With Age Comes…. Doctors

I’ve hit that in-between age now where in certain conversations people may look at me and say, “Oh, you’re still young!” at which I smile brightly and love them unconditionally for saying so.  This is the case unless, apparently, I’m talking about health issues where I’ve found the response takes a sharp turn into, “You know you’re getting to that age now…”

Just a fun, new thing I learned about “almost 40” as I went through a bit of a health scare recently.

Over a month ago I did some cleaning around my house and the next day my legs were sore.  That afternoon I did some stretches in an attempt to loosen my leg muscles, and the following day my arms hurt as much as my legs!  At the time I joked about getting older and my whole body falling apart.  You know, when you’re “still young” you can make humorous little jokes about being old because it’s really not happening to you.

I’ve since racked up two new doctors (for a grand total of three) and have decided this is not a funny joke anymore as it hit a little too close to home this month and I’m over and done with “heehee getting older” jokes.

Those two days extended into a week and I’ll go ahead and let you know now that my relatively healthy life has provided me the privilege of holding a strong aversion to medicine and anyone with a PhD behind their name.  This means I first wait for the problem to go away on its own, then I do some mix of WebMD/Mayo Clinic-ing myself,  and will then try supplements or OTC medicine after my personal diagnosis.  After all other options have been exhausted, I will possibly maybe consider going to a doctor, but I have to have some level of fear or threat before this will happen.  So keep this in mind as you’re reading the next few lines thinking, “Why didn’t this dummy just go to the doctor?!?!”

Short answer: because she’s a chicken.

After a week of my limbs hurting constantly, ankles and feet swelling daily, and every joint in my body making its presence known all while trying to fight off a sinus infection, I finally gave in and took an OTC pain killer still hoping the pain would just go away.  This medicine did help so for the next week I popped pills on a daily basis.  But then, I woke in the middle of the night twice with my heart racing like I’d just run a marathon.  When I read online this could be a side effect of the pain medicine, I decided to find another option. (Side note:  this was a side effect of the medicine as it hasn’t happened since.)

During this time I was also doing google searches for symptoms and had basically diagnosed myself with an autoimmune disease or impending death, because we already know all internet diagnoses lead to death.

I’ll tell you honestly, I’m very confident in my zero schooling, self-appointed WebMD diagnoses, so much so that I had basically accepted it as fact and started pinning related links on Pinterest and looking sideways at the foods I was eating.  Every pain I felt confirmed my worst fears.  In fact, I’m quite certain I hypochondriac-ed my way into a few extra pains just because I read them in a symptoms list somewhere.

With the help of Pinterest my next option was a turmeric supplement I ordered because every link I saw said turmeric is good for the autoimmune disease I’d diagnosed myself with.  When it arrived it did help with the joint inflammation I was experiencing….until it didn’t.

So a few Sundays ago I’d done a little cleaning at my house and that afternoon my joints started stiffening up again.  By Monday I had full-blown joint inflammation and the turmeric didn’t seem to be helping at all.

*complete despair*

This, ladies and gentlemen, was my final straw.  My entire body hurt and I wanted to cry thinking this pain and stiffness was going to be with me the rest of my life.  This is where the fear came in and I started making phone calls.

Some of you may already know this, but doctors do not work on the same schedule as someone calling in pain, particularly if you are not already their patient.  This was a lesson I learned as I made my first call to a primary care doctor whose nurse took my information and told me the doctor would take a few days to a week, not to schedule the actual appointment, but to decide if he would like to accept me as a patient or not.

I then called the office of a hematologist I’d used two years ago when I’d been severely anemic prior to my one surgery in life.  They booked an appointment for almost two weeks away.

*sigh* *sigh* *sigh*

As proof of exactly how bad I was hurting, I ended up driving to a doc-in-the-box after work that afternoon.  I had a low-grade fever and a fast heart rate.  My ankles were twice their regular size.  My elbows and wrists hurt so bad I could barely pick up the water I’d brought with me to drink.

They took some blood for testing.  Concerned about the high heart rate they also gave me an EKG which showed nothing abnormal.  They ended up sending me home empty-handed, promising to call in a few days with test results.  Nothing to help with the pain, but I did have a few new names to add to my list of possible health issues.  Names like lupus and rheumatoid arthritis.

