By then, she half-wondered if he might be right. In the previous month, her bizarre constellation of symptoms, the most prominent of which was shortness of breath, had grown much worse, and she had a gnawing sense that something serious was wrong. But neither the pulmonologist nor her internist, whom she had seen nearly a dozen times in the previous eight months, could find anything amiss, except asthma for which she had been prescribed drugs that didn’t help.
Yet asthma was the one illness Ford was pretty certain she did not have. Her mother did, and had told Ford, “My asthma at its worst is nothing like what you have.”
Less than a month after Ford’s July 2009 appointment with the lung specialist, a series of dramatic events revealed the reason for her breathlessness, a diagnosis that forever changed her life.
The first symptom occurred around Thanksgiving 2008, when Ford began feeling unusually tired. She was working full time and also attending nursing school at Trinity University in the District, but her fatigue seemed unusual. Sometimes her legs felt so heavy it was as if bricks were attached to them.
During her workouts at Curves, where she went four or five times a week, Ford would sometimes have to stop midway. “Some of the people noticed and asked, ‘Are you getting enough sleep?’ ”
In January 2009, she consulted her internist, who gave Ford a quick check. She assurred her that “everything looked good and maybe I was doing too much at a fast pace.”
But within a month, new symptoms emerged. Ford began experiencing dizzy spells and shortness of breath; like the fatigue, both were intermittent. She went back to her internist who performed a complete physical and an electrocardiogram and found nothing awry.
By March, the fatigue, shortness of breath and dizziness were worse. Her co-workers were, for the most part, unsympathetic. “They thought I was being lazy” and suggested that Ford exercise. That seemed out of the question: She had given up her gym membership because she no longer had the stamina to work out.
At times she felt unusually weak. Once while helping a patient put on his pants, she found herself suddenly bathed in sweat. Even though the man weighed only about 100 pounds, “it felt like I was trying to move a truck.”
She scheduled another visit with her internist. “At this point I was getting very scared,” she said, because it seemed clear something was wrong; her belly seemed swollen, and sometimes so did her legs. After five visits, the internist referred her to a lung specialist.