash forward to early October. I had been in teacher training all weekend working on basic poses, such as downward dog and chaturanga. We spent a lot of time on proper alignment in these core poses, and I went home on Sunday feeling great. Monday morning, the 12th, I woke up with a mild pain that seemed to radiate from my left shoulder blade around to the left side of my chest. It wasn’t too bad, just annoying. As the morning progressed and I made my way to work, the pain seemed to steadily increase. Around 10am, I was standing at my desk, when another heart palpitation episode occurred. Combined with the chest/shoulder pain, this led my boss to think I was having a heart attack. (Honestly, I can see how he reached that conclusion.) So, he had a co-worker drive me to the emergency room. Let me tell ya, I felt completely idiotic walking into the ER, a 32 year old self-identified “health-nut” of normal weight with no risk factors, saying “I think I’m having heart attack symptoms.” I was quickly taken back for an EKG, which didn’t show anything wrong, so they sat me in the waiting area for about four hours. Yep, four. During that time, the pain in my left side would wax and wane. It would get increasingly terrible over an hour or so, making it very difficult to breathe, then ease for about 20 minutes. I could not get comfortable. It was the longest four hours I’ve experienced since giving birth. Finally, they called me back and I was ushered into a small room and given a very fashionable hospital gown. For all the time they made me wait, they at least made up for it once I was in a room. I had three doctors and at least three nurses checking in on me. They did a chest X-ray, drew several vials of blood, and a very attractive young doctor did an ultrasound on my aorta. (I may have felt terrible, but not too bad to flirt a bit. Ha!)
After four more hours and lots of poking and prodding, no diagnosis was made. I was told that everything looked fine and to make a follow-up appointment with my cardiologist, so that’s what I did. I should note here that they did a great job of checking my heart, however, they didn’t seem to check into what was causing my pain. I went home that night, still in pain, and nervous about my heart. I decided to lay off caffeine completely, even though I only have a cup or two of green tea or yerba mate and maybe some chocolate each day, until I knew what was happening to me.
I woke up the next day feeling quite a bit better and went about my day as usual thinking “that’s weird” but not giving it too much attention. Wednesday, however, I hurt so badly that I could barely concentrate at work. I was experiencing muscle spasms and felt like my ribs were trying to evacuate my body. I was starting to think I’d broken a rib, but couldn’t begin to imagine how. Luckily, Wednesday is the day I see my chiropractor. I thought maybe he’d have an answer. My chiropractor has us perform warm-up exercises that include a traction device where we loop a padded rope behind the head where it rests on the notch at the base of the skull, and gently squat to relieve pressure on the spine. I attempted to perform this exercise when I arrived, and I felt like my body was going to break in half as soon as I dropped my hips. I wanted to cry. I decided to just do my wobble cushion warm-up, where I sit on an inflated cushion and wobble my hips back and forth, then side to side. I could barely do this motion without excruciating pain. When it was my turn to have my adjustment, I told Dr Pete what was going on and he did an evaluation, at which point he noticed I had a couple of rib tips that seemed to be dislocated from my spine under my left shoulder blade. He proceeded to give me the most painful adjustment I’ve ever experienced. I actually grunted very loudly and my eyes watered when he popped the ribs back into place. I’m pretty sure everyone in the waiting area thought he’d just murdered a patient. He told me to take it easy and drink tons of water that night, so I did. The next day, I felt about 75% better. Yay! And that’s about as good as I felt for weeks. I returned to my cardiologist the following week, where he pretty much scratched his head. The theory he proposed was that I have an extra electrical pathway in my heart causing the signal from upper to lower chamber to get caught in a loop, and he told me to cough when I felt it happen to reset it. Cough, that’s the big medical solution. Without an invasive procedure, there’s just no way to know for sure, so that’s what we’re going with for now. It was at this point that I realized the two issues are probably not related, just a weird coincidence.
Over the next few weeks, I had good days and bad days. On good days, I could resume almost regular activities. On bad days, I would have horrible twitching pains in my back and both sides. I couldn’t get a good deep breath whether it was a good or bad day, though. I constantly felt like there was a band around my chest restricting the movement of my lungs. After five weeks of this, I was fed up. On a Sunday in mid-November, I made an appointment for a local walk-in clinic. I saw the nurse practitioner there, and she was going to diagnose me with costochondritis, an inflammation in the muscles around the ribs likely caused as a result of the original rib injury. I asked her to do an X-ray just to be sure that there wasn’t anything broken, because I just couldn’t understand why I’d have such horrible pain without a broken bone. She obliged, and it took about an hour to get the images back. Surprise! I had walking pneumonia! People, I had no symptoms of it besides difficulty breathing, but I thought that was because of the pain. Her theory was that the rib injury made me breathe too shallow for a long period of time, and my lungs got weak. This made it easy for bacteria to set up in my lungs causing pneumonia, and I’d had it long enough that I’d developed pleurisy. Yep, pleurisy. That’s what was causing the excruciating pain in my back and sides. I was given a round of antibiotics, muscle relaxers, and anti-inflammatory medications. I hate taking meds, but I was so desperate at that point, that I would’ve swallowed capsulized mouse feces from a back-alley meth dealer if it promised relief. I must admit, the drugs were amazing. I finally slept well for the first time in weeks thanks to the muscle relaxers. Within a few days, I was back to the 75-80% range of better without any super bad days. I was so glad to be able to feel somewhat normal!
