Listen Up People!

WHACK, WHACK, WHACK (sound of wooden pointer hitting a desk) “Listen up people!” my history teacher yelled to an over crowded junior high class to get our attention. No this is not about my history class or that teacher, it’s about the importance of listening.

Case in point.  I got as sick as I have ever been this week. Gradually, over a number of days the previous week, I felt tired, weaker, achy. I thought that my age was really catching up with me despite my commitment to exercise, a healthy diet and a regular bedtime! Little did I know what was in store. High fevers, night sweats, extremely painful joints, all unexplained by anything. Did I get bitten by a tick and not know it? Did I have some strange virus not yet known to man? No one could feel THIS sick and still be walking. Somehow I felt somewhat better during the day as long as I planned in a nap.  Mid week I even went back to a rigorous travel day, thinking I had “broken the fever” because of the profuse sweating of the previous night.

I finally succumbed. I had no choice. I had to cancel my long awaited writers workshop at Wiawaka House, a women’s retreat on Lake George in the Adirondacks. I cried. I called my regular primary care provider to find she wasn’t available. Would I take an appointment with someone else? Did I have a choice? Anyone, please!

I have learned to be a good observer of the messages of my body (whether I want to ignore them or not is another question) and an excellent advocate. This grew from working for primary care physicians for five years, being the clinic coordinator of a sexually transmitted disease clinic, caring for my parents during their long illnesses, being a mom, and having my own health issues. I know how to report signs and symptoms.

Back to my story. I was shown into a room. Vitals taken. The health care provider who saw me seemed to be listening and caring. He took my history did a cursory exam. He took a throat swab for strep despite my having no soreness. He had me pee in a cup, made sense, could be raging kidney infection, though I think I’d have been dead already. We talked a few minutes about ticks and Lyme disease. Yes, I’m outdoors; yes, I’ve found ticks on me. No, I don’t have a bullet rash; yes, I do know rash only occurs in 75-80% of Lyme cases.

Did I mention fever went as high as 102.7?

He gave me lab slips for routine blood work and Lyme titer. With the holiday weekend the Lyme test would be back on Tuesday, only five more days of suffering. Being the advocate that I am, even in the state I was in, I asked for prophylactic treatment for Lyme, “just in case”.  My husband had received an antibiotic with NO symptoms, simply the panic of finding two newly attached vermin snuggled into his chest hair. “No”, he said casually, with a smile, “you don’t need it. It’s just a virus. You’ll have to wait it out. I did the titer just to rule out Lyme.” I argued, he held firm. Pat on the head. Go home little girl. The message was clear. I was being dismissed.

I called my regular provider the moment I could the next morning. I sobbed as I told her what happened.  She asked quick, concise questions (I could tell she was concerned and angry.) She got me in two hours later with another colleague, as she had no openings. This time I was treated with care. This time I had a thorough exam and evaluation to determine that this was no virus.  I was told that two illnesses are presenting with these symptoms in our community this year. Mycoplasma pneumonia and Lyme Disease. Fortunately both are treated with the same antibiotic, which was instantly faxed to the pharmacy where my dear husband was waiting to bring it home.

Lesson? Listen to your body. Don’t tough it out when it’s screaming HELP! to you. Don’t take NO for an answer. You know your body. No one else knows it as well as you do. If what you’re being told doesn’t ring true with your experience of yourself, either that person ISN’T LISTENING, is terribly ill-informed or has decided that your a drama queen (or king).

I was in no condition to argue further.  I had really trusted that I would be well-cared for. Most of the time I am.  Just in case, I have created a mantra for doctor’s visits: Listen to ME, listen to ME, listen to ME, I’m right here, listen to ME.

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