Until one day when even breathing felt like too much hard work I declared that this was madness. Because if someone that was otherwise healthy felt half this bad they'd be calling an ambulance or at the very least seeing their GP. Yet because I have a chronic illness and think I know what is going on I simply have to put up with it and keep quiet. Well I wasn't having that! It occurred to me how ridiculous it was to be suffering so much yet my GP obviously had no idea how bad things had got. And if I didn't tell them, how could they know?
What was more ridiculous is the fact that I've always had good experiences with my GP's, they diagnosed me early, have made referrals to OT, home visits and helped me find a good balance of medication. I've not had the bad experiences others write about and fear will happen again.
The thing is though regardless of your medical history we all need medical attention from time to time. Whether it's to simply review medication or make referrals because our illness is becoming more severe. We cannot do what I've actually seen some suggest in keeping clear of doctors. This is not to say we should accept poor treatment. Far from it. There are good doctors out there that do understand M.E, it's a matter of finding them. They're the ones we should be taking advice from, not some naysayers on the internet. It must be so hard on them too, to see so many patients asking for help but the science and research is so far not progressive enough to help them. When all they can do is help keep us 'comfortable,' try to manage our symptoms and rule out other things.
Because that is another reason why seeking medical attention can be so important. Sometimes it's not going to be 'just M.E' 'just fibromyalgia' or 'just IBS', etc etc. I think many people avoid getting help because they feel they'll be told it's just (insert known diagnosis). To be fair in some cases it will be. Or you will be sent for some standard blood tests or an ECG etc only for them to come back 'normal'. It can be disheartening, believe me I know how it feels, especially when you feel so far from normal. You just want answers. Or something with a quick/easy fix.
However, when it comes down to it this is also the best we can hope for. We already know we have that condition and probably have built up a wealth of knowledge and coping mechanisms to help. We also know recovery is an ongoing process filled with peaks and troughs. Having recently been on the other side, where test results came completely out the blue and needed looking into urgently, I can tell you being on that side of the fence is certainly not the better option. So my opinion on negative results has certainly become more 'phew what a relief.' Hopefully, I'm doing okay though.
Sometimes we might even get some answers that can be more easily solved, our iron or vitamin D levels might have dropped, which can be fairly common if we are housebound and not getting all the nutrients we need for whatever reason. So a short course of them can help us get back on track.
Then of course, like I said there are the times when it's not going to be just M.E etc. And obviously we can't know this until it's confirmed. But what I feel it's important to say is, we are not immune to other illnesses, chronic or short term. From common coexisting conditions such as many M.E sufferers also being diagnosed with fibromyalgia or POTS to infections, lumps and bumps and even mental health problems. Or heaven forbid breaking a bone or muscle damage, which when you think about how drained and weak we can be could easily be a possibility after a fall.
Which is why I totally rolled my eyes when I saw a post about the junior doctors strike making no difference to those of us with M.E because the NHS can't do anything for us. If only having M.E made us exempt from accidents or other illnesses. Sadly it doesn't. Of course in those situations we cannot always guarantee we will see a doctor or nurse that will also understand M.E or other condition, but in those instances we just have to remember that we know better and we're there for another reason.
This is why it's so important to be self aware and know what is normal for you. And that includes self examination of your bits and bobs too. I have a blog post explaining how to do this for women here and for men here. I think as long term sufferers we're pretty good at being self aware, because we are constantly self evaluating and assessing. Judging how many spoons we might have. Do we have enough to have a shower? Knowing when we need to stop and rest. The effects of PEM on your body and how it will differ from activity to activity. The difference between PEM and a relapse. The difference between a flare in M.E symptoms or a flare in fibromyalgia symptoms. You become an expert in you.
However of course there are going to be times when things feel brand new and out of the ordinary. Symptoms you may never have experienced. Symptoms that scare you, such as paralysis or feeling completely trapped in your body unable to communicate. And when you are treading that line between is this just another M.E etc symptom or something else, isn't it best to be on the safe side? Wouldn't you rather know for sure that it's nothing else on top of everything else?
Not long ago after I had been in a neurological hospital for a week I began to experience a dragging sensation in my face and my speech began to slur with it. It was something I've never experienced before and with this being a key symptom of a stroke you can bet I was spooked. And so even though I was struggling with PEM, I knew I had to get it checked out. Luckily it wasn't a stroke and thank goodness for that. It turns out it was a new PEM symptom, a reaction (or overreaction) of my diva body to having been in hospital for a week and only getting 10 hours sleep in that time, when usually that's what it needs a day. Did I feel better for knowing I wasn't having a stroke? Yes, of course. Did my doctor feel I'd wasted their time? No, they were concerned too and checked me over and spent ages on the phone to my team at the neurology hospital.
Sometimes, even though we're self aware we can also not pick up on some things because we're also so used to being in pain or other symptoms. These might mask other things that might be going on. I know someone that didn't pick up on a kidney infection until they almost got sepsis, which sadly could have been fatal, because back pain and fevers were common when they were flaring.
So my point with this blog post is, be vigilant with your health. Know what's normal for you and what isn't. And if you think something is amiss find out for sure. I know it's hard when you already feel so awful but you need to be safe. Find a good doctor and never think that you have to put up with bad treatment or poor opinion. Move on from them and block out their unhelpful comments. You know yourself and you know you are far from a lazy malingerer or hypochondriac. Because you really do need someone in your corner. I disagree that we do not need them because we all need medical care, whether it is for our chronic illness or for anything else that might come your way. Remember we can't get help if we don't at least ask. Don't suffer in silence. This is all part of treating yourself with love and respect, of wanting the best for yourself.
If anyone knows of a good resource for finding an understanding GP or medical professional please do share.
Take care everyone