Modern Medicine Saved My Life

Sept 24, 2011

As a man who has/had the ultimate faith in alternative medicine and not nearly as much in modern medicine this has been an interesting time. I am writing this for a number of reasons but I hope it can be helpful to all of us in some way as I touch on many medical points as well as some theological ones.

Exactly two weeks ago I awoke with what I thought was a cramp in my left quadratus lumborum muscle (this was a few days after a strange deep feeling in my distal hamstring). Every few months I might awake with either a cramp or the beginnings of one that I can abort. For me it typically signifies the need to take magnesium, so no big deal. The cramp subsided and I forgot about it and did my usual Saturday activities of attending synagogue, leading a Torah study and going to the community potluck afterwards.

To tell the whole story I should back up five weeks. Five weeks ago I experienced a week of 102-103 degree fever and just lying in bed as I was too tired for anything else. I assumed it was the febrile stage of West Nile virus (and it might have been). It left but I developed laryngitis for a few days which I sometimes get post viral especially if I am under stress. After about a week I developed a cough. That too is not atypical for me- in the fall IF my adrenals are depleted I tend to react to the grass outside (we live where there are multi acre lawns always being cut) and a surface nonproductive allergic cough is something I put up with for some years.

The night after the initial "quadratus lumborum cramp" it re-emerged and became quite acute. Within a day I could no longer lie down though walking and sitting were relatively asymptomatic. Because the pain was centered around the lateral part of my left lower back at around the level of the 10th rib- I became convinced it was a kidney stone independent of the cough I was experiencing.

Sir William Osler MD once said "A physician who treats himself has a fool for a patient." Being an alternative medicine teacher for 20+ years and having a heightened degree of body awareness I have been more or less my own physician for years. After the weird feeling in my distal hamstring I applied the percussor on the highest speed to my lower hamstring as well as to the left quadratus lumborum area.

For a couple of days I did every kidney stone treatment that made sense for me and read everything I could about them. Things were getting worse not better so I ordered a stone study at the local hospital. I wanted to see the size and location of the stone so I could give it a more accurate prognosis. In the meantime I developed substernal pain that was at times worse than the "kidney stone pain" (I then thought maybe the cough was due to GERD). A day later the radiologist called and said " No stones, kidneys looked fine but the CT caught the lower lobe of the left lung and it looks like you have pneumonia." Not having a family doctor (a combo of never needing one (last time I had taken a prescription was probably 30 years ago) and not trusting them; as well as having a great MD friend I could consult with by phone as needed) I went to the local urgent care clinic attached to the hospital. The doc there said it is pneumonia (after doing a quick exam and a chest x-ray) and I should take some erythromycin for 14 days and then come back and have a follow up x-ray. I thought I could manage the side effects of antibiotics and decided to follow her advice. If I had solely listened to her I'd be dead.

Anyway, the erythroycin tore up my stomach and I switched to azithromycin and my substernal pain lessened quite a bit. I felt we were on the right track. The so called "kidney pain" was staying the same.

Friday night before the onset of Shabbat I prayed to G-d and said "if there is anything I need to do for my health now please make it clear" Maybe an hour later as I walked up the stairs I felt very weak and called my wife to come over and shortly after that I passed out (which was an answer to prayer). The EMT's came and my %spO2 was low to mid 80's. They gave me some O2 which revived me but to play it safe I went to the ER. Blood work showed very high neutrophils low lympocytes, again all consistent with pneumonia. They did a D-Dimer test which was off the chart (normal under 400, mine was 5400) which is suggestive of pulmonary embolism but also draws equally high readings with pneumonia. I was convinced it is pneumonia and I consented to 2 IV antibiotics (first time in the hospital since I was 4 years old). I refused a lung CT with contrast due to my being so hypersensitive.

Next day my %spO2 was not improving and they convinced me the CT was worth it. It turns out I have/had at least 8 large embolisms effecting every lobe of the lungs and the hospital physician said considering their size and the average rate of growth of untreated ones, if they hadn't found them I probably would have died within the next three days. He said modern medicine saved my life.  As a God believing person I would more say God used modern medicine to save my life. Another PA looked at the CT and said I was a walking miracle.

They monitored me closely as I spent six days in the hospital. I am not totally out of risk and will start a slow rehab. I didn't agree with everything the docs advised and I have a wonderful MD friend who, along with her father (an MD) and sister (a DO), have been invaluable in helping. They still need to do a follow up CT and see if there is a malignancy that caused the clots or a genetic clotting disorder. I am looking at least a minimum 6 months of blood thinners. An ultrasound study found I still have a 6 inch clot in my popliteal vein and a 2 foot one in an anomolus vein they have never seen before that runs parallel to my superficial femoral vein (which is actually a deep vein). There is still a chance some of either can break loose and cause more havoc.

The time in the hospital I underwent some deep introspection. I was able to start some restoration in some relationships with some formerly close friends who I had fallings out with a few years ago that I wouldn't have if this didn't happen. I am also going to make some changes in my life.

The hospital had some very nice folks. There was the night that they gave me the wrong med (a diuretic instead of my anti-biotic) as I awoke 6 pounds lighter. I also intimidated some of the docs with too many questions but my inquisitive mind didn't stop.

I am trying to get priorities straight between work, play, service to others, family time and what really is important. I hope I am kinder and gentler as a result of all this.

I have questions to ponder

1. Other than perhaps a too sedentary a life style I don't think I contributed to the clots dietarily. They could be genetic or there could be a hidden malignancy still or it could be from the week in bed from what might have been west nile virus

2.Did I break loose a piece of the clot in the politeal vein with my self prescribed percussor treatment and if so should I be more careful on patients (could I have done it to myself?). Even if I did, it might have broken loose anyway (my DO at the hospital thought it was very possible it played a role)

3. Should I not have self-diagnosed the kidney stone (an incorrect diagnosis on my part) and gone to an MD instead? The docs I went to didn't mention embolsims but if I went to an astute one and they found it 4 days earlier it could have been a lot less severe.

4. I am not angry, not even at myself.

I have more respect for modern medicine, especially for the acute emergency stuff.