This horse race call has been going through my head for the past week. I hear Chic Anderson calling it. “And they’re off! Asthma breaks with an early lead, with Flonase in the saddle. Then it’s Hypersensitivity Pneumoitis, with Farmer’s Lung aboard. Two lengths behind is Interstitial Pneumonia and trailing way behind are the longshots in the field, Sjogren’s Syndrome and Lupus. As they round the first turn Asthma has fallen to the back of the pack and pulled up. He is not a contender. In the backstretch now, Hyerpsensitivity Pneumonitis is pulling ahead; Farmer’s Lung letting him have his head. And from out of nowhere here comes Autoimmune Disease with Sarcoidosis on board! He’s running like a freight train! As they come around the final turn, it’s Autoimmune and Sarcoidosis nosing ahead! Farmer’s Lung is giving Sarcoidosis a run for his money! Down the stretch they come!”
It doesn’t look like it will be a photo finish, but I’ll find out in two days who wins the race, according to the medical community, when I get see my pulmonologist to get the results from my bronchoscopy last week.
For weeks, now months, I’ve been dealing with this “lung thing.” And aside from the debilitating effects on my daily routine, and outright crappy days with pleurisy, fever, zero appetite, and skull-cracking headaches, it’s been mostly invisible to others. I’m good with that. And while I pride myself with not making this my story from the get-go (public blog posting aside – ha! – my co-workers and others mostly were unaware until after my bronchoscopy last week, where I had to take a couple days off and came back to work with a deep, hacking cough from the biopsy and lavage procedures), I also sought medical help within 3 weeks of my first symptoms and didn’t wait around for it to get better on its own. I have an overall aversion to doctors and the need for medical care, but I knew there was something more serious going on and waiting was not prudent. A lot of farmer’s lung sufferers believe it’s just a bad cold they’ll get over, and delay treatment (which can then cause permanent scarring to the lungs), but when you can’t catch your breath it gets acute quickly, so I didn’t screw around.
As someone who lives with animals, I totally get and agree with the typical animal response to illness or pain: don’t let anyone know and don’t call attention to yourself (I know, the blogging publicly aside is ironic here) you’ll be targeted/more vulnerable. Of course with the prey animals (birds, sheep) this mindset is more acute, but even my carnivores are stoic in the face of these weaknesses. It’s not very helpful to me as their caretaker to not have an obvious sign to go with, and can make for some “back from the brink” saves when they don’t let you know until they’re so ill they’re no longer able to hide it. So it takes observance, and a daily familiarity with their habits and behaviors, to know if something’s not quite right. A little testiness with others, or a quieter than usual demeanor, or the holy grail for the dogs: off their feed (red alert!) and the sheep: separating themselves from the herd (don’t panic yet, but hovering rightthere).
For me, I’ve found I’ve had all of these symptoms: less patience, less social and more isolation from others, off my feed (sure I have reserves, but for a Finn–we’re good eaters–to go off their feed is major stuff!). Less patience with the prima donna project managers at the office; the ones who think you’re sitting at your desk drying your nails, just waiting for them to unload their project with the impossible deadline on your desk. No, actually, I have six other project deliverables I’m working on, thanks though. This is always great when it’s followed by some version of adult business-civil temper tantrum. Drop everything and make my Most Important Project your priority. Yay. Normally I can shrug these off, and even laugh at them. Lately I’ve found myself snapping at them and their ridiculous expectations. Oops.
But it’s winding down to the diagnosis now; and the autoimmune factor is coming to the forefront, which is okay. Sarcoidosis is something I can work with, and have good hope that with some mitigation I’ll be as good as new by the end of the summer. I also believe, though I doubt I could get anyone in the medical community to agree, that this wasn’t just a long-time-coming diagnosis, but a progression of several of the horses in this race, including the starting gun: the tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis vaccine I got two weeks before my symptoms started. I’m still kicking myself for agreeing to that (my cat had accidentally (not aggression-related) scratched my ear open to the cartilage). My last booster was less than 10 years ago, but the doctor felt this was a risk (and was my cat vaccinated? – what do feline vaccines have to do with a scratch?).
With this depression of my immune system, a the constant puff of fine hay dust and mold spores while feeding the sheep had just the opening they needed, and Farmer’s Lung strolled in the door and settled in for a stay. Then, as I gasped through January and February, feeding and caring for the beasts as I struggled to get a breath, my body working hard to keep up with the demands of my daily chores, the autoimmune factor opened up (I already have one autoimmune disease – Hashimoto’s thyroiditis – and they say once you have one…) and Sarcoidosis came in the door I left open in my negligence. I know this is probably irrational hooey and makes no sense scientifically to anyone with a medical degree, but a weakened immune system is huge. It’s like putting out the welcome mat for all kinds of detritus. Being basically healthy and from good sturdy stock, my only fault being not getting enough sleep (and the incredible restorative powers therein), I’ve learned a valuable lesson to take me through the next half.