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Ambulance Ride and the Grim Reaper

By Scott Simpson

March 22, 2010

Well, it has been an up and down week -- physically and emotionally.

When all this started 5+ weeks ago, the most severe symptoms were profound fatigue and feeling very crappy all the time (much to my chagrin, I don't have a better word then crappy). But not nauseous, as I never felt like I was going to vomit and the crappy feeling didn't seem to emanate from my stomach. As the fatigue and crappy feeling started to lift in the last couple of weeks, I was able to be more functional.

Things have changed in the last week or so. I now have 1 or 2 bouts of nausea each day that last about an hour -- but no longer experience the crappy feeling and instead of being very fatigued, I am merely low on energy most of the time. I also have sporadic abdominal pain, mostly on my left side. And some of the anxiety attack-like episodes -- I say 'like' because I don't experience the psychological fear/flee symptom -- have become more intense and longer in duration. During a recent episode people asked me if I was okay to drive because I was shaking so vigorously. As I shook in the check out line of the grocery store, the cashier asked me if I was cold as she glanced outside at our sunniest, warmest day yet this year.

The night after my last blog post I had a severe episode of racing heart, rapid breathing, sweaty palms, and shaking. Even though the symptoms were more intense then any other previous episode, I assumed it would also pass in less then 10 minutes. Instead, it became worse -- my abdominal and thigh muscles also started shaking -- pretty much my whole body just trembled uncontrollably -- and after about another 10 minutes without abatement I decided it was time to call an ambulance. Even though paramedics arrived in just a few minutes, the rush of adrenaline had ceased and I was left feeling only mildly (comparatively!) trembley and with slightly elevated blood pressure, which, 5 minutes later, was in the normal range. Once in the emergency room they ran blood tests and did a chest x-ray -- the same things my own doc had already done -- but no clues were evident. However, I now have an appointment this week with an Internist at an internal medicine clinic -- which my doc is happy about.

I also went for a chest/heart CT scan and stress test this week -- they said they would call me directly within 48 hours if anything was amiss and they didn't so I'm assuming my heart is not the problem. Next up is a CT scan of my abdomen and should show any adrenal gland tumours. I am also about to start a 24 hour urine collection for analysis which is the third piece of the puzzle in determining if I have this very rare tumour.

Since it is very rare to have a pheochromocytoma tumour and they are difficult to diagnose, I asked my doc what his second best guess was and he said anxiety attacks even though I don't have the psychological symptoms. Anxiety attacks without the anxiety. Just attacks. Lovely.

Actually, I really like that theory much better and have been trying to justify it -- some of the onset of these episodes have been in social situations (albeit non-stressful) and the episode I had at 4:30am yesterday woke me out of a dream about my running buddy Brian who died totally unexpectedly 2 days earlier at only age 49. Seems like a strong anxiety link to me. And much less daunting then a tumour. But doesn't really explain my earlier symptoms and only sort of explains abdominal pain and bouts of nausea.

Saturday, after the early morning episode and a brief one mid-morning, I felt better as the day went on and I noticed that my appetite came back -- also, no sweaty palms or other symptoms -- I even rode my bike to meet friends for lunch -- and by the time I went to bed that night I was feeling quite good and started to think again about easing back into training. I even dared to think that maybe I could still make it to the start line of Ironman Louisville.

Alas, another bout of nausea yesterday morning followed by abdominal pain when I tried to ride my bike has derailed those thoughts -- hopefully the Internist I see this week will get me back on that exercise train. Derailed, train -- get it? Crack me up.

Losing another friend suddenly and unexpectedly really drives home the need -- again -- to enjoy each day, each moment. Before the inevitable visit from the grim reaper that we all will eventually receive.

Rolling with the punches,

Send Scott an e-mail.

See Also
Guide to Conquering the Fear, Shame and Anxiety of HIV
Trauma: Frozen Moments, Frozen Lives
More on Coping With Stress and Anxiety

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HIV+ Triathlete: Til I Drop

Scott Simpson

Scott Simpson

Scott Simpson is an HIV+ triathlete, student and inspirational speaker avoiding real work so he can find more time to train and learn. A former party boy, Scott has gone from the fictional national drinking team to the real Canadian national triathlon team and is current provincial long course champion in his age group. Scott is also founder of, and inspiration for, the Race for Dignity, which is both an annual spinathon in Toronto and annual school campus events coordinated by Dignitas Youth chapters. Cumulatively, they have raised almost a million dollars for the medical humanitarian NGO Dignitas International, contributing to over 11,000 people living with HIV/AIDS gaining access to ARVs in Malawi. Scott is currently training for Ironman Louisville 2010.

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