In Sickness and in Health…

A wedding vow.

I’m not sure how many marriages live through the sickness of one partner every year. In spite of vows, we never know how many partners are truly supportive of a sick loved one. And I doubt they make books and movies about it. Nonetheless, this type of support is expected by society.

There are no friendship vows. Hopefully, there is mutual benefit, proximity (virtual or otherwise), shared memories, good food and drink, but no vows.

So when one of the friends get sick there are no social expectations, just a totally free giving thing.

Over the past three months, health wise, I moved from believing I would soon be fine and simply needed rest, to feeling very inconvenienced, to losing hope that I would find a light at the end of my tunnel, to expecting a freight train to run me over any minute.

When I went on sick leave, I lost contact with all my work colleagues, including work friends.  I also lost the professional friends you meet for drinks or lunch. All the people who surround you day in and day out, who make you believe you’re part of a community of support. It’s often easy to think this, being so taken by neverending work duties and challenges.

Then the friends I interacted with every other day, or week, started ghosting me. Maybe they would’ve been fine if I hadn’t started telling them about the realities of my situation, but now that I have and they have to face their own mortality, I’m a chore. What if I start asking them for favours? Or maybe, having been running on fumes for so long, I was myself not there when they needed me the most and they don’t have it in them to give something they didn’t get. I will probably never know. There is no time or this type of indepth conversation when you are caught between mounting work and personal obligations (sick parents, sick kids, relationship challenges, work, work, and more work).

I did experience some pleasant surprises though, like the employee who messaged me through Instagram with good wishes – twice. The former boss, not to keen on sick people who met me for breakfast and gave me good practical advice. The colleague who often felt like a vocal rival, unequivocally and sincerely offered me her support. The friend going through a hard time who still finds time for breakfasts and dinners and still responds to my texts on the same day I send them. The work friend with two kids and an overwhelming job who met with me for drinks because she thinks I’m worth her making the time to do so. The long-time friend who even  living in two cities, pulled in many directions by work and personal obligations, emails me almost every day.

What am I complaining about then you ask?

It’s that in spite of not having made vows, sometimes you develop expectations… And after three months without the constant maelstrom of work that others fight through every day, you have a lot of time to think about them.

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My Quest for Better Health – Part 2

Blue Friend, Blue Foe

When I was 14 years old, my grandmother was taken to the hospital due to her increased weakness. We assumed it was her heart, but instead she was told she had been overmedicated by her doctor.

A few years ago, my 76-year old aunt couldn’t remember how to drive to my parents place, a trip she had made for over 50 years. Her daughter is a nurse and she saw right away that my aunt needed to see a geriatrician, and, importantly, had the connections to make it happen. It wasn’t dementia, as we all jump to think when we see someone of that age struggle mentally. No, the meds she was taking were not interacting well with each other and this caused her to become confused. As in, could’ve gotten into a car accident confused.

So I’m going through Iife thinking that overmedication (or polypharmacy) is exclusively an elderly issue.

I’m wrong.

At 49, I’m taking 7 medications daily just to function. Some for my asthma (a bronchial dilator and a corticosteroid), my chronic sinus issues (steroid nasal spray), my environmental allergies (antihistamines), and following a depression, two antidepressants (one which pumped me up too much, one to calm the pumping) and an hormone to stop me from having excruciating periods because in 2018, they still haven’t found a cure for those.

How did I reach what I consider to be an overmedication stage? By desperately clinging to the thought that a medication could make me suffer less and perform better. At work, of course, but also in my life where I was slowing down so much that I could hardly get anything done.

In spite of this, I get sicker and weaker, fighting through six months of what I felt were upper respiratory infection symptoms. These did go away after a bought of antibiotics, but I was still experiencing shortness of breath (in spite of my asthma medication) and major fatigue.

Maybe this stems from food allergies or intolerances I thought. Visits to a nutritionist did not help, they actually made things worse in their own way.

I was living with 30 symptoms of ailments, getting worse and worse. Medical tests were being done so incrementally and over such a lengthy period of time, I did the only thing that I was in control of, and slowly weaned myself off of all of my recent medications.

My reasoning: with so many symptoms, how can I know what is a possible medication side effect, a masking of symptoms of something more acute, which of my medications were actually helping, which ones were not?

Over the past weeks I’ve talked to nurses, doctors, medical technicians about my decision, and not one of them piped up with: ” that could be dangerous” or “what a terrible idea”. Instead I got: “allergists and these off like candy” and “you wanted to have a clean slate” and other non verbal ways of telling me, that it wasn’t a bad idea at all.

