Friday, July 11, 2014

The Health Saga

"The secret of staying young is to live honestly, eat slowly, and lie about your age." - Lucille Ball
People have been asking me how come I'm proudly embracing the fact that I'm turning 40 this year. I have blogged about it. I have contemplated putting up a talent show for my gifted friends of the same age. I even organized a joint birthday party for my high school batch entitled "40 is the New Sexy." We rocked that videoke jeans party like the silly teenagers we once were.

Photo credit:

Well, if you can't beat turning 40, I said you might as well celebrate it. And I embraced this even as early as March last year, when I resigned from my job and left the country to take stock of life and regain my bearings. Upon my return since March of this year, however, everything I had left behind and even some more matters that I had encountered the past year required my attention.  In full, crashing force.

My health was the first to announce its agenda. Since being cured of astigmatism in high school, I had to start wearing eyeglasses again last March. So first doctor, ophthalmologist. I finally got to use the cool eyewear frame that my sister sent me from the States. I embraced this change Ella-style, certainly fashion-forward and with a lot of selfies.

Then, I set a swimming date with my nephews at their family condo's pool. When I got there I was having the headache of a lifetime and my brother discovered that my blood pressure was off the charts. I did not get to swim, to the dismay of my nephews, even as I had every intention to exercise. Instead, I had to lie down, rest (a strange word) and pray for the energy to drive back home. Being asymptomatic, I did not know that I was hypertensive. Or probably I knew but was ignoring it. Or perhaps it was the plateful of crab fat (yummy aligue) that I had for lunch the Sunday before. I am sad to report that I have not eaten crab since then. So the second doctor that I was sent to was an internist. He took my BP from my left arm, shook his head, and took it from my right arm as well.  He then prescribed maintenance medications for hypertension and instructed me to go through a battery of tests just to check my overall health.

The week after, armed with my test results and a bad cough, I returned to the internist. He prescribed cough medicines and then told me I had to see a hematologist because I was anemic. I asked if he could just make his own conclusions because I did not want to go to another doctor (wishful thinking, in hindsight). He simply said that it was important that I see a hematologist. He recommended one from the same hospital. I returned the next day following the doctor's schedule given by the hospital guards, but alas, said hematologist was out of the country. I called up another hospital, and all of my friends who were related to doctors, for another referral. At this point the fact that I had no medical insurance coverage was sinking in.

I received two referrals, one for a male hematologist, and another for a female one. I went to the one who held clinic on a Saturday, as my family was beginning to worry. In the process, I missed my high school barkada outing to Las Casas de Acuzar, a place I had long wanted to visit. So I was really sulking inside by the time I got to the doctor's clinic. When he saw my blood test results, he said in other cases he would already recommend transfusion. That scared me. He wanted me to go through a whole lot of tests to determine the cause of my anemia. I found myself complaining at the discomfort level of those prescribed tests. I obeyed him on some tests but not for the others. I had to miss a family outing for that. Summer came and left without me seeing the ocean. More sulking.

In the meantime, my blood pressure continued to be high, despite the medication. I was constantly feeling tired and even bordered on depression. I had, at the same time, job interviews, as my career was in need of a makeover. In fact my agenda upon returning from Australia was just that - find a job. My body disagreed with me. Listening to my body, I wanted a second opinion on my anemia and went to the other specialist, the female hematologist. I waited outside her clinic for hours in the intense summer heat. By the time she was able to see me, she took my BP and we both got shocked because it was at 176/111. Regarding my anemia, she recommended two more tests, but she was pretty certain that it was not serious. I texted my family that I was going to rest at a nearby Starbucks before driving home. Unknown to me, my brother consulted his cardiologist and learned that I was at risk for stroke. When I got home, he was waiting for me and told me I needed to see a cardiologist.

I had lost count by this time of the hospitals, clinics, and doctors I had been to. All I knew was that I had to see another specialist. I talked to my father and asked him to set an appointment with his cardiologist. I had no job, and mounting medical bills. Thank God for the support of family.

The cardiologist is a brilliant doctor who explained everything and encouraged me to take care of my health more seriously. He was the one who synthesized all that was possibly happening to me. He had the best bedside manner, and I wanted to hug him. (I have previously been known to hug a specialist, my Dr. House, who diagnosed me of an ailment I was suffering from since birth, which was the precursor to this saga.) He adjusted my medication and prescribed the proper heart rate for when I am exercising and when I am at rest. He also ordered more tests, as I had unexplained bleeding. He also asked me to see an obstetrician-gynecologist, and he happened to know of a good one, his wife, whose clinic was just next door. After weeks of queuing up at doctor's offices, I was really happy to be the first patient of the OB-GYN. She ordered more ultrasound tests.

I completely detached from job hunting as it was too much to handle. I just sent my resume whenever a friend referred me to an opening, but did not anymore stress over it. I accepted a project but had to resign because I was neither fit nor ready to work. I then watched my diet and took up zumba classes on top of my regular walking. I also went with my parents to the mall week after week to watch movies and enjoy my unplanned vacation.

The tests had to be timed and one by one, I was cleared. My friend, a radiologist, did an ultrasound test of my liver, kidney, and bladder and did not note anything unusual. Then a harrowing experience with an OB sonologist yielded news that there was some improvement in my ovaries since my last ultrasound. My iron levels and this thing called electrophoresis were the last scheduled tests before I returned to the hematologist. I got the results last Friday and the other day, returned to the hematologist. She confirmed that my anemia was not causing the hypertension, and that I had something that 1/3 of Filipinos suffered from, alpha thalassemia trait (yes, I love talking medical now, after reading and watching "The Fault in Our Stars"). She even took me off medication.

I was so happy after that last consultation but could not help thinking, what was that all about? Why did I have a grand hospital tour since March? Why did I have to go through so many tests? My parents said that they were thankful that nothing was seriously wrong with me physically, that I did not need to go through surgery. At least when I start my new job and my new life as a 40-year old woman, I could embrace a healthier me.

I still have to go back to the cardiologist and report all these, plus my exercise activities. I will do it after this week of job applications, which thankfully kept moving even without my deliberate attention, and after my short break to try the simple life in the province.

I have also been in touch with my spiritual director, the best doctor of all, who as a psychologist can manage my intellectual and mental state, and as a priest is able to check my emotional and spiritual balance. He is the one who invited me to look at the blessings of turning 40, of knowing myself better and being stronger after so many trials. (After reading this, he mentioned that he was also going through his post-turning-40-transition. He is really the perfect companion for this journey, and I am sad that he is leaving the Philippines soon for further studies. The lessons I have learned from him were timely, bordering on perfect.)

It has been a tough journey, and in fact I am still dealing with a lot of backlog, but I am now able to celebrate more the gift of life. The other day, as I was eating strawberry ice cream with some friends, which was a favorite but something I had had to give up for health reasons, I felt happy. I knew who were with me in sickness and in health. More than the doctors, my family and friends have been a great source of strength and courage.

I look forward to the next chapter of life, which is coming very soon. I put all my trust in God, who has been with me, and who has gone there before me.


Anonymous said...

Ate Ella!!! I enjoyed reading this!! Grabe! I had no idea you went through all this!

Unknown said...

Adamus! Ganun talaga pag tumatanda. Hahaha. Ang importante, sabi ko nga, ay wag magmukhang matanda. Kaya zumba pa kami! :)