Let's see if I remember how to do this. "This" referring to blogging, it has been awhile. So here is goes...Women....TAKE CARE OF YOUR HEALTH!
For a couple of years, I have neglected my health. In part, because I am a Mom. Moms take care of everyone else, before they take care of themselves. While I'll rush my children to the doctor for a runny nose, it takes an act of Congress to take myself.
Since moving to Virginia over two years ago, I've noticed something slightly off in the health department. The apparent differences that were obvious to me (or those closest to me) were: my hair stopped growing and started thinning, I noticed my nails were pealing, my skin didn't have its' "natural glow", I was pale, blemishes took forever to fade and I had dark bags all around my eyes. I contributed these differences to getting older. I'm heading toward 40, and I just assumed this was normal.
Internal differences were a different story. While I tried to pin my ailments on age, there were some I simply could not ignore. For starters, I have constant fatigue. However, I contributed the fatigue to my husband being gone for 17 out of 24 months on deployment. I was raising the kids alone, taking care of the house, dog, and trying to run a small business. Of course I was tired. I (like 99% of military wives) do not have family close to help out. So yes, I simply contributed my exhaustion to being just that... exhausted with a capital "E". There were, however, signs that I couldn't ignore such as: shortness of breath, stomach cramping, constant chills, heart palpitations, dizziness, I have also been running a constant low grade fever ranging from 99.8 - 101), achy joints, and at one point, loss of consciousness. I knew something was wrong, but I was ignoring the signs. I had to ignore the signs, I had to care for my little girls. There was no time to be sick!
When my husband returned home from his deployment five months ago, he noticed a difference in my demeanor. I had zero energy. He kept asking me what was wrong. I think he was trying to link my lethargic behavior to depression. I wasn't depressed, I simply did not feel good. But saying, "I don't feel good" is such a broad statement. To which he would respond, "you never feel good." He would plea with me to go to the doctor, and I would make every excuse not to go. He would say, "I am home now, it is time for you to take care of yourself," and he was right. I couldn't ignore the nagging signs. To be honest, I was starting to be of no use to my family. Simple tasks were daunting. My heart would beat out of my chest, just tucking my little girls in at night.
I begrudgingly drug myself into the doctor for "the works." I wanted a full physical. My primary was great. She left no stone unturned. She listened to me, and documented my symptoms. My symptoms were mimicking anything from thyroid disease to an autoimmune disorder. You name it, she tested me for it. Celiac, Lupus, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Lyme, etc. Everything came back negative, with the exception of being completely depleted of vitamin D. I was started on a weekly mega dose of vitamin D, to raise my levels. My cholesterol was low, my sodium was low, my blood pressure was perfect. On paper, I was in tip-top shape. I went back for a follow up and we revisited my lab results. Turns out, one of my labs was cancelled. For some reason, the lab had voided my red blood counts, and had not contacted my doctor. Off to the lab she sent me. I gave more blood and was on my way.
At this point, I'm contributing all of my symptoms to a lack of vitamin D. Word of caution, when trying to self-diagnose, Google will have you think you are dying. On Friday evening, my primary left a message for me (normally the nurse calls to give me a run down of the results). My stomach knotted. Naturally, it was after office hours, so I couldn't call her back. I spent all weekend thinking I was going to orphan my children. She said to call her first thing Monday morning. She called me back before office hours on Monday (how is that for service) and said my new labs were in, and my hemoglobin, hematocrit and ferritin, were in her words "alarmingly low." She immediately got me in touch with a proctologist, she wanted me to have a colonoscopy ASAP. Oh, another symptom I failed to mention (probably because it is personal and very embarrassing), I was suffering severe blood loss when going to the restroom.
Let me tell you ladies, seeing a Proctologist makes your annual exams look like a cake walk. Talk about M O R T I F Y I N G. I had to set my pride and embarrassment aside to find out why my hemoglobin was so low. The specialist immediately ordered a colonoscopy.
