Dear Internet, Here’s How I Shamed Myself Out of Medical Help
October 31st, 2018:
Yesterday I paid $50 to have a specialist regurgitate everything I experienced while hospitalized and ask to see me in a month to schedule an MRI and start talking about surgery 1 of 2. Today he called with “great news” about how my blood work shows “normal and stable” levels, something they didn’t see during my 12 day hospital stay.
“If things have stabilized, why can’t we move this up to 2 weeks from now instead of a month?” I ask.
“Okay, call me if you experience any changes and we’ll see you in a month.” The call ends and the weight of yet another unanswered question sinks into my chest.
The pain episodes started during the final days of my visit to Guatemala in April of this year. Having never experienced food poisoning, I chalked up the pain in my abdomen to not synching well with the beloved Chao Mein dishes my relatives were nuts about (it’s a big thing over there). In the months that followed, I’d have an episode per month where a strong pain would creep into the top of my abdomen and pierce through to my back. It’d last about five hours with no position or breathing exercise to bring comfort to it. My phone’s search history was filled with 3 a.m. queries on “abdominal pain” and “what does appendicitis feel like?” and yet, I still found a way to convince myself the pain was a reaction to foods my body could no longer tolerate.
The denial ran deep, y’all. I stifled the pleas my aching body was screaming at me and refused to accept that I needed medical help. Accepting this truth would mean facing all of the anxieties I associated with doctor’s offices: scales, needles, having my body verbally dissected, or worse, dismissing my issues with the cure-all phrase, “lose some weight and you should be fine.”
On October 10, I had THE episode that made it impossible to look the other way. It surpassed the 5 hour threshold. I vomited, which was a first. I was sweating, yet shaking as I felt a sharp cold grip onto my bones.
“Fuck. I have to go to the ER.”
The following 4 days bleed into one another in my memory. I remember bits and pieces of being transferred from one hospital to another across town (aye-o, insurance), but then it goes dark. I don’t remember the names or faces of my nurses. I don’t remember getting up from the bed. I don’t remember the 5 a.m. blood draws or the continuous checking of my vital signs. I don’t even fully remember the pain. I just know it was easier to keep my eyes closed and pray for the next dose of pain meds that only offered temporary relief.
The official diagnoses were pancreatitis with 50% necrosis (meaning half of my pancreatic tissue had died) and being further irritated by a gallstone blocking a bile duct. To say I had done a number on myself would be an understatement. (But also, I have to give a shout-out to genetics on this one.)
In the days that followed, I became numb to all of the fears I possessed about being in a medical setting. My arms and stomach were covered in needle marks and bruises from where nurses got a little heavy handed with syringes. I grew desensitized to eyes and hands making adjustments under my hospital gown. I also survived a painful 30 minute search for a vein during the third relocation of my IV. I stopped caring. I just wanted to get better.
December 5, 2018
I never got around to posting what you’ve just read above because I was hospitalized shortly after for another 10 days.
After a tear-filled session with my home nurse about the continuous pain I was experiencing, I was advised to return to the ER. Once there, they found that my pancreatitis had caused a partial clot in a vein that connected the liver to the intestines (which could have been fatal if gone undetected and untreated under that specialist’s recommendation to follow up “in a month.” Is my anger showing?). I was admitted immediately and scheduled for surgery to remove my gallbladder 4 days later.
Being admitted a second time was the only period in which I loosened my hold on the depressing thoughts I surrounded myself with and permitted any sense of hope to exist. What many didn’t know is that I had already started imagining myself as being “out of the picture.” I thought of my 11 year-old nephew nearing having to navigate the awkwardness that comes with being a teen, as well as the triumph that’d one day come with being an adult and carving out the life he’d want for myself. I thought of my parents retiring in the warmth of the rancho in Mexico my dad is fiercely loyal to as it’s where he was raised. Would I be there for any of it? Would I be there to listen to my nephew ramble about his day or why he is now willing to go to a school dance (that’s another story for another time)? Would I ever get to board a plane and join my parents in Mexico for a summer or holiday visit? I didn’t think I would.
When it comes to the facts, here’s what I have for you: my surgery was a success and there’s a possibility of another surgery that hinges on how my pancreas heals in the months to come. I’m currently on blood thinner therapy to treat the partial clotting of the vein and don’t have an exact timeline for how long treatment will last. While there are question marks surrounding the length of this healing process, all I can say with certainty is that I’m healing.
Unpacking the mental aspect of everything that went down is going to take time, and likely something that I’ll keep offline. The main reason I’m publishing this post is to honor the girl who sat at her computer on Halloween brooding in anger for having denied herself medical help because she feared being dismissed for being in a bigger body. Another motivator was providing answers to the Internet friends who sent kind and supportive messages while I went on my hiatus and remained cryptic about the whole thing.
So while this isn’t my finest piece of writing, I thank you for giving me the space to capture a few words and feelings about this ordeal onto this website. Moving forward, I’m using the remainder of the year to film and test out pieces I’ve wanted to create for what seems like years now… it took almost dying to put an end to the procrastination, but it’s progress nonetheless.
Until next time,