“You’re a healthy thirty-five year old woman with an anxiety problem.” I replayed that phrase from one of the doctors I saw as if it were a record. The comment was the catalyst in my desire to never step foot in an emergency room again. Especially after it was followed by, “I have actual sick patients to see.”
Despite my blood pressure being exceptionally high, I was told it was my own fault. The numbers were high because I checked them too often. Yet the primary reason why I checked my blood pressure… was because my chest felt as if it was in a vice.
The doctor smirked at me on my way out the door having almost forgotten to give me the potassium I needed. After pushing blood pressure medication through my IV moments earlier to help regulate my numbers… she was oblivious to the damage she had inflicted with her words.
Meanwhile, I could feel my body ramping up to an unknown event so I continued to seek help elsewhere. I sat down with my primary care physician to go over my list of bizarre symptoms… yet the more I talked, the more she looked like Bambi right before getting hit by a semi. Mouth agape, doe eyed, and pure terror.
She wrote up referrals to autoimmune specialists, neurologists, an ENT, and a cardiologist she swore was talented. I went to every appointment. I talked about my strange medical history. I discussed moments of confusion, tremors in my hands, vision loss, high blood pressure, chronic low-grade fevers that would come and go, flushing, chest pain, and a few other oddities like losing consciousness.
A short while later I started having severe vertigo. I spent three months being unable to drive because I kept passing out. I didn’t even bother going to the emergency room this time.
“Try this medication.” The specialists said.
In the middle of grocery shopping on a gorgeous sunny day, I went from feeling content to unwell within moments. I was browsing the shampoo isle looking forward to a relaxing afternoon when my heart started hammering against my ribs. A feeling of unease washed over me. I lost part of my vision to flashing lights and huge black spots. I couldn’t see but even worse… as I attempted to find a safe space to wait it out, I couldn’t remember what kind of car I drove.
What color is it? What make is it? How do I get home? Where is home?
I spent two hours searching the parking lot… yet I couldn’t remember the vehicle I had been driving for over 6 years. I sat on the curb, buried my face in my hands and sobbed. The battery on my unlock key ring had died. The panic button didn’t work.
I knew it wasn’t normal, but I tried to rationalize it anyway.
I’m inching closer to forty. It’s probably stress. I’m fine. I’m safe. It’s probably anxiety. Deep breath. Get creative.
I typed “home” into my GPS as soon as I could see better and that’s what I used to find my way back. I told my husband about the vision loss, I told him I couldn’t find the car, but I also told him it was probably just an ocular migraine. I left out the feeling of confusion because I didn’t want him to worry.
I saw an eye doctor. I got a new pair of glasses. I continued moving towards my goals in life. Flower farming, being a mom, managing a household.
I passed out while sitting on my bed. It felt as if someone disconnected my brain. My vision went black, my ears were ringing and I flopped onto my back as quickly as possible. My wonderful husband was home for that one. The look on his face when I came-to had me agreeing to see specialists again even though I didn’t think they would be able to help me. I had my hearing checked for the second time. Everything came back clear again.
I narrowly avoided hitting my head when I passed out in our horse pasture. My face lifted towards the sun I couldn’t see, but I could feel the warmth on my body. The soft grass supporting my spine. When I came-to, I took a moment before getting up on wobbly legs.I finished watering the equine, tidied up the farm chores, and went back to the house to sleep it off.
Little episodes happened a couple times a week. I would feel a flood of unease and anxiety, my heart would race, my hands shook uncontrollably, blood pressure would skyrocket, then I would suddenly feel confused. Forgetful. I would stutter, loose my grasp on words. My brain felt foggy.
Strangers asked me if I was okay. I wasn’t. Random people said I didn’t look so good. I didn’t feel so good.
When discussing my reality, I told my husband whatever was happening would either kill me or become so serious it would be impossible to ignore. I was half joking when I said those words but they turned out to be dangerously true. I just didn’t realize it at the time.
“What’s your name?” The woman at registration asked gently.
“I don’t know.”
“Where do you live?”
“I can’t remember.”
I tried to search my mind. Who am I? I could visualize my farm in my head but I couldn’t remember my own name or where my farm was located. So I stood there until I started to cry.
“Do you know your social security number?”
When I finally recalled my name, I couldn’t remember how to spell it, so I pulled out my ID and I handed it to the hospital staff with my insurance information.
This time was so much worse. At around two or three in the morning I had an uneasy feeling slam me like a freight train. I watched videos on YouTube about overcoming anxiety.
“Remind yourself this feeling is temporary. You are in a safe place. Accept the feelings as they come but know they will pass.” The woman on the screen coaxed me. She was right. I wasn’t going to panic.
The feeling grew stronger, a sense of doom descended like a black cloud. I rolled out of bed to get a bottle of water. I hardly made it into the kitchen when my heart felt as if I was running a marathon. I began to sweat, I started panting and hit my knees to the floor.
Standing would be impossible so I crawled to the bathroom. I thought maybe if I threw up I’d feel better, or if I just used the restroom I’d be back to normal in time. Sitting on the throne with my pants around my ankles I remembered the video I had watched earlier.
I am in a safe place. Breathe. Stay calm. It will pass.
I hardly finished the thought when darkness encompassed me. The sound of my heart thumping in my ears. My vision was gone, like a light bulb burning out. My hearing vanished and I couldn’t move my limbs but I felt my face hit the floor.
My first conscious thought was that I either died or I was going to die. My second thought was the horror of someone finding me on the floor with my peach shaped rump in the air. I bet they would leave that out of the obituary… or maybe not.
LaShelle was found deceased, half naked next to the toilet. No one knows what happened to her but she is survived by her loving husband and the son who found her in such a precarious state of humiliation. Cue the sounds of wailing.
When I could see again, I assessed the damage. I softly touched my throbbing head, and discovered the fact that I lost all control over my bowels. Full on humiliation mode was short lived because bile began burning my esophagus. I yanked the towel off the rack behind the door just before projectile vomiting all over the floor.
I deserved a sweatshirt after this ordeal. A slogan along the lines of “Not even forty and already crapping herself.” I imagined it stained with horse slobber and covered in hay.
This time the episode was violent. Worse than it had ever been and I tried to decide if I should call someone or just clean myself up and go back to bed without telling a soul. What if I had been driving? What if Nikolai walked in? What if I didn’t wake up?
I dialed my husband’s number. I called Izzy to come get me once I had been coerced into going to the emergency room, and then I called my mom. The confusion set in pretty quickly.
“Hi LaShelle, I’m the neurologist on call for tonight. Can you tell me where you are?”
“Very good. Do you know what day it is?”
“… I don’t remember.”
“Do you know who the president is?”
The box of information in my brain was empty. I gave the doctor a blank stare.
I was in and out of sleep as they ran a series of tests. They put sticky tabs all over my head which connected to wires and ran to some kind of a computer. I didn’t have hope. All tests would be normal like it always was. I would probably be sent home within the hour. I was so confident, I told Nikolai not to worry. I said I’d be home in time to pick him up after school.
“Hello again LaShelle. I wanted to stop by your room to talk to you. I’m going to be your neurologist for the rest of your stay. All of your tests came back normal.”
“I knew it.” I thought bitterly. “I shouldn’t have come.”
“… Except one. Your brain scan showed abnormal brain waves. That means you’ve had a seizure. Has this happened before?”
“I’ve passed out before and I’ve been confused before.”
“I see. Well, we need to keep you here for observation okay? We’re starting you on some seizure medicine today and you need to know that you’re no longer allowed to drive for the next six months. Every time you have another one, it’s another six months of no driving. Alright? It’s the state law, we don’t want you to hurt yourself or anyone else.”
“I have seizures?” I sobbed. “You figured out what’s wrong with me? Thank you so much for giving me answers.”
I walked into the emergency room that morning not knowing who I was. Having been turned away by doctors multiple times (more than what was summed up here). The relief of knowing who I really am, was the most precious gift I have ever gotten.
It’s terrifying to face each day with uncertainty. To be unsure of how to manage symptoms alone and left wondering if things will get worse. Pushing myself to be a mom, a small business owner, and to work around the obstacles because not one medical professional was on my side.
It shouldn’t have taken so long to figure things out. We need to live in a world where doctors are held accountable for writing people off and mistreating them. Instead, they get paid regardless of service.
If I take my car to see a mechanic and they are unable to identify the problem, the mechanic doesn’t get paid. Yet so many of my doctor visit’s have ended with a five minute conversation, no tests, and a pat on the back to wish me luck. I still receive an outrageous bill afterwards that goes on my credit if it goes unpaid.
I am not a healthy (now almost thirty-seven year old) woman. I am a woman who was written off and belittled multiple times. Even though I have a kidney disease, a stomach disease, and have now been diagnosed with seizures. I could have died or worse yet… I could have hurt someone.
I don’t deserve to waste precious time questioning who I am, or my sanity. I shouldn’t have to defend myself to my physicians or beg them to listen to me when I’m paying them to fight for me. The next time I go through this, I’m walking out… and I hope you will too.