27 June 2012

Health Warning! What happens to household goods in storage for a year!

A week ago I felt what I thought was the onset of a cold. I started taking the usual OTC meds, but this nasty bug immediately settled in my lungs. I had to sleep upright in a recliner just to breathe. By Saturday, John insisted I go to a doctor to get this checked out, and the search for cause and cure began.

When we first moved to Atenas, we were not yet covered under Costa Rica's national health care system, Caja Costarricense del Seguro Social (CCSS or CAJA). So we affiliated with a a local health care provider called "Linea Vital." They offers private English-speaking medical care for the Atenas community. Clinic staff provide home visits, emergency care and general medical services.

Saturday, I saw Doctora Candy and when she listened to my lungs she said, "Muchos Gatos" (or many cats)! She put me on 4 nebulizer treatments, gave me an injection for inflammation and sent me home with antibiotics, inhalers, and a bunch of other meds to try to assault whatever was attacking my lungs. She told me to come back on Monday and meet with Doctora Hernández, who would be filling in for here for a few days. By Monday, I was still the same, or maybe a little worse. Doctora Hernández gave me 3 more nebulizer treatments, another injection and changed the antibiotic to something stronger. She suspected pneumonia of some type had set in. Since we are now members of the national health care system all of our medical is covered, so she sent me off to the local CAJA clinic for blood work and x-rays. I was handed the results for the blood work in 30 minutes, but it would take two days to get results for x-rays. Yesterday, We opted to go to a private facility in Alajuela (about 30 minutes from us) and get the x-ray done and receive the results the same day. It took us about 3 hours and we were back to see Doctora Hernández with all the results. She diagnosed bacterial pneumonia due to the raised white blood cell count and some cloudiness she saw on the x-rays. So, she sent me back to the local CAJA clinic with an emergency referral for treatment.

At the clinic they took me right to the head of the line where I met with the intake nurse and doctor to assess the treatment so far. This doctor started thinking Asthma and put me on a course of 4 rounds of nebulizer treatments, i.v. drip and more injections. He called in another doctor to consult and they decided I still needed 3 more nebulizer treatments and another i.v. injection. Now, let me tell you during all of the this treatment, they have my blood pressure all over the map, the highest I have ever seen it in my life and I've got the shakes due to the drug induced tachycardia. My pulse rate was over 115. By 4 p.m., the local clinic was getting ready to close for the day, so the attending doctor check my status a determined there was still no improvement so they needed to transport me to the big hospital in Alajuela for treatment and off I go...

John went back to the house to take care of the dogs, pick up some stuff for me that I might need and arrange for someone to guard the house. During the trip to the hospital, I called my dear friend Maritza, an R.N. that recently retired from this same hospital. She wasn't home, so I explained what was going on to her husband, Vinicio. He said he would update her as soon as he could.

We arrived at the hospital emergency room around 5 p.m. and they immediately took me to the head of the line to see the intake nurse and attending physician. The doctor, reviewed all the the previous results, checked me out and decided I needed more nebulizer treatments, blood pressure meds, more blood work and antibiotics.

So, off I go to the "Sala de Asma" for nebulizer treatments, etc. I sent John a text message telling him where he could find me when he arrived at the hospital. As soon as he got to the hospital, they sent him right in to see me.

I met with another doctor in the Sala de Asma and it turns out he lives in my neighborhood of Atenas and knew me as the neighbor that had provided all the electricity and water for a recent fiesta in the plaza across from our house where they held bull racing, horse racing, dances, etc. He was bragging to all the rest of the patients about what a good neighbor I am. Small world.

About this time, Maritza called and said she was coming directly to the hospital. Maritza is one of those "take charge" kind of people, that instills the belief that everything will be fine. She holds several advanced degrees in nursing and retired at the pinnacle of career in health care. She has seen it all. I have known and loved this woman for longer than I have known and loved my children. She was born 3 days before I was and I consider her the twin sister I never had.

In walks Maritza, and of course all the staff members are delighted to see her, hugs and kisses for everyone. She talks to me, takes my blood pressure and then talks with my doctor. Suddenly she turns around to me and says she knows exactly what has caused this pulmonary episode. She said she was sure it was a combination of dust, mold, mildew and bacteria.

Maritza reminded me that we had just started to unpack all of our household goods that have been in storage for a year. In spite of all the care we took with everything, our stuff arrived in a sea container last August, in the middle of the rainy season and immediately went into a garage and attic for long term storage. We had to store everything while the new Casa was under construction. We finally moved in a couple of weeks ago and we have gradually been moving the stored furniture and boxes into the new casa before opening them. Bad move! All we did was release all the mold spores and bacteria into the new house.

Well the doctor pretty much concurred with Maritza's medial assessment and decided the nebulizer treatments weren't going to cure this, but he wanted to see the blood work first to see if the antibiotics where improving anything. The results came back and the white blood cell count was down somewhat. They finally cut me loose from the hospital with more meds and instruction to see my local CAJA doctor in a week, or sooner if I get worse.

Last night, instead of trying to sleep in what is probably a mold infested recliner, I opted for our bed with a large stack of super clean pillows, and I finally got some rest after a sleep deprived week.

So, the bottom line... I think I may be on the road to recovery. As a word of warning... don't ever think you can put all of your belongings in an storage facility where the environment is exposed to the elements of nature. Especially here in Costa Rica's tropical climate. The jungle will always try to take over and claim your stuff as it's own.


  1. Wow, that was some story Pat. I only wish it was fictional, and sorry to hear of your illness. Get well soon and keep us updated. One question, do or did you have to trash a lot of the stuff that was in storage?
    Take care,

    1. Thanks, Jack. We didn't pitch anything yet. We got some good antibacterial spray and treated the recliners today. The rest of the soft and hard goods we can wash really well. We'll just use masks outdoors until we can check everything out.

  2. Wow.
    Double Wow.
    Make that a triple...
    1. that you got what appears to be excellent care after the diagnosis was made, and
    2. you are HOME and
    3. it was environmental.

    We're just a phone call away if you or John or the dogs need anything!

  3. Thanks, Mark. I'm glad it was environmental too. Since we just had dinner with you and Nancy this past Friday, I was really worried it might be contagious and I could have passed this on to you or others at our table.

  4. Wowzers! What an ordeal! Glad you're on the mend and super kudos to Maritza! Give my regards to her and Vinicio for me please :)

    1. Thanks, Jenny! I'll pass on your regards.

  5. Are you feeling better?

    1. Hi Lara, yes I'm better. It will take a while to get my bounce back, still feeling a little weak. Now John, who wouldn't listen and continued to unpack without a mask, is feeling the effects. I've got him on the same meds as mine, so hopefully we'll knock it out soon. Hugs, Pat