I suppose I should clarify what having low hemoglobin, hematocrit and ferritin means. It means, you are anemic. While some people will suffer from a mild form of anemia at some point in their lives, I'm battling severe anemia. The normal range for a woman's hemoglobin is 12 - 16 gm/dl. Normal hematocrit is between 38-46% At the time of my initial red blood cell count, my hemoglobin was at 7 gm/dl and my hematocrit was 24%. In layman terms, hemoglobin is what circulates the oxygen through your body and organs. When your hemoglobin is low, your body starts becoming deprived of oxygen. When your body is deprived of oxygen, your heart works overtime. This explained why I was having heart palpitations, this explained why I had zero energy, why my hair was falling out, my paleness, dark circles, cold extremities and why I was constantly out of breath. Everything was starting to make sense.
Side note: I also wanted to contribute all these symptoms to being out of shape, so I re-joined the gym. I did so, prior to taking myself to the doctor. I would find myself getting winded, just climbing the stairs at the gym to go to yoga. I took a Zumba class with a friend, mid-way through, I thought I was going to have a heart attack...I ended up sitting the rest of the class out. My ignorance had me believing that I was ridiculously out of shape! Looking back, it wasn't so much ignorance, as it was denial.
In addition to my doctor sending me to a proctologist, she also wanted to monitor my red blood cell levels while waiting to have my colonoscopy. At the point of the initial results, I was already a candidate for a blood transfusion. However, because I had let this go on so long, my body had some-what acclimated to the low levels. My husband said, "Oh you are essentially like a Sherpa on Everest." I suppose that is one way to look at it.....
As the month went on, I began to feel weaker, more fatigued and short of breath. I had become a shell of myself. Another round of test results came in and my hemoglobin and hematocrit had dropped more. My hemoglobin level was 6.2 and my hematocrit was 20.5 %. My doctor instructed me to immediately take myself to the emergency room, if I continued to experience an increase in my shortness of breath, chest pains, etc. I felt like I had finally reached my threshold. My husband and I discussed the severity of the situation. I needed answers and honestly, I felt my life was compromised. I needed reassurance that my heart wasn't going to give out. I wasn't feeling any better, quite the opposite. We dropped our girls off at our friends house and we went to the hospital. Five hours later, (despite my heart palpitations), I was deemed safe to go home. My heart is sound. Must be that resilient Sherpa gene I possess.......
Fast forward to the present week. I have had my colonoscopy, I've had a contrast CT Scan, (among other tests) and everything is clear. I have to return to the Proctologist to discuss some treatments for other digestive issues I am having, but ultimately, my colon is healthy.
Which leads to the real issue....What is contributing to my declining hemoglobin level. Off to another specialist (hematologist). In the meantime, my doctor has suggested I get a blood transfusion, to improve my quality of life. I will feel better. I will see an increase in my energy and I'll have more stamina to get me through more testing. I'm drained. It has also become apparent to me why I did put my health on the back burner, it would have been impossible for me to endure these countless doctor, ER visits, testing, medical procedures, etc alone with a husband deployed. This process has been going on two months straight. I needed my husband home to care for the kids during this time. So my denial, was more like a preservation mode.
Right now I'm struggling with the idea of having a blood transfusion. My friends and family are encouraging me to have one, but I'm scared. I'm terrified of being that small percentage that receives tainted blood. I'm worried my body will reject the transfusion. I've worked myself up into a tizzy researching all the pros/cons via Google....I digress...there is a reason they say...ignorance is bliss.
My medical issues pale in comparison to those battling cancer, or other terminal or debilitating illnesses. I am fortunate to have countless issues ruled out. I am blessed to be able to deal with these low hemoglobin levels (I'm functional). Others are not so lucky.
So to answer your question, this is why I have taken a break from blogging. I have been busy trying to take care of myself. I cannot stress this lesson enough...so listen up....Ladies, your families need you HEALTHY and WELL...TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF!