Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

Farmer’s Lung and the power of good health {part 1 of 2}

Got home from work in time to see this the other day - days are growing longer! Weee!

Got home from work in time to see this the other day – days are growing longer! Weee!

I’ve always been a person blessed with good health. Other than the usual occasional cold or flu, or the rare intestinal disturbance (food poisoning), I’ve been relatively trouble-free for my whole life (aside from some chronic ear infection stuff as a toddler). I’m a both feet on the ground, steady as she goes type. I mainly go for hiking and walking, and plenty of work around the farmstead—lifting, pushing, carrying heavy objects, raking, digging, hoeing, and the infrequent wrestle with a recalcitrant sheep. I’ve had my share of bumps and bruises, muscle aches and strains, and then there’s the old ski injury that crops up (bad sprain of my right ankle in my mid-teens), and knee joints that gripe a bit. And all the stuff that comes with time and, perhaps, not enough regular activity and maintenance of muscles. Like a lot of people, I tend to be a weekend warrior type, especially during the winter when daylight hours are scarce and the weather is unwelcoming. And a few stiff muscles after a busy weekend is usually my only payment. I’ve always been thankful for my sturdy stock genetics, feeling lucky more than once at how tough and trouble free my body has been. No allergies, no gut issues or skin issues, just all around good health, for lo these many years. And of course, even as I’m thankful, I’ve also taken my good health for granted, not nurturing my body as I should. While I eat well (whole, real foods, mostly organic, low carb and not a lot of junk or sugar), I tend towards overeating and also sleep deprivation (by choice and probably my biggest abuse). I’ve not worked at keeping consciously toned as I travel my middle years and the rebound after a weekend of overuse isn’t as quick.

So I find myself with not one but two health issues right now that have been turning my crank for the past few months, and really realizing, like for real, just how good I’ve had it all these years. One is less concerning, especially as this other has reared its head, and while it seemed debilitating when I first noticed it back in September or so—a sharp pain in my left forearm when I rotated my hand/wrist to the inside (diagnosed as tennis elbow when I finally went to the doctor two months later)—it’s now finally healing as a perverse side effect of the other, more threatening issue.

Came to work one day and found this as I unloaded my backpack.  Farley's handiwork, and a reminder of where I'd rather be (at home tossing this endlessly for him).  He so sly.

Came to work one day and found this as I unloaded my backpack. Farley’s handiwork, and a reminder of where I’d rather be (at home tossing this endlessly for him). He so sly.

The doctor prescribed a special brace for my arm, a prescription of naproxen and a muscle relaxer, and a recommendation for PT. The naproxen made me dizzy and the brace and PT are helpful, but really, what my arm needs is rest. No feeding sheep, no hauling hay, no toting a 3-gallon chicken waterer up the hill to the coop, or a bucket of feed out there. No raking or yard work, no cleaning of the sheep pen. In short, no farm work, and of course this is impossible. Or so I thought.

In late November I had a few days off around Thanksgiving. I was home and enjoying time with the dogs, and each day would take one of them out for a long walk to the river and back. The river was in flood stage mode, so it was fun to go see each day’s development. On the second or third day, I walked part way there and ran into a brick wall of just zero stamina. I’d never felt this feeling before, so of course I kept going. I had Daisy with me, and she can pull pretty good, so once we got up the steepest hill it got a little easier. Still, it was a weird feeling, like all of a sudden I just couldn’t go another step. That evening I felt a little under the weather; maybe this was a touch of flu?  No congestion or coughing, no sore throat or any other typical flu symptoms, but the low/no energy was strange. I realized I wasn’t able to get a deep breath, and felt some heart palpitations, but attributed this to my thyroid condition (I get these symptoms frequently on the medication to treat hypothyroidism). Over the next few days and weeks I became more aware of symptoms: loss of stamina, inability to get my breath, chilled at night where I could not get warm, then, when I finally did warm up after huddling under a blanket for a couple of hours, it was like I’d stepped into a furnace, and I roasted for the next several hours. My skin would become ultra-sensitive during these cold/hot sessions, like when you have the flu and just the touch of your clothes is irritating. My appetite was down, and even when I was hungry, nothing sounded good to eat (VERY unusual for this chow hound) and I had intermittent, mild to not so mild, headaches . Finally, frustrated (and, honestly, a little scared), I went to the doctor with my grab bag of symptoms. It had been going on for three weeks by this point. I left the doctor’s office with another prescription—this time for an inhaler (bronchodilator). “So am I asthmatic now?” I asked, incredulous, and got the verbal equivalent of a shrug. WTF?

