About eight months ago, after exhibiting a rather odd assortment of symptoms, I went to see a doctor. My regular medical practitioner was not available but I got a last minute appointment with her partner to get checked out.
15 minutes later I was diagnosed with a progressive, painful, long term, incurable disease that affects, among other things, your internal organs (like the heart and lungs) and is one of the leading causes of complete disability in the United States. (“But, are you certain?” I asked. “Pretty much”, he replied. “I’m sorry”.)
The side effects of the medication prescribed to control the symptoms (such as liver damage) left me questioning if the cure was worse than the disorder. Not taking the medication early leads to irreversible damage and deformity.
Before leaving the doctor’s office I made another appointment with my regular MD to get a second opinion. Then, I took a deep dive into learning everything I could about the diagnosis.
I have always considered myself clear-headed. It didn’t take long for the information I was taking in to turn me into an ineffective mass of nerves.
Have you ever felt a full-blown panic attack? Heart beating out of your chest, a thirst impossible to quench, shaky hands, burning eyes, a stress-induced fever? I felt like that every second of the following four days. I couldn’t sleep more than two hours at a time. I lost half a pound a day.
I arrived a few days later for my second opinion. My regular doctor began by saying it had been inappropriate to arrive at the above conclusion without running the corresponding tests, yet conceded the symptoms I was still experiencing where consistent with the diagnosis. I went to the lab, drew three vials of blood, then had to wait 7 days to get what she said might be inconclusive results.
I left the office and did more research. When you investigate a medical condition on the Internet, there is a fine line between “information is power” (my regular modus operandi) and driving yourself crazy. I crossed it. I could not stop myself.
By Monday evening, I had not slept in four nights. Wednesday morning, I felt like death would be an optimistic outcome. This feeling was more pragmatic than depressive. The disease leaves you crippled. Which meant not only that I’d be in unbearable pain and unable to do anything for myself, but that I’d take down with me the people that I love, who’d have to take care of me. Full time. I’d had a wonderful life. Would it be worth living unable to clean myself after going to the bathroom? (Sorry. Too graphic?)
A few days later I went to another doctor, a specialist in homeopathy, because I wanted to explore all my options. The gradual process of finding other alternatives (and feeling better as a result of them) gave me a spark of hope, not just in that the diagnosis might be incorrect, but that if it was accurate, I’d find my way.
I got my blood test results ten days later. They were clean. No evidence of the disease. No evidence of many others my doctor had decided to test for to “rule out”. I cried.
To this day, I still have unexplained symptoms and am under homeopathic treatment, taking my health – what I eat, how I approach exercise – more seriously than ever. Most of the time, I don’t even think about the fact I still don’t feel 100% like myself.
I can’t summarize – not today, maybe not ever - all the things that went through my head when I believed my life was over. The fatal sadness and terrifying empathy I now feel for people who are correctly diagnosed with the most terrible illnesses.
How the cornerstones of our lives are so intolerably fragile that we are conditioned to not think about it in order to make life bearable.
For now I’ll say this much: if you have your health, everything else is solvable. Everything.