No longer taking my strong antihistamines took away my bad headaches for example, and without my revving antidepressant I’m slowly able to sleep restfully again after 2 years. I’m not any stronger physically, but more specific symptoms have risen to the surface (hello, lymph nodes my old friends) and I’ve just finished a more focused battery of tests.

It included a pulmonary function test which confirmed that I didn’t need a bronchodilator. I was told by the technician that they should only be prescribed if your breathing function is 88% or below as they can only improve your breathing by 12%. My breathing rate was 96%. The best it could do was improve it by 4%. Here are it’s possible side effects. I experienced a number of those, for a 4% improvement. I will have a Bronchial Challenge test in two weeks for a more specific diagnosis.

Did the medications mask severe symptoms and delay a diagnosis? Maybe, maybe not. Stay tuned.

My Quest for Better Health – Part 1

I haven’t written anything I wanted to post for a good long time. The biggest reason why, was that I didn’t want to put negative thoughts out there- we have enough of those as it is. Another, was that I like to write about “solved” events so that there’s a beginning, lessons learned, and a nice finale. “Capsule posts” is what I’ve been aiming for – I clearly have watched too many Hollywood movies. Life is not like that at all.

I want to begin by stating that I believe everyone I’ve encountered on this “quest” has had good intentions and none of my words should be seen as directly refuting or disparaging specific individuals, just lousy circumstances.

I’ve been going through the wringer of trying to fix my lack of physical health which has dogged me for over a year, muting my 50th celebrations, putting a damper on my once in a lifetime trip, and making most of my work days utterly draining.

Now I feel like I’m fighting with myself, as well the traditional medical and alternative medicine establishments, in a race to get better. My therapist said I was in “survival mode” and I needed to move to “living” mode. I don’t need to write that it’s easier said than done, do I?

In order to simplify diagnosis, the medical establishment works with boxes. Diagnostic tests are devised

to fit in those boxes. If your ailment cannot be measured within test boxes or discovered in the regular 10-15 minute appointments and you still feel unwell… You’re out of luck.

If you’re a woman going through fertility treatments, pregnancy , recovering from a delivery, or within menopausal age range, there’s a very good chance that whatever ails you will be blamed on that period of your life. If you happen to be older than menopausal age, then everything is linked to your older age. If you keep asking for more diagnostic options, you will be gently guided to the semi-automatic anxiety and/or depression suggestions, akin to the “hysterical” diagnostic of Victorian times.

Don’t just take my work for it, read Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick by Maya Dusenbery.

Maybe I went from sneezing and having a runny nose to colds, to sinus infections, to chronic sinus issues to nausea and headaches, slow digestion, chills and hot flashes, needing recovery time for even 15 minutes of mild exercise, slow kidney function that came and improved to normal range for unknown reasons, and dizzy spells because… It’s all in my head?

I thought I would even out my chances of getting better by also seeing alternative medicine practitioners. I had lovely Reiki and reflexology treatments. Based on traditional Chinese medicine, I will forever believe in acupuncture and reflexology in balancing out your body’s energy.

Contrary to traditional medicine, alternative medicine specialists take a good amount of time to listen to your symptoms and your current life situation and they are always trying to help… for about $100/hour… not always refundable by your insurance. Where I live, you don’t have to spend a penny for traditional medicine appointments (just medication, doctors’ notes, certain vaccines, etc.) but you only get 10-15 minutes and often have to wait weeks for an appointment.

Have you gone through similar experiences? What made them better?

All my best.

Back to My Reality

Have you seen the 2010 movie Eat, Pray, Love? I loved that movie and its sceneries, totally identified with the love of Italy and its wine and food, a little less with the rest. It was always my aspiration to accomplish a bold move like the main character did, leave my real life for a prolonged adventure and come back a different person, with a new life.

When it came down to it though, I chose to establish a good financial and professional base for myself, then leave for a set period on an organised jaunt, and come back to the same life. No one makes movies about that.

Still, I couldn’t let go of the ideal of a fantastic personal transformation. Once back home though, I didn’t feel transformed in the least.

As I walked around for most of my trip with a sinus infection and a bum rib, I was in major need of rest, so I slept like crazy my first week back. I then started decluttering my apartment. I knew from the beginning that living so many days with a set number of clothing pieces would help me streamline my wardrobe. The same turned out to be true of living in hotel rooms with only functional furniture. My place looked way too full.

Doing this busied my body and left me with space to think and allowed me to distil the gains from my trip. Not having to worry about anything but what was happening today and tomorrow, or about anyone other than me, meant that I benefited from ample head space to think about what I wanted and needed. I can’t remember ever having that luxury before.

Over the past years reading specialized books and seeing therapists, I realized I had become completely blind to what was best for me. I just went through disappointments and hardships  repeating, like a mantra, “I can handle this”, “I’m strong enough to do this”, “I’ll make do”. It depleted me.