Daisy's handiwork.  Stole it off the coffee table, where I'd left it the night before.  You'd think she was a puppy or something.  Heart her!

Daisy’s handiwork. Stole it off the coffee table, where I’d left it the night before. You’d think she was a puppy or something. Heart her!

The inhaler didn’t help (and the icky, jittery side effects made it something I avoid anyway), and the symptoms continued. A week or so later I went back, even more frustrated. The mildest exertion would have me gasping like a landed trout, and feeding the sheep was like I’d run a marathon. All my chores slowed down to glacial speed, just so I could breathe. Even so, I’d often have to stop to catch my breath, trying to get enough air when it felt like only half my lungs were working and my windpipe burned like I’d just run a quarter mile in subfreezing temperatures. Actually, I need to change that last sentence to present tense, because little has changed. Going back to the doctor had little effect – chest x-rays, labwork, ultrasound, all is completely normal. A week’s worth of azithromycin did nothing. So then it was off to the pulmonary specialist. I went in for a breath test first, and nearly flunked, with the tester-gal threatening me with having to come back if I didn’t get a decent result by 4:30, and she was “booked solid next week.” Of course the passive aggressive attitude from her did little to improve my results (breathing into a little tube, sometimes with no oxygen available because they shut the valve off on purpose), but in the end (9 times through the test) it seemed we got enough results the doctor would be able to work with.

The actual visit with the pulmonologist was a bit of a bust from my perspective. A few questions where she didn’t seem to listen to my answers. “What else.” She prompted, and again “What else” as I struggled to remember the weird grab bag of symptoms that went with not being able to breathe for the past two months (none of which were typical with regard to lung health – no congestion, no mucous, no coughing, no sneezing, no runny nose or eyes – nothing). She kept asking me about any unusual rashes or swelling (ankles or legs or joint), trying to zero in on something, but I had nothing to give her there, there were none. Time for a CT scan.

The sheep, waiting out a rain squall.  You can see the seasonal stream in the background.  Lots of  sky water this year and the hillside is drenched.

The sheep, waiting out a rain squall under the cedars. You can see the seasonal stream in the background. Lots of sky water this year and the hillside is drenched.

Of course as this went on, I talked to a few friends and whined more than I’d like to say. The difficulty breathing progressed to levels that got a little scary at times (since I’m here by myself), with the basic chores reducing me to near-gasping, and even feeling out of breath while lying in bed at night. My friend Laurie, though many states away, has been my staunch support, researching like a fiend (she’s a stupendous researcher). My brother recommended a dehumidifier. I didn’t really get that (thinking, it’s not a typical upper respiratory infection) but took it into consideration. I searched symptoms over and over, with a focus on zoonotic disease. With the dogs, cats, sheep, chickens, and their various and sundry diseases, I’ve never felt threatened by something transferring from them to me since most diseases and parasites are pretty host specific. Well, that viewpoint has changed somewhat, though I’m still not worried that much. For a while though, everything I came up with made me wonder how I’d survived living with and caring for them as long as I have. But still, nothing fit the weird collection of symptoms I had. Every 5 -7 days I was laid low with it, barely able to function some weekends. One day while conversing with my friend Karen she repeated (as she had weeks ago, as my brother suggested, and as Laurie had mentioned early on as well), it really sounds like mold allergies (she has horses, so knows her moldy hay). When I hear the word allergies I think sneezing, coughing, runny nose and eyes, etc. Nothing like this has happened, so when these friends and family had mentioned mold allergies I kind of went “yeah, yeah…” But out of desperation and what the hell, I plugged in mold allergies into the search engine…and almost immediately came up with the “ding, ding, ding” of jackpot.  Huh?  And huh.  Because for mold allergies, we’re into a whole other ball game. And this is kinda serious stuff. Shit.

Dust mask after a week with the dusty hay; before I started wearing this (like for two months with this hay) all this was going right into my lungs.  It's insidious.  And, in some cases, essentially deadly.

