Updated: Mar 28, 2019
Welcome to the post talking about body parts you own but may not have known existed. On today's episode we'll talk about the Epiglottis, it's function and what happens when the thing narrowly blows up.
It should be a good one!
*Cue Pocahontas sound track.
So, this past weekend was set to be one of happy family celebration. My eldest niece on my side of the family was getting confirmed on Sunday morning. Family was coming. Food was being made in great quantity. Festivities were set to ensue.
Saturday night my husband fired up the barbie and grilled half a cow as the family descended with salads and we began our pre-confirmation, the-gangs-all-here, let's-work-to-not-fit-into-our-clothes-tomorrow gathering.
Basketball was watched. Bellies were stuffed. Salads were covered in Saran Wrap and everyone said their "see ya' tomorrows." And me, I went to be bed with half of a raging sore throat.
Half you ask? Yes, just the left side hurt.
Weird? Yes, I thought so, but time spent on Google assured me, this had happened to others so I shrugged it off.
Sunday morning dawned and more food was made. Mass was attended. Niece was beautifully Confirmed and celebration continued after. I sucked on Cepacol lozenges like they were a lifeline - desperately trying to quell the burning in my throat.
To no avail.
Post celebration my husband drove me to the next (larger) town over that has an urgent care open on Sundays. Doc pronounced that I had a tonsil infection and prescribed me an antibiotic. I take the first dose of the giant pill miraculously because my throat seems like its getting smaller but I'm desperate for relief.
Things do not begin to get better at this point.
Fast forward two hours and as I'm making supper the pain is in my neck, my ear, my eye feels like its about to explode out of my head and my throat is yucky clogged. Like... can't seem to swallow clogged.
Now, I can add scared to the list of symptoms.
(Scared isn't a symptom, you say? Psssshhh, I disagree. You tell me its not a symptom when YOU can't get air in through your mouth.)
So, I do something I will not allow myself to do again over the next however-many hours - I begin to cry.
Now I don't know about the rest of you because I've spent approximately zero hours in anyone else's body, but for me personally, when I cry two things happen that start the process; my throat tightens up and as my eyes fill with tears, my nose also fills up.
Buuuut... since I already had an issue with swallowing, you might begin to see how the throat tightening/nose filling could be a bit of a problem.
And by bit I mean, HOLY CRAPBALLS BATMAN, I'VE GOT NO WAY TO GET OXYGEN!
So, I blew my nose and said, "Be done with that Peasant! That is not the solution to your problem!"
Unfortunately, I had no idea what the solution was but as you're about to hear, I manage to come up with a couple of doozie ideas that, well, narrowly killed me.
I laid down in bed (stupid idea #1 - where does all your saliva go when you lay down? To the back of your throat - riiiiiight. Except mine is currently not accepting saliva at this time so this proceeds to gag me.)
Now I don't know about the rest of you because I've spent zero hours in anyone else's body (do I sound like a broken record here?) but when I vomit - two things always happen (aside from the actual vomiting) - my eyes fill with water and my nose fills with... stuff. Again, this causes an issue since my only way of getting the much needed oxygen we breathe on this planet can only make its way in to my body via my nose. MY NOW CLOGGED NOSE! Ugh!!
Vomiting = bad on a normal day.
On this day vomiting = almost deadly.
So, I decide (stupid idea #2) that if I could just suck this stupid clogging ball of whatever out of my throat that things will be better for me. So, I get a hold of one of those little medicinal syringes that you can use to squeegee liquid meds into a squirming child's mouth, only I try to reverse the process.
As you can imagine, not only did this not work - it... you guessed it... caused me to vomit again.
At this point - I give up.
I lay down in bed and take three deep breaths in through my nose and remind myself that I can, in fact, breathe - I just can't do it through my mouth. So, I stack another pillow behind my head to prop myself up a bit, close my mouth and attempt to sleep.
Only to be brutally awakened 14 minutes later when my body decides it needs to do that voluntary reaction we all call - swallowing.
This leaves me shooting out of bed and gasping.
I begin pacing in circles. Reminding myself to breath through my nose. Trying desperately not to give in to my fears and start crying when finally I can no longer take it, I throw on some sweats and drive myself to our local emergency room.
When the nurse behind the desk asks me, "Can I help you?" it's the first time I try to speak. The noise that comes out sounds nothing like my actual voice but more like Grover from Sesame Street. I can barely get words out but manage to tell her, "Something is clogging my throat. I can't swallow. Please help me."
And off to a room I go.
Vitals are taken. Blood work is taken. Doctor comes in and orders a CT scan. And I, in a moment you will come to see as my starring role of Idiot Girl - pout.
Doc: What did you come in tonight expecting?
Idiot Girl: I don't know. Can't you just take a turkey baster or a vacuum attachment and suck this thing out of my throat and send me home so I can sleep?"
Doc: Ahhhh, no. That would be unethical. What's going on right now? I feel like there's an issue here.
