The nurse from our healthcare provider called at 6 am on Friday, April 10th.
“Your doctor saw the results of the blood work from yesterday, and she wants you to go immediately to the urgent care center in Tysons. Your numbers are abnormally high, and she is worried your kidneys are in danger. Grab something to eat and go.”
My wife Bharati and I ate half a muffin in a hurry and left for the urgent care center.
This started a ten-day emotional roller-coaster ride, punctuated by bouts of high anxiety and fear – a situation we had never encountered in our entire life.
On the way to the center I wondered how I had come to face this unexpected grave danger to my life. Was I going to be a candidate for a kidney transplant by the afternoon?
Two days prior, I had a video visit with my primary doctor. I told her about the three falls I had over the last three months, and she wanted to see what was happening. I showed her my shoulder and leg muscles that felt weak.
“Stop the atorvastatin,” she said immediately. This was the generic drug that managed my cholesterol.
She sent me to get a blood test the next day.
The neurologist at the urgent care center explained the possibilities of what could have happened to me.
“It could be as simple as a reaction to the statin drug,” he said. “Or it could be what is known as Toxic Myopathy. It’s a rare condition when your body’s immune system starts attacking your muscles. I am ordering a special blood test. If that does not help we may have to perform a muscle biopsy.”
“I was perfectly normal just a few weeks ago, “I said. “I even went to the gym in the second week of February.”
“That has nothing to do with this,” he said. “You could be a star athlete and this can happen. It is very rare.”
I hoped the reason was a reaction to the statin. The doctors’ concern was over the level of creatine kinase – CPK as it is known. It should be normally within the range of 38 to 300. Mine was at 14,000.
Over the next five days we kept going back and forth between the urgent care center and our home. They hooked me up to an IV each day. The CPK numbers kept fluctuating up and down. On the third day, the doctor informed us that the statute of limitations to affect the kidneys has passed. That meant my kidneys were safe, so we were relieved. This bit of satisfaction came crashing down when the doctor decided to send me to the hospital two days later because my CPK count stayed at 9000.
I didn’t want to go to a hospital during a pandemic environment. What if I got infected with COVID-19? Would I become a part of a statistic presented on the news?
“No, I work at the hospital and you will be safe,” the doctor assured me. “The coronavirus patients are kept on a separate floor. You will have your own room, and the hospital has other facilities for testing.”
Bharati was told she would not be allowed in the hospital. An hour later she came with things I needed at the hospital: my laptop, iPhone, and a book to read. She gave me a light kiss as they whisked me away on a stretcher on the way to the ambulance waiting outside.
On the drive to the hospital I closed my eyes and invoked Swami Gajanan Maharaj. I surrendered to him, entrusting my destiny into his hands.
I was taken directly to room 713 on the seventh floor of the hospital. There was no stop to do paperwork. Everything was arranged. It indeed was prime door-to-door service.
The doctor on duty informed me that the test ordered by the neurologist confirmed I had suffered from Toxic Myopia. They put me on a dose of steroids to calm down my immune system. The IV infusion lasted for about four hours, so I had to drag the whole instrument to the bathroom when I had to go. A small transistor-shaped instrument was hung on my neck. It was a 24/7 heart rate monitor. I felt like a soldier carrying his load in a war zone.
The MRI and the chest sonogram tests taken over the next two days showed that everything was as expected for my age.
They had to keep me at the hospital to administer three daily infusions of immunoglobulin. I was told that I could go home on the fifth day when my CPK number dropped to 2,270. I was told it was okay when the numbers are below 10,000 and are on a downward trend.
My room was pleasant and offered a beautiful view through a large window with a glimpse of the Washington Monument in a distance. The nursing staff was cordial, helpful, and seemed to enjoy their work. They engaged in small talk. It lessened the impact of not being able to have family and friends visit me.
I kept in touch with my family over Facetime and phone calls. As my left hand was tied up with the IV needle I could only keep the iPhone in my right hand. It was a challenge to use it with everything hooked up, but I managed by keeping the phone on speaker.
When you’re tied to a bed all day with no visitors, your thoughts can stray. I did think that if I died, there would be no one at my funeral because of social distancing rules. Maybe I would have a Zoom funeral. But I had a strong feeling that my time had not come yet.
And I was right. My hospital days came to an end. I am thankful that I was generally in good health before this. I had a routine for going to the gym and eating right. I can’t imagine what other complications I would had had otherwise
Now I am slowly getting back to life at home. I am disappointed that I cannot perform the normal things I was able to do just a few weeks ago. I can’t get the morning paper from the driveway or make tea before Bharati gets up. I have difficulty pulling my T-shirt over my head. I need help in putting on my pants. I won’t be able to drive a car for several months. At night I can barely lift my legs onto the mattress. Bharati helps, and when I am settled, she tucks me in like a toddler. Then she turns off the lights. I place my palms on my belly, give a sigh of content, and close my eyes.
I have to adjust to the reality of being dependent on someone for little things in my daily routine. People say I look twenty years younger than my age (80). What does it matter? I have to listen to my body. If I need to use a cane for stability when walking, I will use it. If I can’t drive a car, I have to let someone else do it without feeling guilty. If I can’t have an alcoholic drink, I will fill my glass with a Virgin Mary on the rocks and raise it during festivities. If I can’t run after my grand kids, I will sit on a chair and watch them. I will hug and kiss them when they come running to sit on my lap.
I will definitely stay positive. I intend to maintain my exercise regimen. If I can’t go back to my regular gym I am planning to join a different one close by that accepts the Silverfit program for seniors. This program is supported by my healthcare provider and offers programs strictly geared to the elderly. I will continue to read and write.
My next infusion is five days in a row starting in June. Physical and occupational therapists have visited our home to make preliminary assessments. When the physical therapist started the set up to take my blood pressure I told him my numbers would be high because I had been talking to him. I remembered whenever I was in my doctor’s office they had advised me to keep quiet, look straight ahead, and keep my feet flat on the ground.
“Close your eyes, smell the roses, and blow out the candles,” he said.
When my daughter-in-law called to welcome me home she said,
“You are going to be alright, Dad. It’s going to be a slow and long process. But, you will be back to normal. Give it a few months..”
I trust her judgement.
My daily life has taken a 180-degrees turn, but I am hopeful for a better, perhaps slightly altered, future. I will be patient. In the meantime, I will pretend to smell the roses and blow out the candles whenever I need to.