Dust mask after a week with the dusty hay; before I started wearing this (like for two months with this hay) all this was going right into my lungs. It’s insidious. And, in some cases, essentially deadly.

I now have a dehumidifier.  And while I’ve been careful to wear a dust mask while feeding the sheep, I only started doing this two or three weeks after the initial onset of symptoms. Like anyone who feeds hay to livestock, I’ve broken open my share of moldy bales, often with a puff of weird smelling dust to the face; some where it’s just a small section, others where the bale turns out to be mostly compost. And the dusty hay!  The two tons of hay I had delivered in October was probably some of the dustiest hay I’d had in a while. Nearly every bale had at least one 5-gallon bucket of chaff and green powder to be swept off the floor. And there was some mold too. I fed the last of that batch by early January, but by then the damage was done.

Right now all signs point to hypersensitivity pneumonitis, and more specifically in my case, Farmer’s Lung. A pretty serious diagnosis, and one I’m still researching. My CT scan was done (Laurie is researching the results there – lots of $40 words on the radiologist’s report, and my god can this woman research! I am blessed!) and after reviewing the results with me the pulmonologist wants to…wait for it…do more testing!  Specifically, a broncoscopy with lavage (this actually sounds good) and biopsy of lung tissue and two lymph nodes (this does not). I’m loathe to have them start cutting on me, and since these tests will likely only rule out some of those $40-word potential diagnoses and not supply a diagnosis themselves, I asked if we could start conservatively with some blood tests to check for mold and bird allergies (in addition to a coop full of chickens I also have a couple of budgies in a large cage the house, with me and the 7 carnivores).  It helped that I was having the best day I’d had, symptom-wise, in probably a month or more on the day that I saw her. Not coincidentally, we were experiencing our third day of sunshine/no rain after what seemed like weeks of rain.

I’m so ready to be back to 100% health, and look forward to taking even better care of myself, to stay strong and healthy as I head towards the second half of my fifth decade. I’m still working on how I’ll do this (there is no cure for Farmer’s Lung, and no treatment other than removing the offending matter; and if you don’t, it’s curtains), but trust me, I will figure it out.

Next post: CT test results and allergy testing and the great, gaping maw of the U.S. medical system.  And let me just say, I now understand why Dr. House’s patients always arrived to his care half-dead.

This post's gratuitous cuteness photo: Because Pal doesn't play with toys or balls, and because he doesn't chew up household items, we just get to see him, not his handiwork.  My good little birddog.

This post’s gratuitous cuteness photo:
Because Pal doesn’t play with toys or balls, and because he doesn’t chew up household items, we just get to see him, not his handiwork. My good little birddog.

Advertisements

Single Post Navigation

11 thoughts on “Farmer’s Lung and the power of good health {part 1 of 2}

  1. Yikes! That dust mask makes my lungs heart.

  2. mcfwriter on said:

    Yes, I was honestly a bit taken aback myself, once I realized how bad it was, Bliss. Since I’ve been feeding different hay it doesn’t get near as black. Kicking myself now, for being so cavalier about it for so long. 😦

  3. I’m sorry to hear of your troubles, and hope you are well on the way to answers. I related to a lot of what you said at the beginning; it is easy to be cavalier!

    • mcfwriter on said:

      Thanks, Michelle. I feel a lot better mentally, now that I know better what’s going on. Even if the news is somewhat scary: knowledge is power!

  4. Wow! What a scary story. I am anxious to read Part 2 where you get all better.

    • mcfwriter on said:

      I know, Donna – it’s kind of sideswiped me. I mean, who knew? Like most, I’ve never aspired to be anyone’s cautionary tale, but if others can benefit from this knowledge (especially those of us with livestock in the soggy PNW), at least some good will come out of it. The allergy tests should be in next week, so Part 2 will include that info.

  5. Sweet Mo, I cannot believe this story! I have an allergy to all kinds of mold, and am rendered helpless – respiratorally – when I encounter it. Chances are the answer will be no, but do you work near any forms that have like a green copy, yellow copy, etc.? I’m thinking not, but after being exposed to this carbonless paper for 3 days at a former job, I lost 12% of the functionality of my right lung. It took weeks to be diagnosed correctly, except I knew what it was instantly. I had just gotten a promotion, and dealing with those forms was a part of my new job.

    Honey, please take good care of yourself. It took me a long time to get better…I love you!

