Bronchitis Bites

Immediately after returning from a wonderful trip, I came down with bronchitis. Let me tell you—no fun.

It started as cold symptoms, but didn’t get better and instead turned into a lung-rattling cough, high fever and bone-numbing lethargy. Before I got a call back from the rheumatologist, I dragged myself to the GP. Frankly, I was surprised because I thought I just had a chest cold. But I was glad to have a short course of antibiotics and an inhaler to help ease my breathing.

The antibiotics worked quickly to wipe out the worst of the bronchitis, but a sporadic cough still lingers. I need more recovery time and rest than other people when it comes to illness, which I think is related to my RA, funky immune system, and immunosuppressant drugs.

Honestly, I also think these aspects of my health lead to me contracting bronchitis in the first place. I am more susceptible to colds, viruses and other bugs. And instead of just having a cold like a normal person, my illness worsens and develops into bronchitis.

I’m glad my rheumatologist has repeatedly reminded me to call or see a doctor whenever I have a fever because it was this advice that helped to catch it early as possible and nip it in the bud. My usual practice would be to continue to rest, but due to my medications, I can’t risk infection and becoming even sicker. I feel like this is especially true for me because a regular cold is hard for me to recover from, taking at least twice as long as others.

Before I started a more powerful RA medication a couple months ago, my doctor recommended I have the pneumovax shot to protect me from pneumonia. After coming down with bronchitis so quickly and unexpectedly, I’m extremely grateful that he suggested it. My bronchitis could have easily turned into pneumonia, which would have been an even more serious turn of events.

With bronchitis I had zero energy and very minimal ability to think clearly. My lungs ached and my muscles grew sore from coughing. As much as I hate having a cold, between the fever and energy suck this was worse. Pneumonia is not something I wish to experience.

My ongoing challenge is to balance my RA and the immunity suppression that comes from treatment. I need the drugs to better control my RA, but it leaves me open to catching more bugs and falling deeper down the hole than others.

Another frustration is that I can’t predict when my immune system will fail. It strikes suddenly and severely. The only choice is to see or call my doctor immediately and rest. Inevitably I am knocked flat by these bugs and must submit until the fight is over.

My doctor said that anyone can get bronchitis, which is true. But it’s also true that I was healthy and had no business suddenly contracting a serious illness like that. I highly doubt that another person with a healthy immune system would become that sick without related issues like being overly exhausted or stressed.

Keeping prevention in mind, I’m more thoughtful about what I touch with my hands and how often I touch my face and mouth. My GP said that the best thing I can do is wash my hands regularly, especially before touching my face and mouth, to minimize the transfer of microbes.

Sometimes it’s tough not to become frustrated and paranoid. It can feel helpless—like I’m going to catch everything that travels on a breeze. I wish there was more I could do, but right now eating healthfully and staying vigilant about fever or other symptoms of infection is about all I can do.

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