Sunday, March 6, 2011

Keeping Serena in our thoughts

Some years ago I went through a scary experience of being diagnosed with a pulmonary embolism. I was at the time living in a so-called Third World country so that may have been a factor in the misdiagnosis. What happened is that I went to the doctor for a reason I can no longer remember, but think that it was something minimal and unimportant. While there he commented on the frequency of my cough and asked how long it had been going on. To be honest, I hadn’t really given it much thought but replied that I had been coughing for a few days. He suggested that I get a chest X-ray and come back to see him.

I had to go to a different lab to get the X-ray. The technician came running out and asked me how soon I intended to follow up with the doctor. To be honest, I hadn’t given that a thought either. “Why?” I asked. “You need to go right away”, she replied. I tried to get more information out of her but she insisted that it was not her place to interpret the X-ray. I had to return to the doctor who had sent me.

Well needless to say, I was becoming a bit frightened. I dashed over to the doctor’s office, more conscious now of my coughing. He took one look at the X-ray and insisted that I had to go see a pulmonologist right away. He said that he could be wrong and didn’t want to make a mistake. He called up a pulmonologist friend and got me an immediate appointment. By this point I was starting to become frightened. What could be the matter with my lungs?

I got to the pulmonologist’s office and he was not only waiting for me but I was ushered in immediately. It was the first and only time in my life that I did not have to wait forever in a doctor’s waiting-room. The pulmonologist put up the X-ray on his machine and studied it closely. He then told me without mincing words that I had a pulmonary embolism and would have to be admitted to the hospital right away.

I asked him if I had time to go home and pack a bag. He said that I could do only that but that I should not go anywhere else afterward but straight to the hospital. On the way home I called up a good friend, a psychiatrist. He told me to stay home and he would come to pick me up to take me to the hospital. “Is this serious?” I asked, somewhat naively. “It’s as serious as a heart attack”, he replied. And he was not referring just to the expression.

He must have run every stop-light getting to my house. It turns out that on the way, he had made every arrangement for me to be admitted to a hospital where he had attending privileges. Again, I have never been processed that quickly into a medical system. That night I lay in the hospital bed trying to decide what to tell my family. Was I going to be alive by morning? Is this how and when I was going to die?

I can honestly say that ever since that moment, I have lost some of the fear of death and dying. There’s nothing like a close call to make you realize the importance of living every day as if it is indeed your last. I certainly hope that this is the perspective that Serena gains from her own close call. And indeed, her call was far closer than mine.

Because it turns out that I did not have a pulmonary embolism. The dot on the X-ray was the presence of fluid in my lungs. The fluid was drained in a procedure so horrific that I will spare you a description. And the continuing good news was that the fluid was not malignant. After several weeks and months of every kind of testing imaginable, to this day I still have no explanation for what caused my lung to partially fill with liquid. I never had any symptoms of being unwell and I still don’t. Other than a subsequent diagnosis of mild asthma which came several years later, I have remained as healthy as a horse. I wish Serena continued health as well.

The whispers have not yet started up about this bout of ill-health and I hope that none ever do. Because I know from personal experience that sometimes things happen for no reason. Although I have since concluded that my own experience may have had everything to do with getting my heart terribly broken at the time. At least that’s what I concluded after reading some interesting research coming out of Johns Hopkins University that confirmed that experiencing heart-break can cause symptoms that mimic cardiac arrest to include fluid in the lungs.

I wonder if the reason is that simple for Serena. Or that complex? Regardless of what is going on with her health, it’s time to keep her in our thoughts, prayers, and well-wishes. Tennis needs her to return healthy and strong. Fingers crossed that she will be able to maintain interest in the sport after her health issues are fully resolved.


DeanDaggett said...

A friend of mine entered "pulmonary embolism hematoma steroids' in his search engine. What came back was surprising. Young people rarely get either except when using steroids. Is it conceivable that Serena was? I would suppose not, because the players are tested a lot. I was told that athletes manage to stay one step ahead of the tests with new anabolics with slightly changed molecules that are undetectable by the current tests. Have you heard any of this?

tennischick said...

Thanks for the comment. No I have not heard about a link between steroid use and pulmonary embolism. I also am not aware of age being a factor. I will however look into both now that you've raised the issues.