By Christopher Green
So how did I get myself into this situation, contracting a disease that was easy to get rid of at the onset but was instead left to fester for literally decades?
It was not easy. First, let me say that I have always had upper respiratory troubles. Even as a kid I was coughing more than the other kids and, at least once a year, I would come down with a nasty case of the crud.
Please remember this because it plays in to how I became a disabled adult waiting to be green- lighted for a Lung Transplant.
Back in the mid-sixties when I was just starting on my annual cycle of lung sickness, my folks were going through a very nasty divorce. It was grueling. The break-up started back when I was in second grade, around 1964, right when the Beatles were starting to make an impact and did not really end until the band broke up in 1970.
My dad had quit, or was fired, we will never really know for sure, from a great job out at the Chevy Transmission plant here in Cleveland. He was a tool and die maker who was never what you would call employee material. He always viewed himself as being surrounded by what we would call slackers today but what he quaintly referred to as “shit-for-brains”.
He was not a man who played well with others. My mother worked as teacher at Brooklyn High School and so she carried us on her policy from work. When the legal actions started to happen, my mother was advised to drop us kids from her policy in order to force my dad to take responsibility for our health concerns.
Now this was back when pretty much anything that could happen to a kid, outside of contracting a dread disease, could be handled out of pocket. There were still neighborhood doctors all over the place, but even I noticed that Blue Cross and Blue Shield were starting to advertise. I remember this because I confused the Blues with the Red Cross, which I think a lot of people did.
Anyway, I remember being pretty sick one time, sick enough that I was missing a lot of school. I was coughing up all sorts of stuff and it hurt. My mom insisted that my dad take me to a doctor. Well my dad had a friend; he always had a friend, who was a doctor. He took me to this guy’s office but first we met him at a bar. After they had a drink or two, we went back to the Doctors Office.
We walked up a stairway next to the bar. I remember how old it looked. It smelled like my grandfather’s cigars. He unlocked the door; there was not even a name painted on the glass part of the door. There was a desk, a few chairs and that was about it. No receptionist, nothing that would make one believe this was a doctor’s office. I remember dust hanging in the air that danced a little when it hit the sunlight coming in from the front window.
He looked down my throat, listened a little to my chest with his ear and said I had postnasal drip and gave me some red pills and told my dad to get a certain brand of cough medicine.
That was it.
From then on, I took every bout of what I still call the crud with a cavalier attitude. What I found out later from my cool GP was that this was probably a lung infection that should have been treated with an antibiotic and that it probably would have nipped the progression of the Bronchiectasis , the disease that is causing all my problems now, in the bud.
But I started smoking when I was in ninth grade and the cough morphed into a smoker’s cough. The cough was now a part of my life. I went on with this infection in my lungs festering for years.
By the time I went to Ohio State in the late 70’s, I had added drinking and smoking pot to my list of things I shouldn’t have been doing because I had a chronic cough.
The drinking and the smoking came together one night at OSU when I passed out with a cigarette still smoldering and a big, old stuffed chair caught on fire. I was rushed to the hospital and spent about ten days in bed with complications caused by inhaling a whole lot of smoke.
I quit smoking but not drinking and so it was only a matter of time before, you guessed it, I started to smoke again.
Sure enough, I soon ended up in the hospital with what turned out to be my first of about a dozen hospitalizations for pneumonia.
I went through another four years of drinking and five smoking before I became clean and sober by the time I was 27.
After two years of sobriety and one not smoking, I came down with a really bad case of the crud. I was coughing and had a high fever and was missing work. I didn’t have insurance and I was really leery about going to the doctor. I was sure I was sicker than I thought and that I might have Cancer. Even back then, I knew about pre-existing conditions.
I was all upset about the whole situation because I was turning my life around, doing what I was supposed to do and even contemplating a higher power through AA. I started to wonder if I wasn’t some kind of modern day cut-rate version of Job.
My mom finally agreed to pay for my doctor visit and for the X-Rays. While waiting the tech just stood there looking at me. I finally asked “What?” All he said was it looked bad. He showed me the picture, I saw this shadow like mass, and I asked him if it could be Cancer. He nodded yea.
Of course I freaked out.
But all they found was a bad pneumonia and nothing else “that I should worry about now”. I was sent across the street to see a pulmonary guy. Turns out it was the partner of the doctor who would end up telling me I had asthma. He gave me antibiotics and told me to sleep as much as I could.
The point of all this is that at anytime along the way I could have been spared the trouble I am in now if I would have had a proper evaluation of my respiratory problems. I’m not blaming anyone – just pointing out how decisions made by my mother’s attorney, my dad’s drinking doctor buddy and my own stubborn decision to avoid bad news came back to haunt me.
I think back on hearing how glad I was that I did not have the Cancer and I probably thought I was okay since I had quit smoking. Even when I was checking in the hospital about every two years all through the late 80’s and the 90’s with pneumonia, I was glad it was not worse. I never gave it a thought that all this pneumonia wasn’t normal and that I was probably sicker than I thought I was.
But I just kept chugging on.
One more note about my childhood. All the way until I was in the ninth grade, I sang a sweet, pure soprano. I was like one of those old time guys that was cut in that certain place to preserve that soprano voice with a distinct male tinge to it. I was even urged by the director to try out for the Singing Angels. Another weird incident, I ended up being friends with the son of the man who organized the Singing Angels. He never even realized I could sing.
Why I bring this little tid bit up was because I remember missing a concert where I had a solo because I was too sick with the crud to sing. The choir director was livid and made a point of mentioning it to my folks. I think she thought there was something more wrong with me than postnasal drip. My mom and dad fought about it and as usual, nothing much changed.
Now, I want to thank everyone for all your support and your kindness toward Laurie in this time of her loss.