Idiot Girl: (silently reminds herself of the no crying rule) I'm scared that I'm going to lay in that thing (the CT scan -to translate for those of you who may not speak idiot) and choke on whatever is in my throat. I'm scared I'm basically going to die by my own phlegm. Can that happen?
Doc: Not likely, but we need that CT to know what's going on here.
40 minutes later. CT done. Radiologist has read the results. Antibiotic and steroids are now being pumped into my stream through an IV. I'm so tired I can barely hold myself up in the chair. But, Idiot Girl is about to have her second scene, so I can't sleep yet.
* Cue Soap Opera voice over* "Today's role of Idiot Girl with the Grover voice will be played by Mama Jess."
Doc: (enters the room rapidly) We have a plan. CT shows Epiglottitis. We're taking you to another room. You'll get some nice night-night juice and then you'll be intubated and transferred.
Idiot Girl: Transferred.. like to a different room?
Patient Nurse: Ahhh, no.
Idiot Girl: Like to Watertown? (next largest town - approximately 45 minutes away.)
Patient Nurse: Ahhhh, no.
Idiot Girl: Like to Sioux Falls? (Largest hospital in the state - approximately two hours away.)
Patient Nurse: Yep.
Idiot Girl: Will I go by ambulance?
Patient Nurse: Ahhh, no I don't think so.
Idiot Girl: (as dumb as she is at this moment does actually take a second to realize that she can't drive herself if they give her night-night juice - offers up the only other method she can think of) Helicopter?
Patient Nurse: Something like that.
Idiot Girl reminds herself - no crying. Even though she hates flying.
The next 30-40 minutes is a bit of organized chaos. The Hubs is brought in, calm and collected as usual. He's already thought to call the family priest, and has called my mom to explain the situation and delegate getting a hold of the clergy. The night has been deemed too foggy for helicopter travel so I will be taking the Careflight plane. The doctors weigh over the issue of intubating v. not intubating and ultimately decide to let me on the plane without intubating me (thank you, Jesus.) Priest arrives for the sacrament of the Annointing of the Sick, the ambulance crew transfers me from my hospital bed to the airport and then Careflight crew transfers me from there to the Intensive Care Unit in Sioux Falls.
I learned later that as I was flying over our sleepy little town, the Hubs was at the house getting the boys ready to make the drive and they stood at the window and watched the plane fly over.
I can tell you with certainty that I'm two thousand percent glad I didn't know they were watching at a window at the moment or that whole "no crying" thing would have been tossed out the window. I probably would have been a sobbing, gasping mess and the flight crew would have had to intubate me five minutes in to our flight.
Thank goodness for things you don't always know...
After arriving to the ICU it became a regimen of drugs to keep my throat open, the swelling down and the bacteria dying.
It was visits from the hospital clergy, the ENT's, the ICU docs and a rotating door of my family checking in on me.
It was also prayers said and prayers heard because as Monday wore on, I could feel my throat opening.
Monday night, when I was allowed food, I sat watching the women's NCAA game (SDSU v. Syracuse - Go Jacks!) working through my first meal since Sunday morning - Starbucks oatmeal, three petite vanilla bean scones and half of a vanilla bean frappe. (The Hubs stepped in and finished off the other half because - Thou Shalt Not Waste Starbucks.) Post game the Hubs kissed me goodbye and went to stay with my sister who lived nearby. And I... I learned that steroids and sleeping do not go together.
I watched TV. I read. I drummed my fingers. I closed my eyes and at midnight they brought in a new bag to hook to the IV.
By 4am, I realized sleep was like chasing my dream of being a ballet dancer (you're old and not that flexible, time to give it up hon') so I got up and brushed my teeth, combed my hair, stepped into a pair of leggings and then proceeded to do any exercise I could think of doing within range of my IV cord.
I kid you not. At one point my heart rate actually went into cardio zone and the monitors started beeping like mad.
I sat down after that.
Also, the doc came in and gave me my discharge orders with strict instruction I was to continue on the steroid/antibiotic treatment to prevent a relapse.
No argument from me Doc, I do NOT want to revisit the up close and personal symptoms of Epiglottitis any time soon.
So, like any good journey, there are things I learned. Which, I feel I should pass on to others. Hence, the last part of this post.
Uhhhhh, so don't stick a medicinal syringe down your throat to try to remove it? Sure, nowwww you tell me.
Also, if you're on steroids and someone asks you the next day, "did you get any sleep?" Your answer will likely leave you looking and sounding a bit like Buddy the Elf.
So, that's my journey. What I did. What I shouldn't have done. And the amazing people that put up with my stupidity and still decided to offer their help to get me better.
Here's to hoping none of you ever experience this rare phenomenon and that you all say thank you tonight, before you go to bed, for the functional and normal-sized epiglottis you have.
That's it for today's episode, kids. Tune in next time to learn about the more exciting and wonderful body parts you possibly didn't know you had but should be grateful for!