Less than an hour after writing my last post I was in dire straits and had the paramedics coming for me. The speed with which I deteriorated was startling, and within 10 minutes my peak flow dropped from 100 to unrecordable. I'd had a couple of friends on stand-by for a few days for when I needed to go in, so I called them and even though one of them was in bed asleep they both came round straight away and were here just before the paramedics, who themselves arrived very quickly. My friends N and J hadn't seen me in quite that state before so I think they were a little shocked, as were the paramedics, who I have to say were brilliant, got me straight into the ambulance where they tried to cannulate me, but with my veins being so overused they didn't actually manage to get one in, but they did give me subcut adrenaline in the hope that it'd help. Unfortunately it didn't help and I think I was actually a little worse by the time we got to the hospital. N sat in the front of ambulance with one of the paramedics on the way to the hospital and was told that the crew had been on all weekend, and although it was by then Monday, I was their first call who wasn't a drunk! Apparently they said that my call had made them feel like they'd done something worthwhile and reminded them what the job was all about. How awful that paramedics can be made to feel like they're not worthwhile and are used as a taxi service for people with nothing wrong with them other than the consumption of too much alcohol. I am so very thankful that they do the amazing work that they do.
When we arrived at A&E I was taken straight into resus where there was a bit of a panic about getting a cannula into me, which was proving very difficult and took several people several attempts, but they were eventually successful. Thank God. They quickly gave me all the drugs they could, but they're limited in what they can give me as I'm allergic to a couple of the ones that are often given for severe asthma attacks, so all they can do is give me what they can and then wait and hope. Unfortunately things were taking rather a long time, I had silent chest, my oxygen levels were low on high flow oxygen, my blood pressure was occasionally going a little too low, my breathing rate was apparently 40 breaths per minute and my heart rate was somewhere around 160. All in all, I was really ill and not improving, so the A&E reg called in the anaesthetists, who were obviously worried and wanted me in ITU. There weren't any ITU beds in the hospital where A&E is, and there weren't any at the hospital where patients are usually transferred to from A&E. There was one at the Freeman, but because there's no emergency admissions unit there, and it was 'out of hours', the ITU reg at Freeman said that they couldn't take me. The A&E anaesthetist got onto his boss, who turned out to be the medical director on call, explained the situation, and got the message back that an essential bed couldn't be blocked in such circumstances and that I was to be admitted into Freeman's ITU under my own consultant who, as you know, is based at Freeman on Ward 29 anyway. Now I know that my asthma is severe, and I know that it gets life-threatening, but there's something inescapable about the reality of it when you have an anaesthetist standing at the end of your bed exclaiming down the phone to the director of medicine that he has a patient with severe life-threatening asthma in desperate need of an ITU bed. It hits home. It's frightening ... maybe because the doctor's fear become apparent. I am so thankful for his persistence though and for all the help that he gave me. He called in another anaesthetist (from her home!) to go with me in the blue light transfer from A&E to the Freeman, although she first of all had to put an arterial line into my wrist. I have to say that I was a little scared by the fact that I needed an anaesthetist to escort me in the transfer as this is a sure sign that they're not 100% confident that I'm not going to make it across the city without crashing. I did make it, thankfully, and even more thankfully I just managed to avoid needing ventilating.
I had an x-ray done when I was in A&E, which other than the usual hyperinflation of asthmatic lungs showed a shadow near the bottom of my right lung. They gave me IV antibiotics in the hope that it was a patch of pneumonia, but they (and then ITU) said that they weren't convinced that it was infection as I didn't have a temperature. I had this uncertainty hanging over me for several days, and I have to say that I was quite scared. The last thing I needed was another problem with my lungs, particularly anything sinister such as cancer or fibrosis (which is a potential complication from one of the drugs that I take to treat my asthma - methotrexate). This has to have been the first time in my life that I've prayed to have pneumonia, but pray I did, and so did my friends. Eventually sputum samples revealed that I did have pneumonia, which thankfully meant that other more sinister causes for the shadow on my chest x-ray could be ruled out. Unfortunately the sputum sample also showed that the MRSA that I've had in my nose and throat for several years has now made it's way into my lungs. In theory this shouldn't cause me any more of a problem than it does in my nose and throat, but I know from a previous time of having MRSA in my lungs that it generally slows down the recovery process for me and makes my lungs more unstable/'twitchy'. This may, in part explain why it's taking me so long to recover this time.
So I made it to Ward 29 in the end, although I have to say that I was actually still quite unwell when I got there, and the staff looked a little surprised that I wasn't still in ITU. After another long, sleepless, breathless night, many nebulisers and hours longer of aminophylline later, things did at last begin to settle, and sometime in the afternoon of the day after I arrived on Ward 29 I was breathing well enough to sleep. I was woken at intervals for nebulisers and other medication, though mostly I stayed at least half asleep even then, but otherwise I slept almost continually for 4 days. I was still very tired and lethargic for several days afterwards, and I'm actually still fairly exhausted. I just feel wiped out by it, which I guess isn't all that surprising given the severity of the attack, the pneumonia, the length of time of my struggle to keep fighting for breath, the anxiety over the shadow on my x-ray and the general stress of being in a life-threatening situation, but I just don't feel right and it's getting me down a bit.
So now I'm home. I've been home for a couple of days, but too exhausted really to update my blog or do anything much at all besides plenty of sofa surfing. If I'm honest, I feel slightly traumatised by this most recent attack. I'm not sure why ... I mean, it's not like I haven't had severe life-threatening attacks before ... some attacks just seem to take more out of me than others, and this seems to have been one of them. I'm okay, and I'll be okay, but I am a bit tearful and have the acute stage of the attack running through my mind quite a lot.
Having said all that, I am immensely grateful to all who played their part in keeping me alive and in caring for me during my recovery. I thank them all whole-heartedly, and I thank my friends too for being there for me, particularly N and J, and for those who came to visit me on the ward.
I'm thankful that I survived again, however tough it was.