Greetings from the 14th floor isolation room a top the Moffitt building at UCSF medical center in San Francisco. Your guest host for tonight’s show is..well, me of course. I’ll be discussing how much fun it is being a patient in the hospital with severe asthma.

Just happy to be alive, I was hoping to broadcast live from my hospital bed last Saturday night, but I was too sick. In case you hadn’t heard, your favorite middle-aged marathon walker managed to rack up his 104th trip to the slammer and his 18th intubation for asthma. You heard right.. 18 intubations!! (we’re talking science fiction stuff here). Anyway, I must have been really sick, because it took me almost a full week get online and get word out about what was happening to me.

To hear the ICU doctors tell the story, it was my participation in the Boston marathon that did me in. The first thing that many of them said when introducing themselves to me was… Is it true you did the Boston marathon? (Most of them thought it was pretty cool). One of the residents had even read my blog and remembered me from an earlier hospitalization. The fact is, I was breathing really well the day I left Boston and a full 5 days before going to the hospital. The marathon may have caused some major leg and body pain, but it didn’t cause my breathing to spiral out of control. What did me in was a nasty bug that decided to invade my chest, which I probably caught on the flight back from Boston. I knew I was in trouble that Sunday when it turned into bronchitis. With me, chest colds and asthma can be a deadly combination.
Knowing that any delay in seeking treatment would only make things worse, I only fought the attack for 2 days before hightailing it to the slammer, for which I was incarcerated for 12 days. A rather lengthy stay… even for me.

Not wanting to worry about leaving my car in the parking lot or on the street, I decided to take BART and Muni from my home in Crockett,Ca to the hospital in SF. I wasn’t in a lot of distress at the time, so I figured taking public transit wouldn’t be a big deal. As always though, I misjudged just how sick I was and by the time I completed the 90 minute trip to the hospital I was definitely in trouble.

I checked in at the triage desk in the ER and only had to wait about 10 minutes to be seen. It wasn’t really until the triage nurse was working me up that I realized just how sick I was. My sats on room air were only 84% ( they were 92% when I left the house) and my BP was through the roof at 220/114. I thought..oh shit here we go again. I could actually die from this freakin flare.
From the triage area the Nurse downgraded my condition to serious and put me in the cardiac resuscitation room (you know you’re sick when they put you in that room). A million people came rushing in trying to jab needles in me and place those sticky monitor leads all over. They began the usual protocol cont nebs, mag sulfate, steroid bulus, chest xrays, blood work, etc. Took em about 20 minutes to get an IV in me and get ABGs. After about an hour in the ER, the ICU staff came down and evaluated me. Because of my notorious history, they decided it would be safer to monitor me in the ICU.

I arrived at the 13th floor ICU sometime around 10 pm. Early blood gas results had shown that I was starting to retain CO2, so in addition to the 20mg/hr of cont albuterol and a huge bolus of prednisone they decided to put me on Bipap. After 2 hours on Bipap they rechecked my gases, but my CO2 was still climbing. At that point they decided that since I would be requiring frequent ABGs, that it would be better to insert an Arterial line, which they did. It was shortly after that that I remember them saying that my gases were getting worse and that I needed to be put on a ventilator. 20 minutes later I was out for the count.

The next thing I remember is waking up on the ventilator choking on the ET tube. Shortly after that I was breathing on my own and extubated. Total time elapsed from intubation to extubation was appx 31 hours( a fast turn around for me). I found out later that the reason they extubated me so soon, was because I had pulled out my A-line (a potential catastrophic situation) and had also threatened to self extubate ( pull the breathing tube out). Of course, I don’t remember doing any of this, but I did find it odd that my wrists were tied when I woke up. I also found an IV in my foot and another in my shin! Not to mention a Foley catheter and and an NG tube in my stomach. Too many freakin tubes and wires!!

I spent the remainder of the day in ICU where things were starting to look up. While there they set me up with a PCA, so I could self-administer Dilaudid whenever I got short of breath. ( yes, I use opiates to quell my breathlessness)

[See my finger on the green button? I’m self injecting…ah bliss]

Anyway, the following morning I was transferred to the step down unit and was on track to be discharged home 2 days later on that following Friday.

Ah, but that expectation was shortly lived. Just hours before my planned discharge , I started wheezing and coughing uncontrollably. It was as if I was experiencing some massive allergen exposure to something in the air. It was bizarre. My nose became plugged up and then started dripping like faucet wide open. My lung sounds went from clear to sounding like a washing machine during the wash cycle. You could here me wheezing from down the hall. I somehow managed to pick up ANOTHER freakin virus right there in the hospital. Once it got in my chest, that was it, I couldn’t breath again. It was like the asthma attack was starting all over again.

Not knowing what kind of virus they were dealing with, they moved me to a private isolation room and put me back on high dose continuous nebs and bumped up my pred to 120 mgs . I stayed on the continuous nebs for almost 4 days before the attack started to ease up. Finally, 12 days after the initial attacked started, I had met all the criteria they had set for discharge and was allowed to go home.

During the 12 days I spent in the slammer, I lost 11 pounds. I was so dehydrated that they skin on my toes was dried up and was peeling off.As far as battle scars go, I counted 66 holes in my arms and legs and of course that wonderful black and blue bruising you get from all those Lovenox injections in your stomach. Amazingly, I don’t have a sore throat from the intubation.

