Getting Real: Why I Hate the Doctor
Getting Real is a series where I will be as candid and as honest as I can be about the issues and illnesses I face. Nothing is held back and you might hear an unpleasant truth or say “Hey I’m not alone.”
This one is about my anxiety and PTSD regarding my health, so consider this a warning if you suffer from the same thing.
The other day I had a doctors appointment. It wasn't even for anything crazy - I just needed a refill on a medication that I take whenever I get bad migraines – my abortive. It's pretty routine to have to set up an appointment to get this refilled because it's not just given out, and for good reason. Despite the absolute mundaneness of the visit, my anxiety was through the roof.
One of the strangest "side effects," if you will, of my brother dying is something that I did not expect in the slightest. We all know that grief comes with a lot of terrible things: anger, sadness, depression... and a slew of other unpleasant things that you think of when you hear the words grief, death or loss. One of those things that I didn't read about in all of those grief books or in the cards people wrote me was something that no one warned me about after he passed: the crippling anxiety and fear I have developed around anything related to the medical or health care fields. We are almost 2 years out from losing my brother and it has gotten better, But I'm definitely not there yet.
In order for you to understand this new-ish problem in my life I think we need to backup a little bit. Before my brother died we were in the hospital for a week with him. He was unconscious the entire time in critical condition. I got the call "You need to come to the hospital right now" and rushed with that God-awful gut feeling and a bag with a change of clothes to the emergency room to see my brother. There he laid, the tube down his throat, his hospital gown open and exposing his chest. As you can imagine it was the absolute worst moment of my life, there are not quite words to explain to you the agony in those moments - I remember it more than I remember almost anything else in my life. It is not hard to relieve. The images are vivid and clear, and in some ways I hope to never lose them. I remember erupting into tears, the next thing I remember is the beeping.
You know the sound. Beep, beep, beep. Anyone who's ever been in the hospital or watched an episode of Grey's Anatomy knows the sound. The wooshing of the ventilator and the beep, beep, beep of the heart monitor. That was the noise I heard for next week.I did not leave the hospital, I did not leave my brother's side. The beeping was constant, the wooshing became a steady reminder of his life as it hung in the balance. I was hyper aware of anything that seemed different, If I monitor sped up, if he moved a little, seemed to open his eyes, and later if the EEG produced any sort of wave - I wrote it down, I called the nurse, I did whatever I could do.
I was on it. Really this isn't anything new for me and my brother, I have watched over him like a hawk since he was born. I got in trouble for speaking for him. Now, he couldn't speak so I had to do it all for him, again. All my life I felt I had been protecting him from those who didn't understand what he had been through and how fragile his sweet soul was. In that week I became his care-taker immediately, alongside my parents and his nurses, I was sure I would catch a miracle. It's amazing how fast we can adapt in these situations, living in the hospital with my brother was my new normal instantly.
Anyways, thought my doctors appointment today. Sort of. Since I was about 13 I have had a debilitating fear of needles. I have a very high pain tolerance and that whole part of the needle thing doesn't bother me at all, but there's something about the loss of control and having something taken away or put inside of me that makes me feel incredibly uncomfortable. That being said I voraciously believe in the miracle and gift of vaccines, regularly have to get a tuberculosis test and I know these things are part of taking care of myself and correspond to the greater good. So I get shots. I don't get my blood taken. Every time I go to the doctor though, my anxiety takes me to the worst place.
Today at the doctor I had to wait.I Appointment is at 11:20 AM and I did not see the doctor until 12:20 PM.A busy doctors office and have wait, I get it I'm not really bitter about the weight.It's just that our give me so much time to panic that I could barely breathe by the time the doctor walked in.I didn't leave, and I didn't pass out and that's a big step because for the first year after I lost my brother I wasn't really capable of going to the doctor, and my health was severely suffering. During that time my migraines were worsening and had never been so nonstop. Eventually, Jerome had to convince me to go to the emergency room because I have had had a pain level 10 migraine that hadn't stopped in many days. My vision was going in and out I was unable to eat, drink or sleep.
If you have migraines you know how bad a bad one can be. I gave in, and we drove the hour (!!) to the best ER in the area. This was my first time back in the hospital, the last time had been holding my brother's hand after his heart stopped beating. It was hearing "he's gone." It was leaving without him. I remember walking into this ER room and feeling everything all over again in way I hadn't before. But this time I was in my brother's place.
I know now that this was a post- traumatic flashback. I've had a lot of therapy about this incident and I have a grasp on it now where I feel totally comfortable talking about it. Some people who deal with PTSD (my official diagnosis after the fact) can not speak on their flashbacks: never ask, never push them.
In the room, the nurse pushed the medicine she supposed to push, but this medicine had the side effect of anxiety that I was not informed about, and well, I freaked the hell out. I could not breathe. I was gasping for air an trying to tell Jerome that I couldn't breathe. The nurse ran in and suddenly I was hooked up to all those damn monitors. Beep, beep, beep. I was so sure I was dying. People die in hospitals all the time. I had seen it. Every time I drifted off, I felt that i was stopping breathing. I was fighting to stay awake and in my head: alive. Jerome says I was asleep this entire time, but I remember working so hard to hold my eyes open. I was sure that this is how my brother felt.
The obvious reality of that situation is that it is not how my brother felt. But my fear was real. In my head, with my severe anxiety and panic disorder, death was easy. I had seen it happen to the one person who for sure would out live me and experience life with me. It's hard to explain still why I am so paranoid, but my fear of death will be touched on in another post.
In the last year, with the help of my therapist, I have conquered a lot. But still, being in the hospital, hearing those beeps, and even certain smells immediately take me back to that week in the hospital with my brother. The alcoholic sterility of the smell of hand sanitizer can trigger a panic attack. "Who's dying?" my head will scream. It can take me be back in half a second to watching life leave him, begging him to wake up and the fear of losing him. In my (less than before) anxiety ridden head it feels like it's not crazy to think that something like that could happen to me. "What would my parents do?"
So, yeah. I'm afraid of the doctor. I used to not be. I'm getting better though, although I pray I don't need any lab work any time soon. Even I know how silly it can be, but PTSD doesn't mess around, and nothing about it is silly.
So anyways, today at the doctor, I held in my panic attack. I used my breathing exercises - I distracted myself. But I felt it creeping in. When the lady asked me if I was having any labs done, I had to quickly answer "no" and start taking deep breaths guided by an app on my watch. In my head, having blood taken could lead to so many outcomes that end in pain or death or a loss of control. I know it's not logical. I know it's not likely. I know my health is important.
I'm not shy and talking about my brother's death, not only is it cathartic, But I believe it is important not just for me and my family but in honor of my brother's life, his struggle and to prevent others having to deal alone with the issues he faced.
If you are struggling with abuse, addiction or are thinking about hurting yourself: you are not alone. You can call the Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255 24/7. You can also chat with them online here.
I'm totally not fine when it comes to the doc. None of us are totally fine (do you get it yet) But you all - I'm trying and that is enough.