I tried to do a Fun Run for Christmas, but it turned into a Fun Walk because I couldn't breathe after 1/2 a mile. Sad.
And so it went for another month, feeling almost normal, but still having some pain and tightness in my chest. The week before Christmas, I was waking up with a strange tugging or pulling sensation in my right front side. I would be up for five or ten minutes when a “pop” would occur and the tightness would go away, but I’d have a mild pain in that area afterward. By Christmas Eve, I was hurting constantly again, although milder than before, so I went back to the walk-in clinic. That time, I saw a doctor who was filling in for the usual physician, and who was quite handsy, by the way. After fondling my ankles and calves, supposedly checking for swelling (insert eye roll here), he didn’t have a good answer. His guess was a very ominous-sounding “pulmonary embolism.” When a doctor tells you he thinks you have a blood clot in your lung on Christmas Eve, it doesn’t make for a very relaxing holiday break, just so you know. He told me I should make an appointment with my family physician and have a CT scan done of my lungs. Great. That sounds fun. Merry f***ing Christmas.
The following week, I found a new general practitioner to see. He immediately poo-pooed the pulmonary embolism diagnosis saying I had no risk factors and without any leg swelling, it was extremely unlikely. At this point, I was feeling a lot like a patient on House, M.D. It seemed like I was playing a game of diagnosis roulette. This doctor had another chest X-ray done in the office and found that I still have some fluid in my lungs. He prescribed a round of steroids. Yuck. This round of meds seemed to help a bit more than the previous round, so that was good, but I still wasn’t 100%. All through January, I was having recurring chest tightness, and the pain in my right side ribs would come and go depending on the level of my activity. It made practicing yoga very difficult. Ever tried doing vinyasa flow without incorporating your upper body? Pretty much impossible. I probably should’ve called my doctor and told him I still wasn’t better, but, always the optimist, I’d have a good day and think “hey, this might finally be over”. I would feel 95% better for a few days, but then I’d wake up one morning feeling like dookey again. This cycle went on for weeks.
In early February, my husband took us on a much-needed vacation to the San Diego area. It was AMAZING! They were having a heat wave, and it was 80-90 degrees the entire trip and not a cloud in the sky. I felt like a million bucks being out in the sun and dry air. We even spent a couple of days enjoying the sand dunes near Glamis. I had such a great time visiting our friends and camping in the desert. I did yoga in the sunshine while wearing only my bikini. It was so peaceful, and I felt as strong as I’d been in months. Finally, I thought, this is over. I felt so great that I had about a 90 minute practice out in the sun one day, but the next morning I woke up incredibly sore on my right side and couldn’t take a deep breath without feeling like there was an 800 pound gorilla sitting on my chest. I’m sure you can imagine my disappointment. I was so angry with my body! We headed back to San Diego that night to pack up and prepare for the flight home the following afternoon. I was extremely uncomfortable that night and the entire trip home. Being confined to an airplane seat with that dry air pumping in wasn’t the best thing for me.
Once we were home and returned to the regular routine, I thought things would go back to being 95% better like they had been before our vacation. That, however, didn’t happen. I started having mild muscle spasms again, nothing like the first time, but noticeable. My chest hurt constantly, and I had a dry cough all day, every day. I toughed out another weekend of yoga, but luckily it was our anatomy training and the instructor taught a much less rigorous practice than we are used to. Still, I felt so weak and my breath was not coming easily. It’s quite difficult to do breathing exercises when every breath is strained. During all of this, I found that pranayama actually made me more anxious instead of calm, which is the polar opposite of why I do pranayama. I felt like I was falling apart, and after months of this, it was quite disheartening. I would think to myself, “I do everything I’m supposed to do for health. I eat right, exercise, avoid toxins, meditate, get out in nature as often as I can. I even supplement with vitamins D and B12 like a good vegan, but my body is rebelling against me. What the hell is wrong with me?!” I felt betrayed, confused, and depressed.
