My own personal wellness journey began about a year ago. I’d been working in an incredibly high stress environment for 4 1/2 years, and it was starting to show in my life. I was exhausted all the time, cranky, mildly depressed, and just overall feeling run down. You know that feeling where you’re just not yourself but you’re not quite sure how to fix it? That was me. It was hard to leave a job I had wanted since nursing school, but I knew it was time. After a lot of inner turmoil, I transferred into a much less stressful position. As I gradually decompressed from the last few years, I knew I had made the right decision. However, I had a lot to learn about the toll those years had taken on my body.
A few months into my new job, I was feeling somewhat better but still struggled with fatigue. It all came to a head one morning when we had an early staff meeting. As I struggled out of bed extra early that monday, I felt awful. The kind of awful when your body is screaming that you need to rest, get back in bed! Of course, I pushed through, figuring that by the time the staff meeting was over I’d be feeling better and be ready to tackle the day. I was still in the mindset that my own body came last in the list of priorities anytime work was concerned.
I was a few minutes late and the only spot left was in the corner of the room. There weren’t any chairs so I stood in the corner, trying to blend in with the wall and hoping no one would notice the pained look on my face. It was hot, a bit stuffy, and before I knew it, a wave of fatigue came over me. I started to lean against the wall, and then I passed out.
If you’ve never passed out in a room full of medical professionals, you might think its the perfect place to be, after all, you’ll get immediate medical attention. Sounds great, right? Well, that’s what I got alright. Half the room was full of nurses from the cardiac cath lab, whose immediate first thought is to check a pulse and run for the defibrillator, which is exactly what happened. I woke up to the sound of “code purple” being called on the hospital wide intercom (code purple means staff injury.) Now the entire hospital was alerted to my embarassing episode! One of the cath lab nurses was leaning over me saying “It’s coming in stronger now, her pulse is picking up again…” I can’t describe how mortified I was! I groaned and closed my eyes, willing this all to be a dream. Could there be any worse way to start a monday morning?! I should’ve just called in sick and gone back to bed. Note to self: listen to your body next time!
To make a long story short, after being hooked to a monitor that showed all my vital signs were fine, I finally convinced the team from the ER (all whom I knew on a first name basis, of course, even more embarassing) that I didn’t need to go to the emergency department, and yes, of course I would go take a pregnancy test, I left the meeting, which was still taking place. (I guess after ascertaining that I did indeed have a pulse and didn’t need defibrillation, my manager had decided to keep talking as if I wasn’t sprawled out in the corner on a monitor.)
I decided to stop by employee health and get my labs drawn, partly because I was wondering if I was anemic, and partly to escape my own embarassment. After getting my labs drawn, I was hooked up to an EKG. As the nurse practitioner looked at it, she told me that she’d like me to go see a cardiologist for further evaluation. Up until then I’d tried extra hard to be cooperative and a good patient (nurses are known for being terrible patients). At this point, I gave that up and started acting like a nurse again. I looked her right in the eye and said “Really? You honestly think that’s necessary? I’m 26 years old, I fainted in a hot stuffy room after standing for 30 minutes.” She looked away and mumbled something about an abnormality on my EKG, and wouldn’t make eye contact with me again after that. I asked her for a copy, which she gave me.
As I sat in the waiting room after my exam, I pored over my EKG. Sure enough, it showed a right axis deviation, an electrical variance that can be caused by a number of major disease processes that I knew I didn’t have. I knew there had to be some other perfectly logical reason why this was showing up. So I did what any patient does when confronted with something they need to know more about; I googled it. (Yep, nurses do that too.) Sure enough, right there on webmd, it explained that a right axis deviation was considered a normal finding in tall, thin people because of the way the heart sits in the chest. I wanted to do a victory dance in the waiting room, but I restrained myself, not wanting to lose the last shred of dignity I still had.
Finally, I was listening to myself and my instincts were confirmed. I didn’t need a cardiologist, and I certainly didn’t need the pacemaker or lifelong medication that my manager had suggested might be necessary. I decided then and there that it was time to start taking a more active role in my own health. There was no way I was going to see a cardiologist or have an electrophysiology study. Just to make sure I wasn’t missing something, I discussed it with a physician at work that I trusted, who agreed that a cardiology consult was unnecessary.
My heart was fine, but I knew that was something else going on, something much less dramatic but still needing attention. I decided to go see an oriental medicine practitioner to help me figure out the cause of my fatigue and “not feeling great”. And that’s where the adventure began.
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I-I took the one less traveled by. And that has made all the difference. -Robert Frost
(This post is linked to monday mania at The Healthy Home Economist.)