who the heck knows anything, anyway

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The Case of the Mystery Ailment(s)

Someone needs to write a guide for me. Two guides, actually:

1. How to gauge the badness of pain
2. When to go to the doctor

My experiences with medical doctors has been generally good. (I'm not going to talk about insurance here. I've had the whole range of experiences with that, being a US citizen in a time of healthcare transition. That can be a top for another time.) Most of my life has been spent with the same doctor--a family practitioner in Portland who treats every member of my immediate family--which makes me very fortunate, because she is an amazing doctor AND knows all of my hereditary red flags because she is extremely well acquainted with my family history. As a kid, I was lucky enough to pretty much never need a doctor. I can remember only one instance that required a doctor visit, outside of physicals and booster shots, and that one instance was cutting the tip of my thumb off. (It reattached).

The downside to being healthy and hardy as a kid is that, now that I'm in my mid-twenties, every time I have a weird ailment, I'm afraid of going to the doctor. I'm afraid of being weak, of seeming like a baby, and of wasting smart people's time when they could be saving an actual baby. There are probably a few psychological reasons for this (ex: Growing up without money meant we went to the doctor only for vaccines and life-threatening illnesses; A popular family saying was "Let me know when blood is coming out of multiple orifices," and I psychologically morphed that into "anything less than blood everywhere just means you're being a baby"; I have a pretty high pain tolerance--I think? at least, so I've been told?--so I can't effectively tell you how much something hurts until I'm sobbing and vomiting my brains out*; It took me like 8-10 years of insane OCD symptoms before I talked to my doc and got medication for it**).

Being in the UK has loosened me up a teensy bit in terms of seeking medical attention, due to the amazing NHS***. I've had to jimmy with my medication a few times, and I'm definitely reasonable enough to seek professional help/opinion for that. But Mental Health is sort of in my wheelhouse for knowing what is normal (for me) and what isn't, at this point. The issue here in the UK is, I think, a combination of lack of a regular doctor and subtle cultural differences (probably cost-related, too) surrounding patient-doctor interaction. It's not bad, just different.

Which brings me to the point:

Thrice, now, I have visited the doctors here (twice since January, how embarrassing) for Mysterious Ailments. The first was for sleep. Everyone who knows me knows that my sleep life is terrible and abnormal. The doctor didn't order a sleep study or anything--just told me that everyone is kind of different. (My body wants to sleep about 14 hours a day, which, in my opinion, interferes with my daily life, but I guess it's not deadly, so no one cares and everyone says they are jealous. Do not be jealous. Being awake for only 10 hours a day is a serious bummer, especially when you mostly sleep during daylight hours). The second was poop related. I wasn't formally diagnosed with anything so much as told "Yeah, maybe it's IBS, who knows, it'll probably go away." Ok, cool. It did go away. But it comes back sometimes. So probably IBS? But it goes away after a while, so why go to the doctor if they'll say the same thing? But I kind of want a diagnosis. But am I just being a baby? Maybe everybody poops that way.

One of my medical doctor friends here told me there's less interest in solving mysteries here. They are efficient and kind (bonuses, both, for if you have kiddos or grands to take care of), but if you're not bleeding out of multiple orifices, and you're a robust and non-feverish 26 y/o woman, they'll go the wait-it-out route. I get that. I appreciate it, even. (Hold up: do people ACTUALLY abuse medical systems by seeing the doctor for every little thing, or is that something the patriarchy tells us?? Seriously, wondering.) But what about those of us who don't understand our own bodies?

I went in today because last night I suddenly got this tenderness and pain in my abdomen, underneath/behind the lowest point of my ribcage. It was (is) on the left side, though, so I was confident it wasn't appendicitis, and I went to bed. I didn't sleep too well, but that's how I do (another medical mystery of mine that doctors don't really seem to worry about). I woke up this morning, and it still hurt. It still hurts now. I saw the doctor a couple of hours ago, and she was so sweet to squeeze me in last-minute (yes, I actually went to see the doctor), but she was like "welp, it's not your kidneys, soooo...just wait a while and see if it gets worse," and I was like "...how long should I wait if it keeps hurting?" and she smiled and shrugged and I said thanks for seeing me on such short notice. The one time I go to the doctor without waiting for a few weeks, and I should have just...waited a few weeks. Like always. Because I've never been sick, except for mentally, apparently.

This is not a rant about doctors and the services they provide--doctors are awesome mechanics for the human body, and they can't disassemble it to diagnose it--this is me complaining about how confusing it is to be the owner of one of those meat-sacks, the maintenance of which is integral to literally staying alive. What if I was having a heart attack, and I thought "Well, flip, this sucks but it'll probably pass in a minute. Hmmm, shoot, it still hurts, but this is probably normal." As a person with sleep and gastro issues (all mysterious), I often experience some shitty (lol), painful, exhaustion-promoting things, and I just roll with it, but they never really go away and my body feels sad a lot of the time. Is that just how a body works? Am I a hypochondriac baby?****

I read this super-scientific article, which addresses some of my questions, but fails to tell me how many of the See Doc vs Stay Home symptoms are relevant. Is 1 point for See Doctor equal to 1 point for Stay Home, or does 1 point for See Doctor mean Definitely See Doctor, or do the weights of each point vary in comparison to one another?

So someone, please, write me a manual. I love a good book. I love a good MEDICAL book. Give me a comprehensive guide to my body, to when pain means anything important, and to when I should see a doctor, because WebMD will just tell me I have lupus cancer and then my doctor will tell me it's nothing.

*and last time this happened, I did not see a doctor
**LIFE SAVER. Seriously.
***I said I wouldn't talk about insurance, but...I did get a Nexplanon implant + the procedure for free, soooooooo
****My mom called me a hypochondriac a lot as a kid, and I think my fear of becoming one has also been a factor in my lack-of-seeking-medical-attention