You know what helped me think differently throughout my trip? Being sick and injured – ha!

Early on, I made me let go of the idea of traipsing everywhere, and going on exerting adventures. I also made my peace with fact that everyone who travelled where I did would go: “You didn’t go there?! You didn’t do this?! But it’s the most important part of X!!” and not care. Pain has a way of letting go of needless thoughts. Had I been at home, I would’ve gone to work every day, and continued with my detrimental mantra.

On a poshier side, what also helped was the fantastic opportunity of being upgraded to business class on my longest flights for a minimal cost. (Air New Zealand and Hawaiian Airlines have a fantastic “bid to upgrade” system where, if you’re lucky, you bid an amount a fraction of the cost of purchasing a business class ticket.) Especially on ANZ, you feel so nicely catered to, and the food, and the drinks! It’s a feeling I’ve very rarely experienced and it opened my eyes.

My time away allowed me the space to get back to myself and take my rightful place at the head of my decisions table. I need to let go of the idea of adapting to all situations and muting my needs, and instead spend time asking for help, and for changes, even slight ones, to try and modify them to my benefit, instead of living through them to my detriment.

I may not be able to change all difficult circumstances coming my way, but I can try and what I can change, will leave me with a better life. I hope.

Trip Post #6

“Mistakes Make the Best Stories”

I saw that saying on a woman’s t-shirt in Melbourne, I really wish I had taken a picture because it seemed to represent my life trajectory so well.

I wound up staying a bit too long in Rotorua because I had no idea that the full bus going to Auckland was also the bus heading to Hamilton (sigh). During my wait though, I met this lovely lady who lived in a city nearby and was waiting for her returning home bus.

When I started being worried about my bus not coming, she offered to look after my luggage while I went it the bus ticket office. Sadly, the woman mending the desk told me my bus was coming in a few minutes. She was wrong. The “Auckland/Hamilton” bus had already been out there for 15 minutes and I let it leave without me. It would also mean missing my 4:30pm train to Auckland. I didn’t cry over that part though, due to issues with my Wellington to Hamilton trip.

Getting back to the lovely lady, she talked to me about what the city was like 50 years ago, and how she has been a widow for two years now and was travelling on her own for the first time, to see her brother in Rotorua. I told her she really appeared to me like a seasoned traveller (classy, walkable sandals, leather coat, rolling suitcase, etc.) and she got a kick out of that. She said that she looked at what her daughter was doing when she travelled, and then tried to imitate her. “I looked, and I learned”. [Ndlr. We need more of that in the world.]

I hope if she so chooses, that seeing me travel on my own will help convince her to do it again. We didn’t share our names, but it didn’t matter, she gave me a nice hug as she was leaving, and for a bit less than an hour, we had a nice meeting of the souls.

I was then stuck for 4 hours waiting for a 3-hour ride to Auckland, in an overheated bus. In the end, had I planned this ahead of time, it would’ve been the easiest way for me to get more time in lovely Rotorua and travel to Auckland. But I hadn’t. I was therefore not dressed for getting around in 30 Celsius weather, which led me to feel and smell like melted cheese for a good long while (sigh). Oh well.

Note: Do you know what happens when you get into an unknown city at 9pm? You wind up walking for 15 minutes to get to a neighbourhood grocery store, when there’s a big one on a cross street,5 minutes from the hotel [facepalm].

Trip Post #5

I spent three lovely days in Rotorua, NZ. I desperately needed to recharge and heal.

My hotel apartment was lovely, with a terrace and a jacuzzi. I also booked a mani-pedi appointment at a hotel spa.

The weather when I got in was rainy, but warm, and cleared up the next day giving us this scenery:

The lake front was my favourite place to walk.You could see white as well as black swans, and some in between too. Here are a few lounging around a pedestrian path:

I wound up staying a bit too long in Rotorua… More on this in my next post.

Trip Post #4

Hello from Hamilton, NZ!

It took 27 travel days and 15 hotels for me to get to this point, but now all I want are my bed, my bathroom, and my kitchen!!

Maybe it’s due to the fact that my dreamy train ride across the North Island turned into 8h30 hours of annoyances, all linked to being given the worst seat ever. A non-reclinable aisle seat, going in reverse, at a foursome table, with three strangers, including a curmudgeon lady. The seat was right next to the food carriage and I got (albeit slightly) hit every time a passenger went by.

Oh, and there was no wifi.

And I dropped my purchased sandwich on the floor.

Anyways, another hotel tomorrow (sounds like a country song) with, hopefully, better scenery. If only there wasn’t a 1h30 bus trip to get there… Wonder which seat I’ll get…;-)