Last week I was walking down the road, taking a parcel to the post office, when all of a sudden, out of the blue, I was struck by a blinding flash of pain - right through my chest towards where I always think my heart must be. It was excruciating - agony so terrible that I couldn’t move one foot in front of the other, but stood rooted to the pavement, frozen. The first dagger-like stab was followed by another, and then another, equally as severe.
It seemed so odd. I remembered that scene from the Godfather where Vito Corleone is struck down in the vegetable patch, and topples lifeless to the ground. And in amidst the confusion and the pain, with my practical brain instructing me to get to A&E as fast as possible, an even more forceful voice was saying ‘but you can’t be having a heart attack - your bloods are fine. It’s simply not possible...’ I staggered into a passing taxi (thank goodness I wasn’t in a vegetable patch in Sicily but fairly close instead to the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital!) and arrived at Emergency a few minutes later. Apart from the stabbing knives that kept up their attacks unrelentingly, I could hardly draw a single breath now without the aggressive, spiteful knitting needles piercing my breast. Terrifying was the only word I can think of to describe it.
And all I can say, is thank goodness for the NHS. Their management and finances may be in dire trouble, but every single one of the staff that came my way - from the porter who pushed the wheelchair, the nurse who transferred me to a cubicle and attached 12 electrodes to just about everywhere, the various phlebotomists who drew bloods, the nurses in charge of the drugs who hooked me up to intravenous pain killers and the various doctors who came in and out - every single one was smiling and reassuring, and working as fast as they could. It was nothing short of genius. There was a kind volunteer who brought me a cup of tea when the painkillers finally kicked in and another who just dropped by to see what he could do. By then my husband had arrived to hold my hand and as the waves of pain reduced slightly, and they finished running tests for just about everything, they pronounced their verdict.
They had a very clear picture finally of what it wasn’t. It wasn’t, as the small internal voice had argued, a heart attack; it wasn’t an aneurism or a ripped muscle; or any disease of the lung. It wasn’t cancer. They concluded instead that it was viral pleurisy and although not a cause for serious alarm, was unpleasant enough for them to recommend bed rest for two weeks or more, which is how long they felt it would take to clear up.
What is Pleurisy?
Your lungs are covered in a thin, double-layered membrane that also lines the inside of your chest. When these get inflamed, they can rub against each other causing pain.
There seem to be two different sorts of pleurisy. Wet pleurisy and dry pleurisy. Wet is what happens when excess fluid builds up between the pleural layers. If you have pneumonia, for instance, a tube is sometimes inserted into your chest to drain the fluid off and prevent breathing difficulties.
Pleurisy can be triggered by bacteria, in which case you will be given antibiotics to calm the chest pains and continual all-encompassing ache in your lungs. Or it can be triggered by a virus, where it’s often accompanied by a high temperature, sore throat, muscle and joint aches and pains and a headache. There really is not much you can do for this one except retreat to bed and pray for it to pass. Side effects include a rapidly beating heart, and an inability to breathe. Oxygen levels in your blood drop rapidly.
In either case, the pain management treatment is paracetamol - which quite honestly doesn’t really work. Pleurisy, in my experience, is not at all nice.
Why do you get it?
Normally it’s the result of an attack by either a virus or bacteria on your lungs. People who suffer from lupus or rheumatoid arthritis may be vulnerable, or if you have been diagnosed with tuberculosis, sickle cell anaemia or pancreatitis, your odds are higher. Likewise if you have had recent heart or lung surgery or have had a fungal or parasite problem.
Why it picked me remains a mystery - none of those possible causes apply. I can only think that the pleurisy goblin (if there is such a thing!) took his chances, and felled me, fair and square.
I retired to my bed. I could hardly walk, talk or breathe, and I slept for two days without stopping. I had been looking forward to a fun weekend, spending Saturday at the Wild and Well Festival in Bristol, where I was meant to be talking alongside four doctors on the Evolving Medicines panel. On the Sunday I was having lunch with a friend from Tanzania. Tragically, that too went out of the window, and I had to let them all down at short notice.
