I have never been the poster girl for healthy living and never claimed to be. Although, there is a difference between that and managing your general health. Needless to say, I was awful at both. I’d hate going to the doctor and avoid them as much as possible. Half the time I would shrug off any ailments with a painkiller after googling my symptoms to make sure I’m not dying and continue on with my daily business. Even severe cramping would be fought off at my desk with a lot of whining. Web MD’s self-diagnoses module became a best friend of mine. Irresponsible? Completely. But I would always justify it as “I know I’m okay so why take the day off work and waste my time?”
Suddenly, the moment comes when it’s 2 AM and you’re in such severe pain that simply existing is hurting and you know it’s time to go to the ER.
No position I would adjust into could ease the pain and taking a small breath would equate to a stabbing pain in my abdomen. As I crawl to my mom in tears I realize my temporary health card is expired and I never received my new card in the mail. I have no health insurance. Just perfect.
As we drive to the hospital, I can’t decide what’s worse. The pain I’m feeling or the nagging of my parents about my neglecting my health and lacking the responsibly to notice that my temporary health card was expired and I wasn’t insured (I would rather not get into the debacle of Service Ontario that had sent my health card to the wrong address). I should have been on top of it – my health insurance and my health – I know, but like I said, I’m not the poster girl. The thing with the excruciating pain is I had no energy to think about it. I just needed medical attention and I needed it instantly.
As we register, I could barely sit to speak with the nurse. As we sit in the waiting room, I just feel the pain worsen and I hold on to my mom for dear life. I know the symptoms and after all day of brushing them off, I’m now convinced that it’s appendicitis and I’m a complete moron for ignoring the symptoms earlier. Hell, it could be burst by now!
Finally, the nurse approaches to take a few tests and hooks me up to morphine. Shoot! – I think. I have work tomorrow! I have t-shirts to ship out! I have freelance clients that are expecting my completed work that week! My huge campaign launch was the next day! My brain starts whirling in circles and I kick myself in amazement. Health is more important, I remind myself. Stop being a fool. I quickly send my boss a text letting her know what’s going on. I quickly sent an email to customers and in case I missed anyone, informed people through Instagram of my current “BRB” mode. As the pain slowly lessens, I slowly drift to sleep and what feels like 5 minutes (but is in fact 2 hours) a doctor finally sees me and after inspection agrees with my self-diagnosis of appendicitis. Kicker was that I had to wait to get an ultrasound which only opens at 8 AM. Current time? 4. That meant I had to wait another four hours and either the morphine was wearing off or my anxiety was acting up, but the pain starting stabbing away slowly. It was a matter of minutes before I’d be in tears again. My blood pressure was dropping. I was thirsty but not allowed to eat or drink. I was asking for more drugs and they wouldn’t give me anything until my blood pressure took a little hike. The IV stabbing my veins gets uncomfortable and as I look down I feel instant nausea from seeing my blood backing up in the tubes. As the nurse flushes it back, I get dizzy and beg her to give me more drugs. Not sure if my blood pressure hiked or she felt pity but they finally hooked me to more morphine. I dozed off and the next time I opened my eyes, I was being summoned to get my ultrasound. The doctor that saw me earlier calls me back in and verifies that it is indeed my appendix that is inflamed and they need to operate. Finally, we were getting somewhere – or so I thought.
The general surgeon comes to see me after some time and says that it may not be my appendix that is causing the severe pain and they will get gynecology to come check me out upon discovery of a large ovarian cyst, 9 by 4 cm.
The kicking myself for my stupidity begins. When did this happen? I had cysts since I was 12, sure, but they never got so large! But, when was the last time I went to follow up on this issue? I realize I couldn’t remember. My negligence in following up on my health concerns have led up to this moment. Good job Julie, I kick myself. All those times I would rock in a fetal position from cramps until the painkillers would start to work which I brushed off to simple PMS. Kick, kick, kick.
Needless to say, I was poked and prodded and spoken to by several different doctors and in what felt like days (but was rather 6 hours – long enough) they came to their final verdict: it is the appendix that must be removed.
I am operated on 23 hours after first checking into the hospital the previous day and all went well I’m told. I wake up and although in pain, am able to eat and go to the bathroom. I am released from the hospital 12 hours post-surgery.
Before leaving, I get a visit from gynecology that informs me that once I am recovered from this, they will be operating once more to remove the cyst from my right ovary and will do so in hopes that they could save it. This must all be done quite soon before it ruptures. Further, they have discovered I have endometriosis. My cramps were not just your average ‘PMS’ cramps and I should have never brushed them off.
As I get home with my prescription of Oxycodone to ease the pain, I realize, for the first time in a while that I don’t care about work or the website or the novel or anything for that matter. None of it matters if I’m not healthy, does it? I realize that all the times I avoided making an appointment with a doctor so I wouldn’t miss work is now potentially costing me a lot more days (er, weeks) off of work. Here I am, calling someone for help with every small thing and it’s making me feel more useless than I ever have. The girl that will lift up boxes bigger and heavier that her out of stubbornness to ask for help is suddenly unable to open her own water bottle. Utterly helpless I recovered quite quickly from this but I know well enough that my next surgery recovery may not be as speedy.
Life happens. Things get in the way. But neglecting something as important as your health because you think you’re too ‘busy’ is one of the most moronic things you could do. Trust me, I know and I don’t say this proudly. When you feel something is up, get it checked (and by checked, I don’t mean google your symptoms and diagnose yourself). I’m saying that you should go to the doctor for your check ups and when they tell you to follow up on an issue, follow up, because something that may seem like nothing could turn into a frightening disaster and you never want to be the 22-year-old girl that is told that her right ovary may have to be removed worst case scenario. I handled my health card chaos and got my fees dealt with (luckily, even once expired a Canadian citizen is still insured and reimbursed if need be), but when I looked at the medical bills I faced the large reality check of how greatly Canadians take free health care for granted. This one ER incident would have cost me thousands of dollars that I do not have and every doctor visit after that would just add on to this debt.
Health matters and it’s unfortunate that I waited until the moment that google told me my symptoms are life threatening to take care of it. Trust the signs your body gives you.
I wish I could say that I will now be the poster girl for all things health but that would be a lie. I’m eating coffee cake right now (I feel you rolling your eyes, I do). But I do know this: Never again will I shrug off my general health and the cries of pain or discomfort from my body.
As I go back to work and slowly paddle into my life again, I hope to be the poster girl for knowing when to pause and take care of me because you can’t pour out of an empty cup.