The first couple of days at home have been rough. Yesterday I was so short of breath I thought I was gonna die. My FEV1 had dropped to 22% ( .65 liters) The lowest its ever been. Part of the problem is that I was discharged from the hospital on high doses of pred ( 100mg) and sometimes this can actually have a reverse effect on my breathing. Today I’m down to 90mg and plan to wean by 10 mg per day till I get down to 50 mg and then slow the taper from there. Considering the trauma that my body has been through ( again) , I think Im doing pretty good. I think the training for that marathon helped me get through this better than most people would.

Spending time in the slammer is never fun, but all the Doctors , Nurses and RTs I encountered this time around were awesome… many remembered me from previous admissions. Dr Wenzel of course was a big help as was one of the attending physicians Dr Thompson who put in a good word for me to a local pulmonologist Ive been trying to hook up with.

Most important though, I wanna thank all my friends for the their love and support. I received over 200 emails and letters, not to mention some real artwork. Thanks Kerri and Sara M.

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17 thoughts on “104th trip to the slammer for Asthma

  1. kerri says:

    Happy you are HOME Epic Steve! <3

    I think you should write to Guinness and get yourself in the record books. Or Ripley's. Now . . . keep yourself outta their company for a good long while.

    PS. I'd better start doing artwork in higher quality in Photoshop instead of Paint, I keep forgetting that you share it with the masses ;).

    1. Unfortunately, Guinness does not record medical related world records or for sure Id be in the book:-)

      1. kerri says:

        Hmm, I thought they did! Like “Youngest heart transplant recipient” or whatever. Maybe they just do ones they don’t have to explain too much 😉

        1. You could be right, but I remember that they turned me down for being the fastest walker for a person with severe lung disease.

          1. kerri says:

            New project for the fan club? Get Steve into Guinness?

            1. For the number of intubations or marathons?

            2. kerri says:

              Hello, marathons of course! This IS the Canadian Cheerleader you're talkin' to.
              Miss Lizzy calls 'em MERRYthons for a reason, y'know! 🙂


    2. Laura says:

      Stephen, I’m reading your posts- wow. I’m glad you have a loyal partner and wish you many healthy days. At 54 I got late onset virus, sinusitis, bronchitis and viral, allergy related asthma (have sle but healthy). Analog 40 shot, dulera and prednisone blasts barely helped. Er last week feeling better now just on Breo inhaler since yesterday. Had some blood work to identify allergies/ waiting. Improving finally but weakened (fell in stairs as leg weakness) and scarred. Made appt with pulmonologist at Hopkins 9/12. Should I keep it? Any advice? Thoughts on pollution, choice of where to live? God bless you and thank you for helping with your posts. Laura

      1. Laura says:

        Note my correct email address (typo earlier)

        1. Hi Laura, Thank you for taking the time to write. Im sorry to hear about your asthma and bronchitis. How long have you suffered from asthma?

          Regarding your appt with a Pulmonologist, even if you’re feeling better I would keep it, especially if the pulmonologist’s sub-specialty is asthma. With breathing issues it’s always good to have lots of eyes on you. As far as where to live if you have asthma, that’s a tricky one. But in general, most asthmatics do better in cooler, dryer, and less humid environments. Of course air pollution and environmental allergies are considerations as well.

          I hope you feel better and get some answers.


  2. mymusicallungs says:

    So glad you're out of there and home recovering from it all.
    Have you never thought of having a port put in or a hickman to save you from so many stabs-that's an awful lot of needles and your veins must be pretty iffy by now.
    Whatever-hopefully you wont be needing IVs for a long time now, and no more marathons to make yo sick please xx

    1. It sure would have been easier had they put in a pic line, but they claim that the risk of infection is very high the longer you have one.

  3. Sascha MacPherson says:

    You poor bugger; I can sort of sympathise with you. my husband and I are both moderate-severe asthmatics, both on the regime of preventers; relievers, nebs, pred etc. both our jobs don’t help; he’s a furniture removalist & I’m an EEN (reg. nurse). How are you fairing now.? I came home early from work yesterday with a quite severe exacerbation of asthma; real embarrassing when you’re nursing pts and they’re worried about their nurse with her audible wheeze!!! Anyway ventolin wasn’t cutting it; took my obs and was desatting a bit and hypertensive; so went home. Started 50 mg pred and started nebs and went to our Dr (my husbands and mine) and he wanted to put me in hospital as was still tight, desatting, had stridor, and with my hx of ICU admits and being incubated x 2, the only reason he didn’t is b/c I’m a nurse, so came home; did the whole burst therapy regime with the nebs both ventolin & cortisone all through last night, and stayed out of hospital yay. Feel a little better today; seems to have worked; as well as coffee ( works the same way as theophylline)! Hope your well, and the point I’d like to make is asthma sucks doesn’t it? Regards Sash

    1. TERRI says:


      1. Not sure what OBS is, but burst therapy is when you load up on pred ( 60-80mg) and then wean off.

  4. Sascha MacPherson says:

    PS PHIL & myself were referred and started hyperbaric oxygen and this has had a brilliant effect on both of our asthma and Phils PTSD, pretreated there is little to no risk of barotrauma either Sash

  5. Ebony Diaz says:

    I haven’t been diagnosed with asthma and have had years of bouts with it after treatment for breast cancer. I was up all night practically trying to get rest the nebulizer treatments, prednisone or anything seems to work I’m on day 3 worst than the first day. I am professional singer and worked may have exasperated it
    Don’t know if I should go to ER yet have annual mamagram and GI appointment today found out I am positive for next figure try and get through those and if still feel like this go then to ER..

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