That afternoon my mother invited me to move into her house.  In a way this went along with the plan I’ve been working on with getting repairs done on my house, though it was mostly a result of the health issues I was having and a new idea I’d had about my house being responsible for the problems, or at least making them worse.

A little back story:  Last summer I had a clog in the air conditioning unit located in my attic that had since been repaired, but left mold behind.  I could see the mold in several places of my ceiling, but thought nothing of it in a “if I don’t bother you, you don’t bother me” kind of ignorant way.  (Side note:  This apparently does not work as mold does not play by your rules.)

As time rocked on with this health issue, I noticed that my worst flare-ups happened the days after I cleaned my house.  At first I thought it was overexerting my joints and my body reacting to that, which is where the autoimmune idea came in.  The last time it happened though, I’d done minimal cleaning.  That’s when I had the idea the air in my house might be making me sick.  Or sicker.

Over the next week I was accepted as a patient for the primary care doctor and scheduled that appointment for the Monday prior to my scheduled hematologist appointment.  During the days leading up to my appointment, while staying at my mom’s house, the pain and stiffness in my joints started to slowly dwindle away replaced with the most complete, constant fatigue I’ve ever experienced even with hypothyroidism and anemia.

This fatigue is consuming.  I feel sleepy all day every day.  But it’s not just about being sleepy.  I don’t want to move.  This seems to be a recent change, though I remember at the most recent visit I had with my endocrinologist (thyroid) back in January, asking him if my thyroid being removed could be causing a lack of motivation.  I now wonder if this problem had been happening even back then.

By the time I went to the first appointment I still moved slower than normal but the pain was minimal.  The doctor ran my blood work and quickly detected a low blood count.  Where my level should be around 14, I was at 7.7.  Later that afternoon his nurse called to mention the importance of going to the hematologist appointment I’d made (on a whim) because my iron count was extremely low as well.  I would later find out my iron measured at 4 when it should be between 50 and 100 normally.

As a side note, they also tested me for autoimmune disorders and those came back normal (meaning I do not have them).  In the best way, they have ruined my hopes of being awarded that honorary doctorate for my skills of self-diagnosis.  I’m not even mad about it!

Last week I received an iron infusion.  Since I’d had this done before I was expecting to be dancing my way out the door when it was finished.  While I could tell a difference, it was nowhere near that drastic.  I don’t know if my levels were a lot lower than they’d been before or if maybe my body reacted to it differently, either way I was a little disappointed.  I have another scheduled soon and am hoping for better results this time.

This whole experience has really been a wake-up call for me.  While the joint pain is gone and this whole situation will hopefully be cleared up with time and more iron, it opened my eyes to the fact that doctors are a necessary evil in life and….can actually be beneficial.  *gasp*

I’ve never been in a situation, thankfully, where my health has been a reason or cause to not do something.  This pain and inflammation lasted three weeks to a month.  Especially towards the end of that when I started wondering if it was a ‘condition’ instead of a ‘pain’, I found myself questioning the plans I have for my life.

Not knowing if the pain would go away or be a lifetime issue, I had to think about the possibility of not being physically able to do the things I would need to do in order to travel with a pull-behind camper.  At the time it hurt to turn the steering wheel on my car some days…would I be able to climb in and drive a 3/4 ton truck?

When my joints were hurting so bad and my swollen ankles had me inching along at a snail’s pace, barely able to move….I wondered if I’d ever be able to walk trails again.  The idea of never exploring the woods again made me almost homesick for the outdoors.

There’s a vacation coming up that I’d begun to wonder if I’d be unable to enjoy the trip like I’d hoped.  I’d planned lots of exploring both in cities and wilderness plus outdoor activities on the lake, and all those things were suddenly in question.

These are obviously petty issues compared to regular day-to-day things like being able to lift your knee high enough to get in the bathtub for a shower or you know, standing up and walking down the hall – both of which I was having quite a bit of difficulty navigating at the time.  Being faced with the possibility of not being able to do these things is quite a sobering experience.  It gave me a new appreciation for my ability, and a new empathy for the people who are not able to function normally due to pain.

I am hoping my health will be back to normal soon and with that I have promised myself to start appreciating what I have and taking advantage of it.  As soon as my energy is up I’m going to enjoy this beautiful spring weather that is just beginning with some trips to local parks so I can explore some of those trails I was so homesick for just a few weeks ago.

Have you ever experienced a health or life scare?  How did you change as a result?

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