I recently read that a person’s health begins to go downhill at age 69. “Boy, isn’t that the truth!” I thought to myself. Pair that notion with a pandemic and I feel as if I’ve been living in a parallel Covid-universe over the last 18+ months.
My odyssey began on a night in March 2019, one month after my 68th birthday. I was swimming laps when I felt something move in my left knee. I felt paralyzed but managed to make it to the steps in the shallow end of the pool. Mindy Yocom, the assistant aquatics director at Hempfield recCenter, came swooping in out of nowhere and helped me exit the pool. I sat in a chair trying to figure out what to do next.
“Who can I call to come and get you?” she asked. “I don’t know,” I replied. “I don’t know anyone’s telephone number.” (Who needs to memorize numbers if you have an iPhone?) She asked where my phone is, thinking maybe it was stashed in a locker. “At home,” was met with a roll of her eyes. She offered to call an ambulance. “Where is that going to take me?” I asked. “A hospital,” she said (omitting, “You dummy, it’s not a taxi or Uber.”). “Just get me to my car and I’ll be fine,” I said.
I put my coat on over my wet bathing suit and a lifeguard rolled me – still sitting in the chair – to my car. “That should be interesting to explain if you get stopped by the police,” Mindy said of my wardrobe, making me promise to text her when I got home.
I iced my knee all night and the next morning was good to go.
Four months later, on July 10, I arrived at the office of Dr. Todd Feddock for a routine dental exam. As my teeth were being cleaned, an old crown became disengaged. It could not be resecured. I went over the options with Dr. Feddock and, based on the condition of the surrounding teeth, decided a bridge would be the route I’d take. Work would begin on August 5 and be completed just before my trip to the beach in late August.
A week later, I had an appointment to meet with Josh Funk at Per Diem, his restaurant at Hotel Rock Lititz. After about an hour, I stood up to leave and discovered I couldn’t walk. “Are you okay?” he asked. “Oh, yeah, my leg’s just asleep,” I lied, thinking, “I must not appear to be an old lady! I just have to make it to the car and it will be all right.” Somehow, I managed to limp through the hotel and across the parking lot. I went home and iced my knee all night. My luck was up – it was no better the next morning.
I called Westphal Orthopedics and made an appointment. The X-rays were pretty ugly. Bone-on-bone in my left knee. Dr. Thomas Westphal was convinced knee replacement was in my near future. “Just get me to the beach and you can do whatever you want after that,” I begged. “I can do that but I don’t think you’ll be able to do much of anything,” he replied. “That’s OK, I wasn’t planning to go surfing,” I assured him.
The treatment to get me to the beach began with a cortisone injection and then, once the insurance company approved, a series of gel injections. In the meantime, I signed up to attend a seminar on the knee-replacement process.
The cortisone injection provided no relief. I used a walker and a rolling chair to get around the office. I basically hopped and crawled around my house. After about two weeks, I was approved for the series of gel injections, which miraculously began to kick in over time. Slowly but surely, I was able to walk again.
Things went downhill – again! – on Thursday, August 22. That’s the day I was scheduled to be fitted for the permanent bridge. As I was eating breakfast, I felt an odd sensation on the other side of my mouth. That afternoon, as Dr. Feddock was finishing the work on the bridge, I mentioned what happened and asked him to take a look. He informed me that I had cracked a tooth and would need a root canal and crown. Wow! I wasn’t expecting that.
I said I’d schedule an appointment after Labor Day. “It can’t wait that long,” he replied. “But, I’m going on vacation Saturday,” I explained.
Incredibly, he offered to come into the office at 8 a.m. the next day – his day off – and do the job. There was only one hiccup – he had to find an assistant who could come in and assist. Fortunately, Kim Lilley was available.
More good news: Dr. Westphal said that because I was doing so well with the gel injections, we should try another round in six months and see how that goes.
I was off to the Outer Banks, thankfully able to walk and eat. However, with the luck I’d been having, I half expected to be attacked by a shark.
In November, I was in D.C. twice – for the Washington Nationals’ World Series parade and again over Thanksgiving weekend for the holiday light show at Nationals Park. By early December, I was really sick. As in like-a-Mack-truck-hit-me sick. Cole Pizzingrilli, a physician assistant at Dr. David J. Silverstein Associates, prescribed an antibiotic, which took the edge off. Thinking back, I never fully got back to feeling great. I settled for good and trudged forward.
By late January of 2020, I was feeling odd and out of sorts. My heart was racing. I often felt dizzy. I was having difficulty breathing. I told myself I’d call the doctor if I didn’t feel better by Friday. On Thursday, after cleaning up the kitchen, I went downstairs to watch television. Pain began shooting down my left arm and across my back. My heart was racing. My phone was upstairs. “How am I going to get out of this basement?” I asked myself.
