Friday, October 23, 2009

#70 When Your Body Knocks, Do You Answer?

When it comes to your health, the worst thing a person can have is a high tolerance for pain, a non-pushy temperament, an "I don't want to rock the boat" personality, and a life that is so busy and hectic, that there is no time to "take off". Since this is breast cancer awareness month, I thought I would write a babble that stresses how important it is for us to know our bodies intimately, and not to be put off when a doctor doesn't have all the answers. This babble isn't meant to scare anyone, but rather to remind us all not to ignore that little voice that tells us that something "just ain't right". Honor your body. And for my male readers, share this with the women in your life so that they know you care about their bodies IN EVERY WAY.

I was waiting for my daughter and leafing through an old People Magazine, when I came across an article that was titled, "Fighting to Stay Alive". It is the story about a member of the rap group TLC, Tionne Watkin, and her life before and just after the discovery of a brain tumor. The debilitating headaches that she experienced for nearly 6 years, ones that would have sent the most stoic person to the doctor, were, she thought, due to stress, her disease and the demands of her career. Tionne has sickle-cell anemia, and because of this disease, her pain tolerance is extremely high. Only when she started experiencing blurry vision did she go see a doctor, and it was after her MRI, that a brain tumor the size of a grapefruit was discovered.

Wow, I thought, as I replayed in my head a conversation I had earlier in the day. That morning, my friend "Cleopatra" called to cancel an upcoming date . She didn't sound very good, so I asked if she was ill. Her response was not what I expected. She told me that she had just returned home from the hospital, where her left ovary and fallopian tube were removed. Cleo has spent the last 5 years explaining to any doctor who would listen, that something just wasn't right with her left side.... especially during ovulation. She visited many different specialists, but to no avail. She was told that her pain could possibly be due to some adhesions that she may have developed from her 2 C-sections, but nobody was ever sure. During the past five years, the pain has increased and decreased, but has never gone away. This last time though, was so painful, that she had to walk doubled over, and after 2 days of intense pain, she took herself to the emergency room. Long story short, she had a raging infection that, she was told, had been brewing for a very long time. On numerous occasions she remembers asking her doctor, "Is this pain normal?", and on her last visit, the doctor told her that she had probably pulled a muscle. My very smart friend sat there nodding her head trying to think when, in the last five years, she may have pulled "this muscle". I know you must be wondering why nobody found this problem earlier. It seems, there are 2 reasons. First, the infection was what the doctors [suspected was] encapsulated or walled off; it never spread. Second, poor Cleo has had at least 2-3 bouts of sinusitis a year for the past couple of years, plus she had bronchitis, pneumonia and meningitis during this 5 year period. With each infection and illness, she was given antibiotics. And, if you've ever had a sinus infection [which I have], you are sometimes put on antibiotics for a month, or more, to kill whatever disgusting stuff is living in your sinus'. Ironically, because Cleo had been healthy for the past 5-6 months and not on any antibiotics, the infection was able to intensify enough so that when the ultrasound was taken [for the 3rd time], something finally showed up.

I have worked in the healthcare field as both a clinician and as an administrator, and yet, when I am a patient, I wait my turn patiently, spend my rushed 10 minutes with the doctor, and then sit there nodding my head in response to what the doctor is saying, when what I really should be doing, is asking more questions and/or giving more symptoms. In today's healthcare atmosphere, we need to be our own advocates. We no longer have a doctor that follows us from childhood to adulthood, and knows all our family members and their medical histories. Both Cleo and Tionne lived with "their problem" because they were able to... up to a point. Thank goodness, the outcome for both, was a good one.

Quote of the Day: "Once you choose hope, anything's possible" Christopher Reeve


Michael Rivers said...

It is so important to go to the doctor when your body is telling you something is wrong. Some friends and relatives drive me crazy. They refuse to go to the doctor. Makes me pull out my hair!

Anonymous said...

It's hard when you're in and out so quickly, you barely have time to process what the dr is saying, let alone realize what to ask.

Some of us don't go to the doctor unless we absolutely have to, it's prohibitively expensive with no insurance. said...

I am so glad your friend got the right treatment in the end. I also learned the hard way that sometimes you have to put your foot down with a firm hand (as we say here in the UK!) - from the age of 13 I was told that the pain I had in my stomach was irritable bowel syndrome. When I finaly collapsed at age 31 in hideous pain, I was eventually diagnosed with stage four endometriosis, which is about as bad as it gets with that disease. I spent years in surgery and the end result was infertility and rheumatoid arthritis. So no, if you have a pain and it hurts, its not unreasonable to make a fuss about it until someone listens. Great blog by the way, beautifully written - thanks, Stephanie, UK.