I have a dirty little secret.
So many people share my secret, but most of them are reluctant to tell anyone.
See, if people knew, bosses might fire them. Employers would be reluctant to hire. Friends might think them lazy, whiny, or self-centered. Well-meaning family members might try to monitor food intake and exercise output. People on Facebook might give UNSOLICITED medical advice.
(Yes, those are shouty caps. Yes, that was worthy of shouty caps! I can't stand when a non-medical professional tries to give me medical advice. Even if they are right, they don't know my medical history or current medications. Please remember that nothing I am writing here is medical advice nor am I trained in medicine. I am just telling my story.)
I suffer from underlying, serious medical conditions.
In particular, I have had asthma for a long time. I have many other things going on, but asthma is the one that, until last weekend, interrupted my life the most.
People don't think there is a stigma related to something like asthma, but just watch what happens when someone takes out an inhaler during a Pilates class. Everyone stops to check on you. Everyone. It's horrifying, but the truth is that Pilates class is great medicine for my asthma, and an inhaler stops the attack. No big deal. Certainly not worthy of star treatment from the aerobics instructor. So I stand there - still the fattest person in the class - bright red and trying to make sure my hair isn't sticking up and my belly is still tucked in. People mean well. They care.
I just want to hide.
But I am an adult about it (even if my inner child is throwing a leave-me-the-heck-alone fit).
I simply note the asthma attack in my planner. Go to the doctor? Note in my planner. Get a cold? Note in my planner.
Last week, my body upped the ante.
I was getting treatment for some on-going breathing issues at urgent care when the entire left side of my body tingled and went numb, especially my extremities. I freaked out. I was alone, and I couldn't talk, so I crawled to the door. I banged and a nurse came.
They decided I had hyperventilated and sent me home.
I went to my pulmonologist for a second opinion. I was three days into antibiotics and a steroid shot, still exhausted and having asthma attacks, and very forgetful. I would forget what I was doing or saying, right in the middle of doing or saying it. Surely, the pneumonia was getting worse.
I told him about the struggle this week. I told him that a couple of times, sitting on the couch, my leg went to sleep even though I was not sitting on it. I told him my extremities keep getting tingly and sometimes numb - because, I insisted, I was so tired.
Probably not the pneumonia with secondary asthma that I got diagnosed with at urgent care, he declared. Instead, a simple bronchitis, a bit of an infection (white cell count confirmed), and secondary asthma.
Oh, and stroke.
Mini-strokes, or transient ischemic attacks, to be specific.
He rushed me up to my internist and ran some tests to confirm.
Without treatment, recurrent TIA attacks have about a 33% chance of being followed, within one year, by a stroke that can cause permanent damage. (TIA damage is temporary and subsides.)
The treatment, for me at age 40, is pretty simple. Lose weight (okay, that part is NOT simple at all), walk 30 minutes minimum daily, and take a coated baby aspirin. (I also got a not-so-healthy dose of more steroids, some blood pressure pills since steroids whack out my blood pressures, and antibiotics for the infection.)
If you are still reading, thank you. It's truly scary to talk about serious health issues. But for my Loyal Readers, this blog is not really about my health secrets.
How My Planner Saved My Life:
It's about how my planner saved my life.
Since I was struggling with memory, I had been writing everything down. My symptoms, what I ate, doctors' appointments, medical intake.
My doctors were able to use my logs to recreate exactly what happened.
Also, I always bring my planner to the doctor. I always write down everything she says and I always have an updated medication and surgery list in my planner.
When sitting on my regular internist's exam table after being rushed upstairs to her by my lung doctor, she asked about my medications. I couldn't remember where my planner was.
It was, as always, sitting next to me in my purse. But I couldn't say that.
She panicked (in that calm, scary, competent doctor way). She urgently asked about numbness. "Yes, on my left side." She asked about my planner again. She said, "you always know where your planner is. You are having trouble stating it. This is an altered state for you."
Yes. I nodded. She was correct. And I could nod, as the numbness subsided, but still not find the words.
(My children were in the room. She calmly had a nurse distract them. Thank goodness.)
She knew then that I had not hyperventilated. She knew the lung doctor was guessing correctly. I was having a series of little strokes.
Even if you have a terrific memory (I have a gifted-level IQ, four degrees including a law degree, and memorized Shakespeare for fun as a teenager), having a place to write things down is ESSENTIAL is something bad happens to you medically. You might not be conscious. You might not be able to speak. You never know what condition you will be in.
THE ULTIMATE GUIDE TO USING YOUR PLANNER IN A MEDICAL CRISIS
*Bring your planner with you.
That means everywhere, but especially to the doctor.
If you don't have a planner and your medical situation gets serious or chronic, consider at least a small notebook. You cannot write all of the doctor's instructions down on your cell phone!
*Write it down.
Don't just write during medical crises. Like doctors and nurses do, chart your own health somewhere in your planner.
TIP: Do the same for your children and your dependents.
*Schedule regular check-ups, even when you are healthy.
My internist knew something was wrong because she knows me.
My altered state was much like that of a normal, average-intelligence adult, but that is abnormal for me. It was not severe enough for anybody but my husband and my doctor to even see. (I was vaguely aware of it, but too tired to care.)
*Make an emergency page in the FRONT of your planner.
Note in it where to find your current list of meds, your current diagnoses, and your emergency contact. Note your doctors' names. If you would put it on an emergency bracelet, it goes here. If you wouldn't, consider doing so.
TIP: Just cut out your med list and diagnosis chart from the paper the doctor's office gives you and glue it to your first page of your planner. Add a red medical cross on top. Make it OBVIOUS to emergency personnel digging through your purse for clues!
*Keep an updated meds list.
We think the steroid shot that I got (and needed, desperately) triggered the first TIA. It was a ONE TIME med. It was still on my list, along with the time that I took it.
*Use your monthlies for medical appointments.
Please don't skip annual visits. My internist sees me - the healthy me - about twice a year. Once a year, I go for a check-up. About one more time, I go for a cold or a fractured hand or some other clumsiness.
*Use your weeklies to schedule tests, treatments, and tasks related to controlling your medical treatment.
TIP: If you aren't a paper planner person, please at least put all this information in your phone. Remember, though, without a password, emergency personnel cannot access your phone.
Exercise logs, food logs, medical symptom logs - all of these can help your doctors.
I'm going to be fine. I'm doing everything that I am supposed to do.
And I'm not hiding my struggle, not because I think people will see me differently, but because I think healthy people (and sick people) can benefit from the lessons that I learned.
But I still hate being out of breath in exercise classes, just so you know. So if you see me, give me an extra smile of support. I'm working harder than you think.
Thank you so much for the love, prayers, and offers of help that came my way during my medical issues this month. My friends and family have proven that they are even more valuable than my planner!
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