Costochondritis is the bane of my existence. If you would’ve asked me around March 2010 if anything could be so debilitating that it saps my will to exist, I would’ve said AIDS. Maybe. But even Magic Johnson is getting around alright these days.
Back in April 2010, I woke up one morning about an hour or so before my alarm from some of the most extreme discomfort I had ever experienced. Breathing hurt. My chest felt tight. If you had asked me on a scale of 1-10 how uncomfortable I was, I would’ve said a 10. The pain was about a 7 or so (being hit squarely in the testicles with a hockey ball still scores a 10 on my 1-10 scale, until otherwise superseded). Not wanting to be a whiney-pants (and having to coach a baseball game that day), I went to work with this pain and discomfort.
By 1:00 that afternoon, I couldn’t even think straight. I had to stand doubled-over to alleviate the pain, which by this time had increased to an 8.5 on the pain scale. Breathing was laborious. I was sweating (which I never do). I asked for one of my students to get me an administrator and my boss took one look at me and said, ‘Oh. You look like something is wrong.’ Not wanting to die in front of all of the students in my class, I asked if I could be excused to go to the emergency room.
They covered my classroom until the end of the day so I could drive to the Meadville Medical Center. It looked like an oasis when I pulled into the parking lot. It could have very well been the most beautiful building I had ever seen up until that point in my life. It was going to be the savior of the pain (which at that point I thought had to be a heart attack for certain). It was a sanctuary. A place where chest pain and difficulty breathing were accepted and dealt with.
I believe I contorted my face into something like a smile when I saw that sign.
Ironically, when you go into an emergency room and fill out ‘chest pain and difficulty breathing’ on the form, you still have to wait ten to fifteen minutes before they come out and get you. After calling my name and seeing my age, the nurse looked at me quizzically and said, ‘You’re a little young to be having chest pains now, aren’t you?’ I smiled half halfheartedly and tried not to slap her across her stupid face. If there were age requirements for chest pain, why didn’t she just tell me, so I could tell my chest pain that clearly it didn’t belong in my body for another 20 – 30 years. Maybe I could tell my granny bladder the same thing.
There was blood pressure measured, pulse checked, my lymph nodes weren’t swollen. All of those things led up to a nurse hooking up the EKG machine to me. After they turned me into half man, half machine, I felt a sense of relief knowing that my heart wasn’t about to burst out of my chest. Because it felt like it wanted to.
This is what my chest felt like.
Somewhat relieved by this revelation, I then had the pleasure of of listening to a son-in-law and his mother-in-law verbally duke it out in the curtained area next to me. The hilarity of the situation was compounded by the fact that the mother-in-law was suffering from the latter stages of dementia and thought that she was in the hospital because she was being punished. The son-in-law insisted that it was because she peed on the couch, collapsed, and smacked her head. The mother-in-law was pretty adamant that she was being punished though. You’re never quite sure who to believe in those situations.
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried peeing in a cup in a curtained off area while a crazy lady and her son-in-law argue about such things as why it would be better for the ‘old bag’ to be institutionalized or placed in the care of an old folks home. That was what the nurse asked me to do next. She checked in on me twice and neither time was I able to force a little bit of pee out. That’s very odd for me because I pee like a leaky faucet, but in that situation with that kind of pressure, it’s hard to squeeze out a couple drops of urine, let alone fill a bottle.
Eventually I did, however, and they were able to eliminate diabetes as the cause of my chest pain.
After handing my urine over to a lovely young lady who took my chest X-rays twice, I had the pleasure of running into the parent of one of my students who worked there. She was incredibly nice and checked in on me during her shift and after she was finished. Let me tell you, I’ve never had a more awkward parent-teacher conference than when I was speaking to that mom with a lead vest covering my testicles.
