Even as a little girl, I was always told that I had a vivid imagination and a flair for the dramatic. By the time I was five, my neighbor Mr. Padden referred to me as Morgan Fairchild. I had no idea who that was, but the name sounded pretty glamorous so I just rolled with it.
My more reserved parents found my dramatics amusing…to a point. They started using phrases like “tone it down” when I took to tap dancing in the classroom and stripping at family barbeques. Another conduit for my creative juices was feigning illness.
Well, not exactly feigning…most of the time I was convinced that I DID have malaria, typhoid, or Mountain Fever, but I blame that on an overconsumption of Little House on the Prairie. Other times I just was angling for a way out of taking my math test. Eventually I became the Kid Who Cried Cholera one too many times, and my sudden symptoms of delirium and sensitivity to light were often met with threats skepticism.
My parents became skilled at identifying the mornings I was reenacting the death scene from Terms of Endearment. Now, as a mother of a 5 year old drama queen perpetually plastered in self-applied Barbie Band-Aids, I often hear myself advising Emma to “tone it down.”
My problem now, in regard to my OWN health and body, is toning it down TOO MUCH. My 34 year old body sends me signals, and I tend to admonish its cues – addressing my adult self the same way I would lecture a 5 year old grappling with fact versus fantasy.
As I mentioned two weeks ago, I returned from a trip to Mexico with some…intestinal distress. Because I am colon-less and prone to dehydration, my doctor ordered some blood work to make sure my electrolytes were not too out of whack. Worst case scenario, I might need some IV fluids to get myself properly lubed up. So I packed up Phoebe and her arsenal of books and snacks and journeyed over to Quest Labs. I had the blood drawn and went on with my day, grateful that Phoebe didn’t break any test tubes or poop up her back in the waiting room.
A few days later, while scraping dried peanut butter off of the kitchen chairs, my doctor calls me.
“Well, your electrolytes do not look too bad.”
“Oh, good! So no IV fluids?”
“No…no IV Fluids….but…”
Never a place in conversation where you want to hear a “but.”
“But your hemoglobin is 7.”
“Is that bad?”
“It’s supposed to be 13.”
“Oh….well, that’s weird.”
“Yeah, that’s really low. You might need a blood transfusion.”
All I could think about was the cocktail called a Transfusion. Was it vodka, grape juice and Sprite?
“You need to see a hematologist. Like, today.”
Yeah right. I’ll squeeze it in right between reading a story to Emma’s kindergarten class and Phoebe’s naptime. And I was planning on making split pea soup….and I need to be here in time for the bus….and Emma really needs a haircut…and I don’t want to bother Phil at work…
Food for thought: If a doctor called and said your child needed to see a hematologist TODAY, would you be thinking about sorting laundry or soaking legumes? I doubt it. You would be in the car faster than you can say “fax the referral.” So why do we fail to treat our own health with the same kind urgency?
Thanks to a husband with his head screwed on straight and a very dependable babysitter, I made it to the hematologist: a straight talking, no bullshit FEMALE hematologist wearing bookish horn rimmed glasses and badass black boots.
“Wow, how long have you felt like krap?”
“Well, with a hemoglobin of 7.1, you must really feel like shit. Do you have headaches?”
“Cold and tired all day?”
“Shortness of breath? Heart palpitations? Leg cramps? Light headedness?”
“Ok, well then what did you think was going on? Why didn’t you tell someone?”
“Well…I guess I thought I was depressed. I mean, I had surgery…and then my aunt died suddenly…”
More Food For Thought: When men get sick, they head straight to bed like a bear to its cave. They sleep, they moan, they hock up phlegm. Maybe they will even call the doctor to score a Z-pack. I can say with some assurance that they don’t lie there thinking, What’s my problem? I really need to snap out of this. Maybe I need Prozac. But I digress.
“Uh, no. Most likely you either lost part of your terminal ileum during your bowel resection, which is one of the two major sights in your body for iron and vitamin B12 absorption, resulting in anemia. You are going to need to get IV iron treatments for at least 8 weeks.”
As women, we are inundated with Oprah-isms about self-care and “listening to your body’s messages,” but I think it all sounds like a bunch of new age bullshit unless you really recognize WHY you ignore those messages. One woman may neglect her health because she is too busy juggling a career and a family. Another is so focused on the needs of her children or husband that her own health falls off the radar screen. In my case, I heard the messages, but then added layers of judgment (a habit my friend Jennifer calls “dragging in the entire state of Delaware”) to a straight forward medical problem.
Regardless of the reason, the solution is the same: cultivate self-worth. I need to take care of myself in the same loving way I would my mother or sister or best friend. I have to trust that when something feels off, it means it probably is. I have no problem speaking up for my children, so why not advocate for myself with the same ferocity?
Because if I don’t….who will?