I finally made up my mind to go back to my doctor the third week of February. Again, he checked my lungs, which sounded completely clear. He was at a loss as to why my breathing still felt constricted. He did figure out that I had pulled an intercostal muscle on my right side, probably during that practice I did in California, and that was what was causing the pain on my side. Thank goodness one thing wasn’t a mystery anymore. He and I sat down and discussed my lifestyle and the environments where I spent most of my time. He said he’s had many patients who have experienced similar, lingering symptoms and they ended up being related to mold exposure. Well, ding ding ding! My office has a moisture problem. I’ve known about it for a while, but didn’t take it too seriously. There was a ceiling leak that had just been fixed, and the ground has been built up over years to where it now sits higher than my floor. Every time it rains a decent amount, I have standing water in my floor. We came to the conclusion that this may likely be the cause of my continued respiratory issues. He prescribed me another steroid pack and sent me on my way with instructions to avoid mold as much as humanly possible. (Not the easiest thing to do living in Tennessee in the rainiest season of the year.) I will say, the company I work for was awesome when I told them what the doctor had said. By the next afternoon, there was a mold remediation company on-site for an inspection and estimate. Within two days, I was moved out of my office and the demo was done.
Turns out, there was mold inside the east-facing wall and the ceiling, as well as under the floor tiles. All of the drywall and insulation in those areas and the tiles had to be removed, and dehumidifying equipment brought in for three days.
At this point, I’m working out of another office in a building that is raised off the ground and has no known leaks. And I’ll be down here until the remodeling of my office is complete. Within a couple of days of being in the new office, my cough died down quite a bit and I started to feel much better. I also noticed my eyes weren’t as watery and red. I hadn’t even paid attention to that symptom. Of course, as my luck goes, my husband got sick that same week with a horrendous cough and congestion, and he passed it on to me. Yay. Now, I’m battling a disgusting mucousy cough and drainage. Part of me thinks this is actually a good thing. Through all of the sickness, pneumonia and all, I’ve never had a “productive” cough. I’m hoping that getting some of this stuff out is what will finally turn things around. I do know that I don’t feel bad right now. My energy has been a bit low, probably from the strain of coughing, but I’m still able to work and manage my daily activities. I’ve been going back to the gym once per week when I’m on kid-free time, focusing on my upper body to strengthen my chest and back, but I’m taking it easy. I’m still doing lots of stretching, but I’m taking it slow getting back into my vinyasa flow practice. It sounds weird, but working out and getting my heart rate up seems to open my lungs up a bit. I think that from here, it’s just going to take time to fully recover.
So what’s the point of telling you all of this? What did I learn from the experience? Well, for one, I want people to realize that what you see on Instagram and Facebook doesn’t always tell the whole story. I was posting pictures of myself in handstands and wheel pose while I was experiencing all of this. Those were my good days. What people don’t see are the times I’ve cried because I felt so weak I couldn’t do a chaturanga pushup. I'm definitely not taking pictures of myself in those instances. No one sees me lying flat on my office floor because it hurts to breathe while standing. I think it’s easy to look at social media and think that’s a true representation of someone. It’s only a tiny percentage of someone’s life and only the part they want you to see. I felt like sharing my illness would be whining, or being a bad representation of the health message I represent. In truth, everyone gets sick. Everyone has bad days, and maybe if we share those once in a while, we will stay grounded. I wouldn’t want anyone to look at me and think “she’s got a perfect life” or “she’s really got her shit together”. I really don’t have my shit together, but it’s my life and my craziness, and my lessons will be learned from it.
Secondly, so many people in the plant-based movement sell it as a cure-all solution, but I’m here to tell you that it isn’t true. Veganism isn’t just about food and health, anyway. It’s about causing as little harm other beings and the planet as possible. When it comes to health, even when you do everything “right,” other factors can still act on your body. Some things are still out of our control no matter how much we focus on what we put into our mouths. And we have to take into account the quality of our environment. I’ve been eating organic, vegan food and doing yoga for years, but I wasn’t paying close enough attention to the environment around me and the air I was breathing five days every week. So many factors go into health, and no one thing is a magic bullet.
Lastly, I’m usually all about holistic healing, but I’m so thankful that western medicine was there for me when I needed it. I’ve seen “gurus” in the natural health movement who are so dogmatic that they shun any use of medication. I think that’s dangerous. I will still take garlic for sinus issues and colds. I’ve been taking it for a week, actually. I’ll still let a fever run its course because I know the purpose of a fever. But if I’m in so much pain that I can’t stand, sit, sleep, or breathe, I’m going to listen to the guy or gal who did 8-10 years of training on the matter. This healthy lifestyle is about balance. Take what works for you and leave the rest, and when it doesn’t work for you, maybe seek out help from someone better versed on the subject.
At this point, I’m hoping that I’m almost over this sickness, whatever it may be. Once this cough and congestion is out of my system, maybe I’ll finally be done. Only time will tell. The good news is, I’m only one month from being finished with my yoga teacher training. At that point, I will be back to posting recipes and other tips on a regular basis. I’m even planning to start making videos. 2016, I will not let you defeat me!