I have a love/hate relationship with our health care system. And since it seems to be on everyone’s mind these days, this morning I was doing a little reflecting…
About six years ago I got sick. It turned out to be something that could be fixed. And for that, I love our health care system. Technology has made it so that we can fix things, repair things, replace things, in ways we almost never imagined possible.
But here’s what happened to me along the way…I’ll try to keep this short, but it’s a long story.
I was 41 at the time. The first thing I noticed was that I couldn’t make my normal run around my block. I couldn’t breathe, and if I finished, I got tunnel vision and felt like I was going to pass out. And then I would be extremely exhausted. (Usually I’m energized.)
Then I noticed that I got out of breath after climbing a short flight of stairs. And I was dizzy a lot. Nauseous. About half the time I ended up back in bed. And I should add that I take pretty good care of myself in general, eat fairly healthy, exercise regularly, etc. So there wasn’t any obvious reason for the way I was feeling.
I went to the doctor. I could tell right away she didn’t take me very seriously. My blood pressure, usually quite low, was higher, but still within normal, so that was dismissed. “Do you drink enough water?” was one of the first questions she asked me. She started with blood work: normal. And then she decided it must be acid reflux disease. She gave me a prescription, although I insisted that wasn’t the problem. No results. I was tested for asthma. Normal.
At one point, after several more fruitless tests and visits, I was asked by my doctor, “Do you think you’re just getting older?” Seriously? You’re telling me that in one year’s time I have aged so much that, at 41, I can no longer run around the block?
Around this time I started looking on the internet. Which can be a big mistake, because you suddenly find that you might have every horrible disease known to man. However, in my case, I figured out my problem. Sort of.
When I punched in all my symptoms, the thing that kept coming up was kidney failure. I mentioned this to my doctor. She instantly waved it aside, saying that would have shown up in my blood work. Instead, she ordered a full heart workup that included being injected with something nuclear, yes, nuclear, and then a scan that created a three dimensional image of my heart. I can only imagine how much that cost. They put me on a treadmill to stress my heart, only they finally had to tell me to stop running because nothing was happening. Because there was nothing wrong with my heart. Every test came back normal. They put me on beta blockers anyway. After that, I was tested for multiple sclerosis. Normal.
At around this time, my doctor, clearly stumped, told me to just keep looking on the internet. She actually said that. She also said that sometimes weird things like this happen and they just get better on their own. She then scheduled an upper endoscopy, as she clearly still thought I had acid reflux. I called the day before the procedure and told her I didn’t want to do it because I was sure it wasn’t reflux. After a little back and forth, I let her convince me to go through with it. I went. It was normal.
But the doctor that performed it said he wanted to check my gall bladder, just in case, and scheduled an ultrasound. I knew it wasn’t gall bladder either, but, desperate, went through with it anyway. During the ultrasound, the technician said something to the effect of: “Are you having any problems with your kidneys?”
I just looked at her, and she said, “Your right kidney is huge.”
At this point I almost jumped up off the table and hugged her. She couldn’t tell me any more, but when the doctor called with the results, I actually said, “I can’t tell you how happy that makes me!” Long pause. I said, “Oops, that didn’t sound right, but I am just so happy that someone finally figured out what is wrong with me.”
One of my ureters was being blocked by a blood vessel (apparently that IS a getting older thing) and my kidney couldn’t drain properly. It was blowing up like a balloon. The more tea (or other fluids) I drank, the larger my kidney got and the worse I felt. I never made the connection. I thought drinking lots of fluids was good for you.
So, to end this saga, I had laparoscopic surgery that fixed my problem. I was down and out for a couple of weeks. Apparently, if that method hadn’t recently been developed, I would have had an incision going all around my torso, and they would have had to cut through my ribs. And I would have been down and out for 4-6 months.
So, you can see why I have the love/hate thing. There are so many miraculous things they can do these days: fix kidneys, replace knees and hips, repair bad eyesight, and even, finally, come up with a pill that cures migraines (my favorite besides the kidney thing.)
But first, they have to stop and figure out the problem. And that means taking the time to listen, really listen. I can’t imagine how much all those tests cost. But I know how many unnecessary pills I took. How many hours I wasted in doctor’s offices. If my doctor had just paused when I said “kidney failure,” if she had just investigated further, maybe all of that could have been avoided.
Yet I’m grateful, so grateful, that they were able to fix what ailed me. In many ways, that experience changed my life in a positive manner. I appreciate my life, my health, so much more now.
And I have a new doctor. But even though I really like her, I simply hate going to see her. For anything. I put it off unless it is an emergency. I have lost my faith in the system.
But not the technology.
And that’s a sad, sad state of affairs.