Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Harder to Breathe

     I'm back in school now, finishing up both my Bachelor's degree and my paralegal certification, so the time that I have to write is much less than once it was. That bothers me, a lot, because this blog is really important to me. At the most immediate level, it really helps keep me sane and relieves some of the pressure that builds up on a daily basis. When that pressure gets too high, bad things happen, I assure you. So it's beneficial to all involved that I find a way to squeeze this particular pressure-release valve into my schedule, which I'm going to make a concerted effort to do more frequently. Besides all that, I want to keep putting out there the adventures of being married to a man with Marfan's Syndrome, just in case someone needs to read that they're not alone. It's probably narcissistic on some level, but I like to believe that there is a small audience out there who is comforted by being able to see the proof that they're not alone. And so, without further ado, I relate to you the latest in the ongoing saga of my life as one half of Team Marfan's-Can Suck-It.

     Today was my day off work, but my husband works a typical Monday through Friday schedule, so while I had every intention of sleeping in, I was awoken far too early by my husband's rustlings as he got ready for work. Luckily, I can usually fall back asleep pretty easily, so once he was out of the bedroom and in the shower, I was out again. Next thing I know, he's sitting on the edge of the bed telling me he can't breathe and I can hear him making these little gasping noises. What the hell? I was still half asleep at this point and not quite fully aware of what he was telling me. In my sleep-dazed state, I thought he'd overexerted himself and just needed to calm down so his breathing would go back to normal. (I don't know why I was thinking along those lines in the first place; it's not like the man could've jumped out of bed that morning and run a marathon or something. Half-asleep, okay?)

     The gasping reminded me of how my little sister sounds when she's having an asthma attack, so once I'd come awake a little more fully, I applied the knowledge of what I do in that situation to the one that was at hand. I kept telling my husband that he needed to just calm down and try to take slow, even breaths. He kept saying to me, "I can't breathe, I can't breathe," which, I'll be honest, didn't so much scare me as irritate me. Remember that I've previously discussed the irritation vs. panic phenomenon and I'm learning to come to terms with it. That's not to say I'm okay with it when it happens, but I'm getting better at recognizing it and squashing the irritation when it pops up.

     Well, I was irritated again when I realized what was happening, because I knew enough to know it wasn't life-threatening. I get the same way with my sister Lizzy when she won't calm down during an asthma attack, even though I know it's much easier said than done. As the one who's having a hard time getting enough air into their lungs, I would think that having someone telling you, "Just stop flailing around and take slow, even breaths," is probably not what you really want at that moment. I doubt very seriously that was the reaction my husband was looking for, but that's what he got, because that's the best I could do. Even now, I think remaining calm and practical was/is the proper thing for me to do in just about any situation involving my husband's health.

     In any case, my first thought when he told me he couldn't breathe was pneumothorax , or a collapsed lung. He's had them twice before; once during surgery and once the day after a particularly enjoyable concert. It's just one more prize that my husband pulled out of the Marfan's goody bag, as people with the disorder are especially prone to recurring bouts of pneumothorax. When I suggested that, though, I was reassured that this was not the case. It's apparently a rather painful thing to endure and since it's happened to him before, he's familiar with the sensation. (He's even got a scar on his ribcage from the tube that the doctors had to shove into his chest to get the collapsed lung up and running again.) No, this time it was simply that the pain in his back and chest was so bad that he couldn't inhale enough to draw a breath.

     I've been with my husband for just over two years now and this is the first time I can remember seeing him gasping for air because he couldn't overcome the pain in his muscles to force the air in. His left arm was useless, too, so bad was the cramping. Once I realized what was going on, I suggested that he take a couple of Flexoril and lay down to let the muscle relaxer do its thing. After sending an e-mail to work letting them know he couldn't come in, he did just as I suggested. It took a bit for the drugs to kick in, but eventually his breathing wasn't so panicked and became deeper, easier. As a result, so did mine.

     Like I've said plenty of times before, when you're married to someone with a chronic degenerative disorder, you learn pretty quickly that you simply cannot go to pieces over every little thing. I've never been prone to doing that anyway, but that tendency was sharpened significantly when I began dating my husband. Truthfully, once we'd ruled out the collapsed lung theory, I did have a fleeting thought that this could be a heart attack, but my husband assured me that it was not; it was a vicious cramping of his back muscles instead. Some might say that I should've insisted that he go to the hospital anyway, but I say that I have to trust my husband to know his body. I can read about Marfan's Syndrome until I go blind - it won't allow me to experience what he does and so I will never be able to know what's going on in his body like he does.

     This morning was day two of the shortness of breath episodes, though today was obviously much worse, as he wasn't able to do anything but lie in bed for quite awhile and hope that the muscles would let go of themselves long enough to allow him to get his breath back. His chiropractor has been on vacation for the past two weeks, so there's been no treatment on that front for awhile. I don't know if that has anything to do with it or not, but it could. He'll go back on Friday, so I'll remind him then to talk to the chiropractor about the episodes and see what he thinks. Until then, I guess it's just going to be concentrating on one breath in, one breath out. Not so different from our normal order of business, when you think about it.

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