Take a Deep Breath

I wish that I could say that MS is the only chronic condition with which I have been diagnosed. In 2002, I had a severe asthma attack. I was placed on oral corticosteroids, and given the requisite rescue inhalers. Initially, my asthma seemed relatively well-controlled. I found a pulmonologist to manage yet another chronic condition. Periodic pulmonary function testing ensued. However, my seemingly well-controlled asthma took a dramatic turn for the worse, in 2005. I had the distinct impression that something other than asthma was actually affecting my breathing. Despite increased doses of medication, my breathing began to worsen dramatically. I began to feel short of breath as I was even talking to my patients, a true occupational hazard for a clinical psychologist. I told my pulmonologist that it actually felt like I was breathing through a clogged straw. Consequently, I was referred to a wide range of additional specialists, including ENT’s. I became excruciatingly familiar with the dreaded in-office bronchoscopy. One especially astute ENT finally provided the confirmation, that, in fact, I was not actually suffering from asthma after all. I had a much more rare condition, a subglottic stenosis. Initially, I was very relieved to find out what was actually taking place in my compromised airway. Everyday tasks were becoming excruciatingly difficult; I’d find myself out of breath, simply walking down the hallways of the nursing home where I was working. You know you’re in trouble when an elderly patient (receiving continuous oxygen therapy) starts to comment on why you, as their doctor, are the one who’s extremely short of breath. I was referred to a prominent voice institute, in Illinois. My ENT quickly confirmed that I had developed a very severe degree of occlusion in my airway. I was immediately scheduled for emergency surgery, to dilate my stenosis. The pain that ensued was truly excruciating. Up until this point, I had thought that strep throat was painful; this degree of discomfort was strep throat on steroids! However, I experienced the most amazing ability to breath easily again, after my initial throat dilatation surgery in 2006. I truly felt like I had received an entirely new lease on life. Thankfully, I was not aware that this surgery was only the first of many more to come. To date, I have had 16 dilatation surgeries for subglottic stenosis. My most recent surgery was in January 2018. I’ve received aggressive chemotherapy infusions, taken high doses of corticosteroids, and endured the toxic side effects of immunosupressant medications, just in order to buy mysrlf more time between throat surgeries. None of these toxic treatments made an appreciable difference, sadly. Consequently, I made the decision to discontinue all of them. I’m happy that I am not aware of how many more dilatation surgeries will be required over time. The very thought takes my breath away, so to speak.

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