Health. A thing we take for granted until something goes wrong. I have never had any major health issues up until April of this year. I was sitting at work one day, minding my own business, when all of a sudden, I had tunnel vision. I got dizzy and disoriented and short of breath. I stood up and walked toward another cubicle in my office, trying to find the first occupied desk to cry out for help. My chest and body were hot and tingly. I just KNEW at 36 I was having a heart attack. At any moment, I was going to drop to the floor. But that didn’t happen. Instead, my coworker called an ambulance. It may have taken all of 5 minutes for it to arrive but seemed like 5 years. I was outside in the spring air, trying to breathe but felt as if the outside was drowning me. I kept begging my friend to make sure I didn’t die, and insisting how bad I did not want that to happen. I went away in the ambulance, and when I did, had no idea how much that day would change me, and how long a road I’d have until I figured out this puzzle that was my new normal, health-wise.
As it turns out, this was my first panic attack. I had about 50 more of those between April and September of 2017. A few resulted in middle-of-the-night ambulance rides. A couple were daytime ones. So, so many were me driving myself to the ER in a panicked state, praying the entire way that this wasn’t a heart attack. Each and every time, you just KNOW it is. In retrospect, you look back and realize that you could have talked yourself down and been okay without running up thousands at the ER, but in that moment, you don’t care. You just want someone to save your life.
In May, I saw a new nurse practitioner who we will call K. K was newly out of medical school, eager to figure me out. I had all of the confidence in the world that she would do just that. For a smart girl, that was the most naive hope I’ve ever had in my life. You see, up until this year, I had little to no experience with the medical profession. Other than the birth of my children, I’ve had minimal contact with doctors of any sort. I never had regular check-ups or annual paps. Who needs Western medicine? Nobody. That’s still the stance I take today to an extent, with the exception of the doctor I see now. Anyway, upon first visit, K starts asking me symptom questions, and simultaneously types away on what I assume to be WebMD or the like. She proudly pronounces “This sounds like low iron and ferritin! Let’s get some bloodwork!” So I go get stuck and approximately 5 days later she calls and tells me to get on some high iron supplements. Great. So I just assume that once I get on these, and my iron stores replenish, I’ll be good to go. Oh the pattern of naivete I’ve developed here…
So I’m on the iron. I do see SOME improvement, but not enough for me to have faith that low iron was my only culprit. I go back to K. I tell her I’ve been Googling and really believe this is hormone related angst due to Epstein Barr reactivation. Yeah, I had self-diagnosed. Yeah, doctors hate this. Her response was “95% of the population is a carrier for Epstein Barr. It does no good to test you.” She reluctantly tests my hormones, but since they’re in range and she hasn’t been trained to look at ratio, not lab ranges, she brushes me off as a clear case of panic disorder and urges me to get on some antianxiety/antidepressant meds. I begin to question my own sanity, but deep down I KNOW my body and know in my gut that she’s wrong. My doubt is enough to try the Buspar she prescribed. Hello, side effects, namely insomnia. Needless to say, I stopped after a week. Back to K I go!
At this visit, K says “Let’s try Zoloft. It’s an old drug. Very safe. Many people have success on it.” BLAH. Fine. At this point, I’m so fed up with panic attacks and sleepless nights that I’m willing to eat fingernails if there’s some scientific study that says they reduce anxiety. Yeah… So 2 days into Zoloft, I am having back to back to back surges of panic. I am up for 48 hours straight with zero relief. In fact, I’m way worse than when I went in. Day 3 I develop a rash on my stomach at which point I stop the Zoloft and pray to God I’ve not done any permanent damage to my neurons and electrons. Geez.
K is out of her office having a baby, at which point the ER urges me to see the person in the same office as her. We will call her S. I didn’t know it at the time, but S is K’s aunt. Anyway, I go see S, and start all over telling her my symptoms. S believes I either have rheumatoid arthritis, or multiple sclerosis. Well, that escalated quickly. I go from low iron to a possible debilitating autoimmune disease. That makes sense. S orders me to take Gabapentin, and 2 other drugs that I can’t remember the names of. It doesn’t matter, because I refused all 3. She also ordered an MRI to check for brain lesions, which I accepted because I wanted to know. Fast forward: The MRI is normal. No MS or RA to speak of. I go to my follow up with S, and she asks me why I never picked up the meds she sent to the pharmacy. I tell her because I don’t believe they will help, that I believe this is hormonal, or due to EBV. I ask her to do a simple blood test for EBV, and also one for Lyme, just in case. Her reaction, verbatim, is “If you don’t take the anxiety and pain meds I’ve precribed you, there’s nothing else I can do for you.” Yes folks, this is the caring medical profession who is supposed to take care of us. UGH. It’s no shock that when K came back to work, she “fired” me as a patient. Don’t worry, I left a wonderful review on their Facebook page.
Speaking of Facebook, I got so desperate, I asked for doctor recommendations on there one day, as I was so sick of doctors throwing unnecessary meds at me. By this time, I had been through MANY ER docs, an endocrinologist, a gastroenterologist, a cardiologist, you name it, trying to unravel this ball of yarn. I took the first recommendation and ran with it. Man was that the BEST decision of my life.
So I go to this new doctor (we will call her L), and I beg her, plead with her, not to treat me like an anxiety/panic case like all the docs before her. She looks at me and says “I am going to treat you like you’ve never seen a doctor before me. We will start from scratch.” She orders the Epstein Barr test, she orders the lyme test, she orders the hormone testing, literally EVERYTHING I asked her. Guess what? No lyme, but I was positive for chronic active Epstein Barr. I was positive for PCOS. I was positive for estrogen dominance. I was positive for hypothyroidism. She put me on thyroid meds, she put me on hormones, and you know what happened? No more panic attacks. No more anxiety. It wasn’t immediate, but it was fast enough for me. Thank God for this woman. Thank God she listened. Thank God I Googled and didn’t give up, and knew what to ask for. Thank God I was my own advocate and didn’t just blindly trust the first doctor that claimed I had anxiety and panic disorder. I didn’t.
There is so much I’ve left out here. So many events in between. So much money spent on supplements and programs, trying to use trial and error as a means to an end. What I take away from this whole experience is the following:
LISTEN to your body. Don’t trust doctors if you feel they’re leading you in the wrong direction. They are human. They are fallible. Only you know what’s going on inside of you. I knew I had never had a panic attack and didn’t see a logical reason why they’d just start all of a sudden. This thing has changed me permanently. I had to take FMLA from my job. My old boss there URGED me to take it because “that’s what it’s there for.” After I took it, she got mad, alienated herself from me unless she absolutely had to have contact, and acted like a total bitch when I went back to work. I quit that job shortly after. I refused to work somewhere where I was blamed for having health issues. Whether she came right out and blamed and shamed me with her words is beside the point. She didn’t have to verbalize it; her actions were damning. I knew I wasn’t meant to be there anymore with people like that. Life is too short to put up with suck ass doctors, suck ass coworkers, suck ass people in general. I hope to pour out my woes in blogs to come, and I also hope to write about my improvement and my triumphs to give others hope, no matter what they’re battling. This is me jumping back into the game after being MIA for 9 months due to negligent, out-for-profit doctors. So much for the Hippocratic Oath. I don’t think it states that docs won’t be money hungry morons, although it should, because that’s what most are. Onward and upward! God bless!