It was a calm Monday morning in November when the realisation that I was having an illness recurrence set in. In just a few hours I had gone from being perfectly normal to having trouble breathing again. I was so breathless that I was not able to talk in full sentences without stopping in the middle to catch my breath. Trying to climb stairs that morning felt more like running a 5k. I knew I needed to get to the hospital ASAP, and that all other things would just have to wait until I get that situation sorted out.
In just a few hours, I had gone from being perfectly normal to having trouble breathing again.
So, I went to the hospital and got myself admitted. Within 12-hours of my presentation to the Emergency Department (ED), a confirmatory scan finally seals the diagnosis of a recurrence. It literally felt like I was hit by a tonne of bricks (or maybe that was just part of the symptoms). Hard as it was to hear it, I am glad that having the diagnosis guarantees me a standard course of treatment. I am also relieved that the diagnosis allows me to ‘mentally’ finalise all life decisions that I had left hanging before. I can move on now.
When I finally sat down to write this, it has been a week since I was discharged home. I was still having the symptoms and judging from the last episode, I might still have them two months down the road. But, I must say that I have bounced back pretty quickly this time – physically, mentally and emotionally. This has allowed me to digest everything that happened that day and start writing again. And nothing makes me happier. It is time to share with you what I’ve learnt along the way. Hopefully, you find these just as helpful as I did.
No time for self-doubt, get support
Because I have experienced similar symptoms when I was diagnosed a little more than a year ago, I still remember how it feels. The breathlessness, the heaviness on the chest, the dull chest pain all felt familiar. Recognising those symptoms had definitely helped me moved through the flurry much faster this time. But, despite that, I still doubted whether it was all real (thanks to the mental conditioning I endured with a bunch of doctors all those years ago). Note to self and others: Trust your gut feeling, and go to the hospital ASAP.
I admit that trying to overcome those self-doubts in my darkest hours was tough. I was not sure that I was ready to hear another “It was just in your head” from the doctors. But deep down, I was worried to stay at home and not knowing too. So, I came to my senses and recognised how those negative thoughts have the potential to make matters worse. In the end, I recruited support from close family members and friends who helped me put things back into perspective, which of course helped me tremendously.
Be your own advocate
Despite my chief complaint and previous history, I was initially triaged to Green Zone when I first arrived in ED. After I was up-triaged to Yellow Zone, I was told that I probably don’t need the gold-standard investigation because all other investigations do not point to the diagnosis. I knew I was being dismissed due to unexplained symptoms yet again. But I wasn’t going to buy into it and let the doctors disregard my symptoms. I decided that I’ve had enough and I knew instantly that I had to be my own best advocate.
I was determined not to let systematic weaknesses in ED make me walk home without a diagnosis that day. So, I began telling the doctors that I have experienced similar symptoms before and despite what everyone else thought at that time, a life-threatening diagnosis was clinched. Now that it was happening again, I highly recommend that they take those symptoms seriously. To tell you the truth, I initially thought it wouldn’t work. But, it did and it literally saved me. Sometimes you just have to fight your own battles.
Always count your blessings
The doctors finally agreed to perform the gold-standard investigation and before I knew it, I was in the CT scanner again. So many thoughts ran through my mind while I was lying quietly in that machine. I instinctively knew that my life was going to change, forever. I realised that if the scan were to show a recurrence, there won’t be an ounce of doubt left about the diagnosis and the type of treatment I would be getting. It’ll change drastically but it will minimise my risk of getting more recurrence in the future.
As you would expect, I was hardly surprised when the confirmatory report finally came in late that night. In fact, I was so relieved that I don’t have to walk around untreated like a ticking time-bomb anymore. It felt like a heavy burden just lifted off my shoulder and I can finally breathe a sigh of relief, pun intended. And with that discovery came an overwhelming sense of gratitude for all the ups and downs, the good and the bad circumstances leading up to that moment. I am indeed so blessed to have another chance of a lifetime to be better.
Before I wrap this up, I would like to extend my gratitude to my dear husband who has been with me through sickness and health, my family members for supporting me all the way, to friends who continue to be concerned over my health and to my readers who continue to allow me to share my micro-lessons and experiences in my bid to make patient experience better. I am indeed so blessed to have all of you in my life. Please feel free to share this article if you like. And don’t forget to subscribe so you won’t miss my weekly updates.