I crawled up the stairs and made it my goal to get to my next-door neighbor’s house. Fortunately, Greg Peters, who is a registered nurse in the emergency department at Tower Health in Reading and is in the process of becoming a family nurse practitioner, was home. He brought me inside, monitored my vitals and announced we needed to go to the hospital. The man is a saint. He took me to Lancaster General, stayed with me the entire time and explained everything that was going on.
The date was February 2. It’s the first time I saw signage and experienced protocols regarding COVID-19. Testing determined I was not having a heart attack. However, I was advised to make an appointment with The Heart Group of Lancaster General Health and was assigned to Dr. Joseluis Ibarra. I spent the next six weeks undergoing tests. Everything proved negative. I was told I might have experienced a panic attack or a virus – not Covid – impacted my heart. I was not eligible for a then-rare Covid test because I didn’t exhibit enough symptoms.
As March turned into April, I was still having difficulty breathing. I hooked up my nebulizer machine and asked Silverstein Associates to refill my inhaler prescription that helps to get me through allergy season. By early June, I was in agony. I made an appointment with Cole. He was alarmed by the fact that I was going through inhalers at a fast clip – one every 30 days. “We’re going to get to the bottom of this,” he said.
First up was a chest X-ray and then a CAT scan on Friday, June 19.
That evening, the phone rang at 7:30. Seeing it was Silverstein’s office, I thought to myself, “This can’t be good.” It was Cole. The test results were not good. I had a dark spot of some kind on my right lung. By the time we hung up, I was convinced I had lung cancer. The phone rang again at 10:30. It was Cole – another saint in my book – calling back. He had been studying the test results all night. “I don’t know what this is,” he admitted, saying cancer had fallen low on the list of possibilities. “I want you to see a specialist.”
The following week, I became a patient at Pulmonary Associates of Lancaster and was assigned to Dr. Gregory Rossini. More tests followed with mixed results. Then, I was told I would have to undergo a bronchoscopy, which entails a procedure in which a tube is inserted into the airways for a look-see. Dr. Bhavin Mehta also took multiple biopsies. (I finally got my Covid test, which proved negative.)
If you have a MyLGHealth.com account, you receive the results as they become available. I spent Fourth of July weekend looking up the meaning of all the words in the reports via the internet. The mystery deepened. Cole implored me to stop consulting the internet.
Because I was having such difficulty breathing following the procedure, I had an emergency follow-up with Dr. Steven Khov (Dr. Rossini was out of town). Of course, the only appointment that was available coincided with my first salon appointment in seven months. Let’s see, which is more important: breathing or looking human again? I chose breathing and he prescribed an inhaler for asthma and a round of steroids. I was breathing normally within a couple of hours. It was the best I had felt in months!
A week later, I had a follow-up visit with Dr. Rossini. We went over the results of the bronchoscopy. Cancer was definitely ruled out … but, what is that spot on my lung? Biopsies pointed to a fungal infection. He suggested we get a second opinion and consult an infectious disease doctor. That sounded so foreign to me that I asked if I had to go to Philadelphia. No, I was told, just to the Suburban Pavilion (health campus), where Lancaster General Health Physicians Infectious Diseases has an office.
I met with Duane E. Furman, a physician assistant, who shared that I was a “walking miracle” of sorts. It seems other doctors who had looked at my case were wondering how I was able to function. People who have this sort of (untreated) infection, he explained, can be very sick. I was given two choices: treat the infection aggressively or wait and see how it progresses/regresses and treat it accordingly. Because of Covid, I chose the aggressive route, which will entail six months of treatment. So far, so good. I’m completely back to my normal routine.
How did I get a fungal infection? Duane is of the opinion that my compromised immune system might have made me vulnerable. But, then again, it’s in the air and in the ground. A friend, who does a lot of internet research, is convinced I picked it up from the sand in North Carolina. Who knows?
As for my knee, I had a second round of gel injections in April and May. Because his staff was reduced due to Covid, Dr. Westphal would be doing the injections himself. Knowing how time-consuming it is, I was a little anxious. “What am I going to talk to this guy about?” I asked myself. No worries; turns out we bonded over discussing Colorado. In fact, I looked forward to the appointments – I was the only person in my area of our sparsely inhabited office building and rarely had the opportunity to talk to anyone face-to-face (with a mask on, of course). It was so nice to have a conversation with someone.
Something occurred to me as I was writing this. Because we must wear masks –
all of the doctors agreed it’s necessary – if I’d happen to pass one of them on the street when normalcy returns, I’ll have no idea who they are!
I don’t know about you, but I am so ready to see 2020 pass into the history books. The silver lining is that I discovered how fortunate Lancaster is to have the medical community it does. I am also grateful for the health insurance I have.
Here’s to your health!
– Suzanne Starling-Long