Finally, it was off to the CT scan. Wanting to be a gentleman, I offered to walk myself to the CT scan, but the nurse insisted I wheelchair it down there at her expense. They really did their best to prepare me for what was coming. They asked if I was allergic to iodine, which I thought was weird, but I said no. Then I learned that was a good thing because they were going to inject iodine into my body. They also told me that this would make me feel like I peed my pants. It was a good thing that they told me this as well because I was sure that I had peed my pants after they shot me full of iodine. I found this ironic since I’d just had difficulty peeing in a bottle moments before.
Finally, back in the comfort of my cot next to the bickering lady and that bastard son-in-law, I had a chance to meet with a heart specialist. The guy who had all my information and could make me feel better. He had some food stuck in his goatee when he first walked in. I wasn’t overly impressed. He then proceeded to ask me a barrage of questions, culminating with, ‘One a scale of 1-10, where is your pain at right now.’
‘8.5,’ I said.
‘8.5. That’s very honest. Most people say 10 to that question just about every time. Let’s get you some pain medication to help with that.’
I was much more impressed with him after that.
He told me he’d come back later once he had the EKG, chest X-rays, and CT scan returned. He needed an opportunity to get this orgy of medical information organized so he could help me get my life back on track. After getting that medication injected into my IV, I could’ve cared less when the guy came back. I felt wonderful.
But the doctor did come back, just like he promised. My EKG was fine. My urine sample proved I didn’t have diabetes. The CT scan didn’t show anything wrong. The bloodwork and x-rays showed that I have the potential for a blood clot in my lung at some point, but it’s nothing too serious yet. It was probably just a case of costochondritis.
This is when I first met my mortal enemy.
Costochondritis is inflammation of the cartilage in the ribs and sternum that can cause extreme chest pain. The good news. They figured out what it was and I wasn’t going to die from it. Then I was schooled on that bitch.
No one knows what causes it. It makes your ribs and chest incredibly sore. There’s no ‘cure’ for it, other than anti-inflammatories, such as Ibuprofen. Costochondritis has to clear up on its own and doing anything can agitate the symptoms and cause that sensation of chest pain and difficulty breathing.
But at least I wasn’t dying.
So I departed Meadville Medical Center for home, not allowed to lift anything heavy, run, or participate in drills at baseball practice. I was a eunuch.
After a few days, the chest pain did clear up and that was the last I had thought of that bastard costochondritis until my vacation to Las Vegas. I was fine for the past few months until one day getting ready for dinner and topless dancing, I couldn’t take a deep breath. I ignored the sensation until at dinner, when breathing started feeling yet again laborious. At one point, the two girls I was out to eat with could see the blood drain from my face and I saw the panic in their eyes as they stared at me, repeatedly asking if I was okay. My fingers and toes went numb, my face became tingly, and I felt the blood drain from my head. Everything slowed down around me and the noisy casino was drowned out behind me. I could hear it, but it was like being under water. I blinked for what seemed like an eternity before I could start breathing again. It was scary.
Needless to say, I scheduled a doctor’s appointment for the earliest day that I could as soon as I got home.
Since that day I’ve felt exhausted all the time. I feel completely unmotivated and listless a lot of the day. I’ve tried exercising, but it’s hard to breath when I run and it causes discomfort in my lungs. It’s a lot like being married, I’d imagine.
Well, I just got out of the office. I explained my symptoms, had my oxygen level checked (which was a healthy 98). My lungs sounded healthy. There was some discomfort in my ribs… and guess who’s back to terrorize me during my last few weeks of summer?
That’s right. That asshole, costochondritis.
I do feel somewhat better knowing that this feeling of listlessness and unease and difficulty breathing has an identifiable cause. It’s also nice to know that it’s not doing permanent damage to my body. It is easier to breathe if I don’t move. Lying on my right side is helpful as well. And even though this condition is really just symptoms with no real consequence, I’m going to be coming out with some Costochondritis Awareness wristbands and t-shirts over the next few days and I’ll be hoping that all of you will help me find a cure.