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Not Healthy Enough

June 14, 2011
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I consider myself a healthy person. I eat well, I exercise, and I get plenty of sleep. I don’t smoke and I rarely drink. Ever since I made the life changes necessary to get healthier, I’ve seen the rewards in both my every day life and my trips to the doctor’s office. More energy, good blood pressure and cholesterol, a supposed reduced risk of cancer and other diseases. All good stuff, right?

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Then, one random Sunday morning in February, I had my first ever medical emergency, and it completely shook my perception of myself as “healthy.”  I woke up suddenly, felt like I was going to be sick, and within minutes, I blacked out on my bathroom floor. When I came to, I realized that I needed immediate help.

For the first time in my life I dialed 911, and within minutes there were paramedics at my door, ready to take me to the hospital. They loaded me into the ambulance, hooked me up to an IV, and checked all my vital signs. At this point, I was starting to feel slightly better (“better” meaning I no longer felt like I was going to throw up and I had stopped sweating profusely). It was then that one of the paramedics turned to me, smiled, and said, “You’re a runner, aren’t you?” I was taken aback, and I asked how she knew. “Your blood pressure,” she responded. “It’s below normal, but in a good way. Runners generally have lower resting heart rates than non-athletes.” The irony of a medical professional commending my health as she accompanied me to the ER was not lost on me.

Once I got to the hospital, the doctor assigned to me ran a battery of tests and ruled the major things out as quickly as possible. Within minutes, he confirmed that I hadn’t had a heart attack, and he was pretty sure I hadn’t had a stroke either. After my blood work came back, he also confirmed that I wasn’t pregnant (something that apparently everyone thought was the most likely option. Really? If pregnancy involves randomly blacking out for no reason, I’m not sure I’m up for that game).

So? What was the issue? After checking my blood work, the ER doctor could only confirm that the levels of potassium, magnesium, and calcium were far below normal. He asked me what my normal diet was like and when I told him, he ruled out dietary causes. At this point, he told me that there wasn’t much more he could do for me. He prescribed me loads of the things I was low on, told me to check in with my primary care doctor ASAP, and sent me on my way.

What happened over the course of the next month and a half was beyond frustrating for me. My doctor, after running several blood and urine tests, could only confirm that major things weren’t wrong with me (my kidneys weren’t failing, my thyroid was working normally, etc). Obviously this was good news, but it was hard for me to accept that there was nothing I could do to figure out what had happened or what measures I could take in order to make sure it never happened again. I also made the awful mistake of trying to self-diagnose myself via the internet. Worst. Decision. Ever. Over the course of that month, I was convinced I had every incurable disease the medical profession has identified.

The “end” result, after several consultations, phone calls, and tests was that my platelet levels were significantly below normal. According to my doctor, the only time this will become an issue is if I suddenly start bleeding from my gums or minor scrapes and cuts won’t clot (apparently, these are all signs of leukemia?). Other than that, she said we’ll recheck my levels at the end of the summer and proceed from there.

I know all of this is good news; according to my doctor at this point, I am still (as far as we know) healthy, and maybe all of this was a fluke. However, I couldn’t shake that awful feeling that I had all through the months of February and March when my body felt completely foreign to me. I was exhausted for days after my stint in the ER, and I was hesitant to begin working out again. As sure as I am that much of it was psychological, I felt fragile and was afraid of pushing myself too hard.

The worst part was, I was angry with my body. This was a huge downturn for me, mainly because I had been so PROUD of my body for the six months prior to this whole fiasco. I was so proud that I had trained for a half marathon, and that I had completed the race under my goal time! I was so proud that I had maintained my weight loss for nearly five years! I was so proud when my doctor praised my healthy cholesterol levels! And now, after doing everything “right,” I felt like my body was failing me, and it seemed there was nothing I could do about it.

Now that a few months have passed, and I feel back to my “old” self, it’s interesting for me to look back on this past winter in retrospect. I know I was being hard on myself, but I also recognize that this is a frustration that many people must feel on a regular basis. I know it’s one my dad felt when he, an avid exerciser, was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma at the age of 38.

While my situation was obviously (and thankfully) not this dire, I get how frustrating it is to know that you are doing everything in your power to stay healthy when all of a sudden all of that work seems like it was all for naught. It definitely threw a wrench in my mindset for a while there, but I realized that there are simply things that are out of my control. And for a control freak like myself, this was quite the wake up call.

I still exercise and eat healthy on a daily basis, and I know those things are doing their part in keeping me healthy. But now there is that part of me that realizes that, unfortunately, those things won’t necessarily keep me safe from every health issue out there.

Have you ever been a situation where you felt like you were no longer in control of your body? How did you handle it, both mentally and physically?

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Nick permalink
    June 18, 2011 3:33 pm

    I’m starting to get mad at my body for not being able to handle the stress of grad school. Like last year when I got shingles–how stupid was that? =P

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