This blog post is part of the Gifted Homeschoolers Forum Blog Hop for September 2013. This month’s theme is “Sleep and Other Forms of Parental Self-Care.”
My story begins around 11pm on a weeknight last autumn. Having become enamored with Downton Abbey, I had crashed on the living room couch to watch an episode of season 1 via DVD. Basically, it was an ordinary evening after a routine day of our homeschooling and my working on my then-forthcoming first book.
When I first heard the train, our first grader was fast asleep in his room. My husband was in the kitchen.
Note that there are no railroads near our house.
There was no train on that particular episode of Downton Abbey.
As the sound of it grew louder in my ears, I sat up.
My heart pounded. My hands shook.
“Honey, I need you to call 9/11,” I said. “I’m going to be okay, but I need to get to an ER immediately. That thing that I warned you about? It’s happening. It’s happening right now.”
A few weeks earlier, I had committed myself to figuring out what was bothering me. I had a long list of symptoms–shaky hands, GI issues, sleep problems, fatigue–that had plagued me off and on for over a year. I could no longer ignore them.
Like many parents, I’d put off a doctor’s visit for a variety of reasons. I presented them to myself as questions: My schedule is so full, when will I find the time? Maybe I’ll feel better next week after I pass my next work deadline? Wouldn’t my time be better spent working on the book draft? Couldn’t I just wait until after the new year?
When my internist came through the door of the exam room on the morning of my appointment, he announced, “You must be really sick, Mrs. Price. Because I only ever see or hear from you if something bad is going on.”
We both laughed.
Curiously, once I was in his office, I didn’t complain about the shakiness, the anxiety, or the sleeplessness. I focused on concerns about my GI tract. That seemed more… urgent. After an exam and a quick finger-prick test, he determined that I had a bacterial infection in my stomach, one easily treated by a round of medication. We agreed that I would go to a lab nearby for food allergy testing, too, since some of my symptoms–including a series of nasty experiences with wheat crackers–suggested such a follow-up was worthwhile.
“Let’s just do a full allergy panel. The works. While I have you going to the lab anyway, and since I never seem to get you here in the office for a checkup, I am going to do some other tests, too. Routine stuff. No biggie.” He made some marks on a paper and left me with one of his assistants (the cheerful one) to wrap up.
Fifteen minutes later off I left the doctor’s office with my son in tow. A short car trip later we were at the lab. We played a math app on the iPad in the waiting room while I waited for my blood draw. Yup, that was our math lesson for the day. Homeschooling rocks.
Some of the blood tests came back right away. The doctor’s assistant (again, the cheerful one) called to say I had tested negative for celiac disease but positive for a shellfish allergy. It was a strong reaction, too. No shellfish. Period. This revelation struck me as odd since I’d eaten seafood all my life with no problems.
“Is that everything?” I asked.
“No, your thyroid tests aren’t back yet. We’ll call you.”
Several days passed. I was feeling a tiny bit better in the wake of treatment for the bacterial infection, but not great. I got another call from my doctor.
This time it was from the stern assistant.
She cut to the chase.
“Dr. X wants you to know that you have Graves’ Disease. He wants to see you right away, but we can’t get you in because of the flu season. We are booked. So are our other doctors in the practice. Can you come next Tuesday? It is important.”
Her tone was ominous.
“Okay,” I said, not even bothering to check my calendar.
“He also wants you to go read up on your condition. Do an Internet search. He wants you to understand exactly what you have. You need to be very careful.”
My doctor is telling me to go online to read up about a diagnosis? What the $&)# ? Doctors never do that.
After we hung up, I paged Dr. Google.
Two nights later when the freight train roared through me, I was prepared. Because of the phone call, I’d read up on Graves’ Disease and some of the terrible things that could happen. I had shared links with my husband.
Yet I remained cocky.
Yes, in the period between the phone call and the Thursday-night freight train, I convinced myself that nothing dreadful like what I’d read online would ever happen to me. I’d never experience something like thyroid storm.
Besides, who has the time for that? I mean really.
Two nights after that phone call from the stern assistant and while Downton Abbey played on our living room television, my hands shook wildly, my blood pressure skyrocketed, and I eventually began to shiver uncontrollably. Before my husband arrived in the ER, I sobbed uncontrollably from a toxic level of anxiety and asked the nurse treating me if she could hug me because I felt as though I might lose my mind.
Faced with my own mortality in that ER, I lost the belief that I am invincible.
A year later I’m all the better–healthier, wiser–for that loss.
Although the first 6 months or so after the November “incident” proved difficult on my body and mind (not to mention my sweet family), I consider myself fortunate. I am on medication and have radically altered my diet and appear to be going into remission. This spring, I lost some hair and discovered my gluten intolerance-despite the initial negative blood test–is very, very real. I also have to steer clear of dietary iodine. (Remember the “new” shellfish allergy? It was the iodine, which is in a lot more stuff than just shellfish. So long, sushi!). In the wake of related cardiac and GI scares, I have three new doctors (all specialists) and a newfound appreciation for being healthy.
I intend to stay healthy.
A year after my diagnosis, I have learned some valuable lessons from the experience as a parent, too.
Chief among them is that the most important form of self-care–above bubble baths, red wine, GNOs, exercise, and good nutrition–is to get yourself to a doctor regularly for a check up.
A routine blood test probably would have caught my disease earlier, minimizing its impact on my body, mind, and budget. (ER trips via ambulance aren’t cheap, even with good healthcare.)
Without question the blood test–coupled with the doctor’s follow up phone call and my paging Dr. Google–spurred me to take that oncoming internal freight train seriously. Left untreated, thyroid storm can be fatal. In fact, 100 years ago, that was the most common outcome. Even today, serious complications (yes, including death from thyroid storm) can result if one doesn’t get immediate emergency help.
Somehow I managed to front-burner my physical health last year just long enough to get to the doctor for an appointment.
Now I encourage you to do the same, sooner if you have anything bothering you.
You can trust me when I say that your own life may depend upon it. Mine did.
Pamela Price is the author of How to Work and Homeschool: Practical Advice Tips and Strategies from Parents (GHF Press, 2013)
For more blog hop posts, click here.