    • mcfwriter on said:

      Love you too, DeeDee! Thanks for your input–I’m so sorry you had that experience! I, too, am going on a lot of instinct here; while I need the medical help, I also know that I don’t have time to fiddle around with endless testing and “we’ll follow up in two weeks” appointments.

      Thankfully I’m not exposed to anything that seems to bother me at work (well, not allergy-wise, anyway – ha!). I usually feel pretty good by the end of the week, and then have my downturns on the weekends. I’m embarrassed to say how long it took me to make THAT connection. The dehumidifier is helping, I think, and I get all swaddled up now when I handle the hay – hair tucked under my hat, gloves, jacket, etc. I’m going to buy a few of those cheap tyvek coveralls, to pull on over my clothes, for when I feed the sheep. I’m sure they’ll be thrilled when the haz mat monster comes out to feed them.

      I have a plan to get away from hay feeding, so hopefully between that and some (also hopefully) drier spring weather, I’ll see some real progress. It would be nice to be able to take the dog/s for a walk again!

  6. Sorry to hear about your troubles, hope you can find a way back to full health.

  7. Pingback: Hypersensitivity pneumonitis – part 3 | Mo Bloggin'

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

valbjerke's Blog

Real Life Random Ramblings

psychologistmimi

Food, Road Trips & Notes from the Non-Profit Underground

Citizens for Duvall

A grass roots group that gives a voice to its citizens outside of city council meetings.

Pet Zoo Kibbutz Shiller

Adventures of a pet zoo keeper

camino times two

walking together from Le Puy to Finesterre

Trish the Dish

Keeping Our Family's Bellies FULL... One Dish at a Time

KURT★BRINDLEY

WRITER★EDITER★PRODUCER★CONSULTANT

Hen Corner

A little bit of country life in West London...

morrisbrookfarm

Going back...a return to rural life

Relaena's Travels

Eternal Journeys of a Curious Mind

The Global Warmers

8 dogs, 2 elderly adults and an aging RV

Fiber Trek ™

A TV show Connecting Community, Craft, Fiber and Farms

Brookfield Farm Bees & Honey Blog

musings on bees, life, & nature near Mt. Baker Washington

An American Editor

Commentary on Books, eBooks, and Editorial Matters

The Task at Hand

A Writer's On-Going Search for Just the Right Words

ella gordon

textile maker

Jenny Bruso

An Unlikely Hiker Blog

The Daily Post

The Art and Craft of Blogging

Squash Practice

A Growing Concern

Food, Farming and Faith in Snohomish County

Icelandic Fiber Farming in Cascadia

Carol Lea Benjamin on Dogs

Understanding dogs and the many roles they play in our lives

Mo Bloggin'

A little o' this, a little o' that

Living Your Sacred Livelihood

Weaving the Wisdom in Nature with Possibility Practices

Chris Morgan's Wildnotes

A BLOG of pictures and thoughts from the field

Denise Fenzi

a professional dog trainer specializing in relationship-building in competitive dog sport teams

thekitchensgarden

farming, gardens, cows, goats, chickens, food, organic, sustainable, photography,

Black Sheep Creamery

Artisan Sheep Cheese, Wool and Lambs

Woolyadventures's Blog

Just another WordPress.com site

flippity felts

Needle felt designs and tutorials by Gabby Dexter

Single Life, With Puppy

Suddenly single at 55; what to do but get a puppy?

Eat, Play, Love

making memories through food, wine and travel

Pam Grout

#1 New York Times best-selling author

Karen Maezen Miller's Cheerio Road

paradise in plain sight

CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD

She turns coffee into books so she can afford to buy more coffee. And more books.

Lorelle on WordPress

Helping you learn more and do more with WordPress

Adventures in Natural Beekeeping

Bees, Hives, Swarms, and Everything under the Sun

CARROT QUINN

dispatches from the wild

The KiltLander's Blog

JP's Outlander Recaps and other perspectives from the Dirk Side

Great Scot!

Cultural Musings of An Outlandish Nature

Fringe Association

Knitting ideas, inspiration and free patterns, plus crochet, weaving, and more

The Outlander Podcast™

Chatting about All Things Outlander

The Year of Living Englishly

Coming Home to Cows, Cryptic Crosswords, and a Cambridge Don . . . and back in Boston

%d bloggers like this: