‘I thought it was just a cough, but it was much more serious’

Jun 03, 2019
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Heather thought it was 'just a cough', but it turned out to be something much more serious. Source: Getty Images

About 20 years ago I lived in Liverpool, New South Wales. Across the road there were empty paddocks which used to be market gardens. Sometimes when the wind blew the wrong way the smell was overwhelming.

We noticed one day earth moving equipment were shovelling and bulldozing the land. We were told a housing estate was planned. The dust that was blown over the road settling on our windows, wire screens and washing was shocking. We kept every thing locked up. Then I developed a cough that didn’t seem to go away. Eventually, I was bedridden and a doctor came to the house. He said it was a chest infection gave me a needle, antibiotics and a pain relief tablet that constipated me so badly I was in agony.

When my situation failed to improve, the doctor said I should have a chest X-ray. We went to the local hospital and had the X-ray. Having returned home, I was no sooner in the door when I received a phone call. They advised me to pack a bag and get back to the hospital as soon as possible.

I was admitted and a doctor came to my room holding the X-ray of my chest. “Look at this,” he said. I could make out was my lungs, but noticed one had a black shadow on it.

“That is a cyst,” he said, pointing to the darkness on my lung. “It could be 5 centimetres or more.” He clenched his fist in front of me to demonstrate.

The doctor asked if I had travelled overseas and when I replied that I had, he asked if it were possible I could have tuberculosis (TB). I didn’t think so.

A team of doctors and nurses entered the room with masks on. They were from the infectious diseases team. I was told they would need to carry out a series of tests to confirm my diagnosis.

I had a bronchoscopy, where the tube was put up my nostril and fed into my stomach and red fluid filled my lungs. I thought I was drowning!

I also had a lung biopsy, which involved a large needle being inserted into my breast area while the doctors examined it on a monitor. They did this twice, but didn’t get the result they were looking for and couldn’t determine what the mass was or how to treat me. I was referred to another hospital, where they would use a procedure that went in through my back area and would drain whatever it was.

My mother was still alive at the time and she told me not to worry. “I’ve been praying to Mary MacKillop,” she said. “She will save you.”

I was in hospital for a couple of days. The doctors had been able to reduce the size of whatever it was and told me the biopsy they conducted confirmed it was a cyst. The cause of my cyst was, according to the doctors, likely as a result of inhaling the soil from the neighbouring block of land when it was disturbed for development.

I was allowed home after 21 days in hospital. I had antibiotics for six weeks after my procedure before I was fully recovered.

My husband took me to North Sydney where Mary MacKillop was laid to rest. I sat near her tombstone and thanked her for saving me.

Have you ever suffered serious health issues when you thought your situation was much simpler?

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