Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – June 11, 2004
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – June 11, 2004 – I experienced a number of horrible panic attacks over the years and I continued to hide from my tormentor – afraid to look it in the eyes and say “enough”. The amazing thing about fear is that once you acknowledge its presence and face it head on, it starts to lose some of its strength.
Not that it disappears, because it doesn’t, but it’s roar is less intense and it’s face a little more familiar. I still suffer the pangs of panic and anxiety -the sweaty palms, the hot flashes or cold sweats depending on the trigger of the anxious episode, the pins and needles, the numb face and the heart pounding – but since I started to talk openly about its presence in my life in 1995 – its intensity has lessened.
Not that I open up conversations with – “Hello, pleased to meet you, my name is Rosemary, I suffer from panic attacks and how was your day? By the way I may experience the symptoms of a heart attack right in front of you, but don’t call the medics because it’s only anxiety. No really, even if I collapse on the floor and tell you that my brain tumour is about to burst – don’t worry – I’ll be fine – honest”.
Such was not the case in March of 1994 when I caught a severe cold. I was living alone with my trusty Bull Terrier, Boadi for company. She was a great companions but lousy as a caregiver. Perhaps I was rundown, but for some reason this cold lodged itself in my chest and then bored into every available part of my lungs and turned into the worst case of bronchitis I’ve ever had. I was so sick that my sense of humour evaporated. I couldn’t find anything to laugh about in the face of this beastly illness.
The head cold completely stuffed up my sinus cavities and the bronchitis congested my chest to such a degree that I couldn’t stop coughing. I was constantly gulping for air and tying to take in a deep, satisfying breath. What better time for my panic to click into overdrive. A heart attack was definitely on the way. What if I was convulsing on the floor in the throes of respiratory failure – unable to reach the phone.
With no “happy pet story ending” in sight where my loyal canine companion rescues me – I could lie there dead for days and no one would know. These happy thoughts danced through my head when I went to bed at night. Still I managed to get a bit of sleep. I was taking antibiotics that didn’t seem to be helping and drinking Neo-Citran like tea. With a double snort of Otrivin in each nostril I found some relief.
There is a rider on Otrivin directions warning against using the mist for more than four or five days. I used it for thirty-one days and got addicted to it. Then like all addictions I had to use more and more of it to get an acceptable degree of relief. Before long it was counter-productive and it finally it had no positive affect at all.
I tried to sleep in my third floor bedroom at night and then move down to my second floor den during the day so I could watch television. On one such morning I was watching the news when the announcement of actor John Candy’s death was flashed across the screen. He had died of a heart attack in his sleep. Talk about the power of suggestion – I was finished.
My anxiety went into overdrive. I was so choked up that even triple doses of Otrivin failed to give me any relief. I’d lie down and my heart, fuelled by panic, would shift into overdrive. Soon I’d be gulping for air and waiting for a great stabbing pain in my chest to signal a massive heart attack. The fact that it didn’t happen one night, didn’t preclude it happening the next. I was exhausted, but I couldn’t sleep.
I had an air mister running beside my bed – and from time to time, I’d fly over to the window and fling it open so I could gulp in great breaths of cold, winter air. That was the only thing that opened up my airways so I could get a full, deep breath. I was absolutely terrified and convinced that I was going to die in my sleep.
My worst night found me parading around in the snow in my back yard gulping for air like a giant goldfish. I had a parka thrown over my flannel nightgown and a pair of sneakers on my feet. I was crying like a woman possessed and the more I did the greater the congestion in my head and chest.
By three in the morning I was nearly hysterical. I gave up and called my doctor and told her I needed help. It came in the form of sleeping pills and miracle of miracles – as soon as I started to get some quality sleep – I started to get better.
I was sick for a month and there was nothing funny about those days. I really believed I was going to die. Now, after the fact, this episode has become fodder for self-deprecating tales of silliness, and it always generates great fits of laughter when I share it with friends.
I refer to the period of that dreadful illness as John Candy Disease. A combination of severe anxiety, sleep deprivation, bronchitis, imminent heart attack and sheer panic. Whenever I think of that now I smile at my fear and say a quiet thank you, that I’m learning to look panic in the eye and say “I don’t think so – not today”.