Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Defending Invisible Illness

"You don't have anything wrong with you. You have no issue walking." he said with dismissing disdain for what I had shared as I tried to empathize with him.
My word alone that I have a chronic illness wasn't enough for another person with chronic illness too.
Mine just happens to be invisible.

Sadly, I've become accustomed to others looking at me and automatically judging that I couldn't possibly have health problems due to my appearance and age. It is highly frustrating and bothersome at times but for the most part I've learned to shrug it off. After all, I do have an invisible illness. Others aren't able to visually see that my body isn't able to absorb nutrients fast enough to keep up with my Short Bowel Syndrome (SBS) and that I frequently experience chronic nausea and pain. Or that my activities are limited and I have to carefully plan out my activities around restroom access. On occasion others may witness my difficulty walking when I'm experiencing a severe flare up of my SBS when I'm forced to use the restroom every 5-10 minutes for hours and my body becomes so sore I can barely walk even if I wanted to as movement agitates my short bowel particularly during a flare up. Nor are others aware of my past medical treatment for colon cancer and the complications experienced or the future risk of additional cancers and complications.

It's not right for others to make assumptions and judgements about what a person may be
experiencing based solely on looking at that person. But it is understandable that others wouldn't be aware without asking. It's harder to understand though when the person judging another also has their own chronic illness. Those of with chronic illness tend to bond with others with chronic illness as we find understanding, comfort, and safety amongst each other. So we don't expect someone in a similar situation to judge us by looking at us in the same way as others without chronic illness frequently do.

There's no question that continued education and awareness is necessary outside of the chronic illness community. Occasionally we're reminded that continued education and awareness is also required within the chronic illness community.

When sharing with others we need to weigh our timing and our content. With many things in life, there's a right time and a wrong time for anything and this includes our education efforts. If it's the wrong time, our "audience" may not be as receptive as other times. Assessing the moment and the surrounding circumstances can help us gauge the right timing. Determining what and how we say will vary from situation to situation but is nonetheless important. We don't want to present ourselves as victims or as comparing ourselves to another's experiences.

We want to be understood in our own right while respecting and gaining common ground with others. During the in between time of progression, it's important for our own peace of mind and well-being to remember that others are not as open to understanding another's chronic illness and becoming angry and hurt in response is not helpful. Instead, let us try not to take this personally but rather offer the understanding that we are not receiving from these individuals. And in the meantime may we enjoy and encourage one another in our trials.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Iron Infusion

I was directed to a door to the treatment area. I quickly surveyed the large room as I slowly, nervously walked to the nurse's station to check in. I was by myself this time. I was determined to chip away at my PTSD. I must have picked a good time, there was hardly anyone there. Large recliners lined the walls, framing the room with sectioning lines created by more recliners. Each recliner had its own IV pole. "This your first time here?" a burly man asked. "Yes" I sheepishly answered. I was directed to sit anywhere of my choosing. Surveying the room again, I picked the recliner tucked away in the corner. I'll feel safer there, I reasoned. Positioned in front of a flat screen TV and a wall of snacks, protein drinks, coffee and water machines. I was impressed with the effort to maximize comfort. I waited for a nurse to start my IV, all the while trying to remain composed. I had never attended a medical procedure on my own before. While I waited, a few cancer patients began arriving, easily picking out their chairs, visiting with others. This was routine for them.
I sat quietly observing, scared and pondering.

I was having my first IV Iron Infusion with a second infusion scheduled a week away. With tablets I managed to increase my hemoglobin from 9.2 to 11.4 with an iron saturation of only 3%. I've been lucky to have my hemoglobin reach 12 on occasion. I decided I would undergo the trauma of IVs to see what a high hemoglobin felt like. An experience I haven't had in over 20 years.

It took 3 attempts for an IV to be started. Not necessarily uncommon for me. My emotions were being rubbed raw. Years of medical trauma was rushing back over me and without any notice the tears began streaming from my tightly shut eyes. I didn't even realize I was crying until I felt the warmth of my tears trickling down my cheeks. My psyche couldn't take anymore evidently. I began to doubt myself and my ability to attend medical procedures alone. Maybe this wasn't such a great idea to come alone. I can't take this. I don't know if I can withstand 4 sticks....no 6. I've withstood 6 before....6 and I'm done with this.

3rd stick was the charm. I was warned not to move due to the positional nature of the 3rd IV. Like I'm moving with an IV in anyway, ha. I sat perfectly still as the reddish brown iron began to pump into my arm. My attention brought back to the cancer patients who primarily make up the composition of patients there. I scolded myself for letting my PTSD triggers get the best of me. There I sat with cancer patients who endure IVs and chemotherapy on a regular basis just to attempt to survive what is attacking their bodies and there I sat crying over pediatric needle sized IVs.

15 minutes or so passed and I began to feel overly tired as the iron bag drained itself. This was followed by saline pumping in me to be observed for allergic reaction. This, this is why I thought I could attend on my own. I didn't want to burden anyone with a 15 minute procedure. Granted it took 45 minutes to start the procedure and have a working IV. In my drowsy state my confidence returned. I can do this on my own again next week. I'll try not to let myself cry. I'm stronger than my PTSD, I tell myself.

Bruised, sore, and tired I left to return to work. A coworker explained to me it's normal to feel tired after receiving iron but I should notice an increase in my energy within a day or two. So far I haven't noticed a difference in my energy but remain hopeful as I prepare for my second iron infusion just a few days away.