My pleurisy protocol
Uncomfortable though the pain was, the thought of up to two weeks in bed was a daunting one. I am hardly ever ill and the frustration of lying helpless was too much for me. So I determined to attempt to speed up my recovery time. Complementary medicine must have a better, faster way. And I found it...
Homeopathy for pleurisy
This was my first port of call. I knew that Byronia is the standard remedy for pleurisy, but when I delved deeper there also seemed to be other homeopathic remedies, depending on your symptoms. You usually only need one at a time, specifically chosen to suit whatever is going on...
Aconite is only useful when pleurisy first strikes, when there are chills, heat, restlessness and anxiety, but before there is any sign of fluid build-up.
Apis is for if you have a sharp, stitching pain through your left lung to the back, that gets worse lying on your back and from the smallest movement. Usually this would be taken following on from either Aconite or Bryonia.
Arnica is for pleurisy caused by an external injury, where pain and bleeding are present.
Arsenicum. This is for when you have strong symptoms and is a quick acting remedy for wet pleurisy with large quantities of fluid and painful asthmatic breathing.
Asclepias tuberosa taken 15 drops in water hourly is a general pleurisy remedy. Good for dry hacking cough; pains relieved when you bend forward.
Belladonna can be used when the pain becomes worse when lying on the sore side, and when there is a high fever with a very flushed face.
Bryonia is for when you have violent pains in the side of your ribs and when the pain gets worse from the slightest movement. If the pain gets better if you lie on the sore side of your chest or ribs then Bryonia is often a good remedy to use. It also dries up mucus and fluid.
Cantharis can be used when there is not much fever, but there is fluid in the lungs. Especially when you struggle breathing, feel faint, weak and sweaty.
Hepar sulph is for when the condition has become chronic, with the formation of pus. Also an excellent remedy in pleurisy complicated by bronchitis.
Ranunculus Bulbosus for sharp, stitching pains in the chest, worse on the right side.
Stannum for knife-like pains in the left armpit.
Sulphur can be used after fluid has developed, when the fluid build-up persists and when there are sharp pains which make all movement very painful.
It sounded like Byronia for me, but I called a friend who is a homeopath to discuss the precise dosage. I had presumed it would be 30c, which seems to be a standard dose, but she recommended 200c instead. My lovely husband went off to Ainsworth’s homeopathic chemist and came home with it for me on the Saturday. I had only been breathing using around 10% of my lung capacity after the attack, leaving my blood low in oxygen. By the end of the first homeopathy day, taking a single pillule 3 times a day, my breathing had improved to around 50% lung capacity. The following day, by the evening, it was at 70%.
Pleurisy leaves you with a weakness in the lungs, and an acupuncture session or two was definitely called for to strengthen them. The problem was that on day one I could quite literally not get out of bed, and the thought of lifting my head off my pillows made my head spin. Acupressure however, is the next best thing, and I started firmly massaging the correct points. I set myself the task of a few minutes twice a day. Not too onerous and at least I felt I was doing something positive. It seemed to release the pain and the stabbing subsided to the extent that I could dispense with my paracetamol and sleep undisturbed by the pain throughout the night.
And last but not least, kinesiology...
By the Monday morning, I was hugely better, but there was still a feeling of congestion in the lower part of my lungs. Kinesiology was the last on my ‘Get better quickly’ list. It’s the Heineken of therapies, reaching all the parts that other therapies can’t quite get to. Brilliant at sorting things that are not obviously easy to sort. The skilful Franky Kossy did one muscle testing session and an hour’s worth of ‘corrections’ and I was back to breathing perfection.
A matter of days rather than weeks - and all thanks to the combination of natural remedies and the remarkable NHS. A perfect partnership.
Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, founder of one of the UK's leading breast cancer charities, Breast Cancer Haven. With over twenty years' experience in holistic health, Sara's digital dose of wellness teaches you to listen to your body, tweak your lifestyle and improve your health.
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