Something Has Changed Within Me

I returned my kittens today. I’m hoping this is just a short break, but I’ve learned that sometimes my breaks are longer than I’d like. The shelter has plenty of kittens in need of fostering right now, so I have hope that as soon as I am ready, there will be more of them.

The reason I am not taking more kittens right now is that I have a medical procedure coming up soon. On Thursday, I’m having a probe inserted for an Impedance Study. The idea is that they are going to measure reflux from my stomach into my esophagus (because my cardiologist believes that my chest pain is esophageal rather than cardiac). Originally, I didn’t want to do any of the gastroenterology tests. They are all invasive to some degree, two of them involve going back to eating gluten, and two of them involve general anesthesia (although they can be done together). My concern is two-fold: gluten is now thought to cause nervous system damage, and general anesthesia isn’t recommended unless absolutely necessary for someone who has nervous system damage, particularly if it’s the autonomic nervous system. I was just officially diagnosed with an autonomic nervous system disorder, so it just seems too dangerous to do these tests.

Despite me telling the scheduling people at the hospital that I wanted to put these tests on hold until some of my other studies have been completed, they started calling me at least every other day to request I schedule the tests. The first time, they caught me home alone and managed to convince me to at least schedule the Impedance Study. I justified it to myself (after the fact) by pointing out that doing at least one of these tests might prove to the cardiologist that my chest pain really isn’t esophageal in origin. This one only involves a numbing spray in my nose and 24 hours of wearing a probe (which I don’t imagine will be comfortable). If I am honest, I still have reservations about doing even this one. I’ve never complained of heart-burn, so why would this even be a consideration? I told them that removing gluten has solved most of my digestive issues. So why should I subject myself to this?

I have no good answer. I have some answers, but they definitely point to a weak character. I’m more and more certain by the day that I know exactly what is wrong with me, and now I’m really just looking for proof. There is a part of me that wants to be open to the idea that I am wrong, though, because if I can’t be talked out of the idea that something is wrong with me, well, that’s the definition of hypochondria. On the other hand, I’ve been told by more and more people (except for medical doctors) that if I think something’s wrong, and if I think the doctors have been missing something, then I shouldn’t stop until someone sees what I see, or can at least explain to me why I’m wrong in a way that satisfies me. It’s just that I grew up in a world in which the doctor is in a paternal role, and I feel like a naughty child challenging the doctor. I practically hear the parent voice in my head, “Don’t you back-sass me!”

On some level, I’ve been a bit demoralized, too. The sleep doctor scheduled several tests for me, including  an actigraph and a sleep study. He believes, however, that I am really suffering from a form of bipolar disorder that manifests as a sleep disorder. Here’s the thing – I have insomnia when I am taking too much thyroid hormone (defined by my heart racing all the time), and I have hypersomnia when I am hypothyroid (the only condition in which my heart stops the incessant racing). I don’t think he believes that there is a direct causal relationship. To reduce what I am going through to what is essentially a psychiatric diagnosis brings me right back to the “you’re not sick, it’s in your head” place. I think the actigraph is stupid, but it just involves wearing what amounts to a prison monitor an expensive watch for two weeks. The sleep study upsets me though, because they are taking me out of my regular environment and trying to make me sleep during specific hours, during which I may or may not be able to actually do so. They are going to stick electrodes all over me and measure brain waves while I (theoretically) sleep. They are also checking for sleep apnea (I’ve never even been accused of snoring, let alone waking up gasping for air…). Tell me, what is scientific about changing a person’s circumstances entirely and measuring what you find?

Throughout all of this, I’ve taken to trying to understand the current state of our medical system. I’m trying not to become a conspiracy theorist (although my husband might tell you that I am overly suspicious), but I have taken the time to read other people’s views of what is right an what is wrong with our medical system. Here are my thoughts in list form (and in no particular order):

  • On the physician level, I think most doctors at least go into the field with a general desire to help people.
  • The training that (specifically) doctors get, may not be coming from the best place. Med schools are funded by pharmaceutical companies, who essentially want to train these people to prescribe drugs.
  • The pharmaceutical companies have very little interest in cures. They keep making money if you keep needing their drugs. Sometimes, you need drugs to counteract the side effects of other drugs you are taking. And usually the original drug is prescribed before any other diet or lifestyle changes that could actually reverse disease are even attempted.
  • A lot of pharmaceuticals cause more harm than good. Avandia. Darvocet. Yaz. I’ve been on all these drugs. Two have been removed from the market, and one is under investigation for serious side effects. Drugs have to be proved dangerous to be removed from the market, rather than proved to be safe in the long-term before being released to the market. Pharmaceutical companies often suppress research that suggests their drugs are dangerous or ineffective.
  • On the other hand, some pharmaceuticals really do save lives. Antibiotics, used conservatively, have certainly been helpful. Their overuse, however, has created untreatable infections.
  • Vaccines are highly touted, even mandated, but there is little regard for the fact that some people cannot tolerate them. In addition, vaccines contain aluminum and mercury, known neurotoxins. The only reason for this consequences-be-damned push is profit. I’m not sure that I think vaccines do more harm than good, but I do believe that they should be a choice and that they should be used more judiciously.
  • Doctors are paid for prescribing more procedures and drugs, rather than for their time (there is an office visit fee, but it is a much smaller portion of their income). Maybe that’s why they prescribe what I consider “stupid” tests?
  • The average doctor interrupts the patient in 14 seconds. That suggests to me that the “average doctor” is more interested in getting you out the door than in figuring out what is really wrong with you.
  • Many whole body diseases are missed or even dismissed because of all the specialization in medicine. The over-reliance on technology also gets in the way of a good old-fashioned diagnosis.
  • I don’t think patients are given enough information to be able to make true “informed consent.” For example, did you know that birth control pills raise the cortisol levels in your body similarly to how steroids do? I didn’t either until I noticed that LabCorps listed this under the limitations of their blood test for cortisol. Long-term steroid use has bad consequences we should be aware of (especially immune consequences). Synthroid’s literature says that you should not use their product if you have an uncorrected adrenal problem, but no doctor (not even an endocrinologist) has ever mentioned this bit to me. I’m honestly not sure if most of them know. The contraindications show up on page one of the literature, starting near the bottom left (the font is microscopic, so zoom in). In this section, they mention that doctors need to pay attention to more than just TSH levels (T4 and T3, specifically), but only recently has a medical practitioner done this for me. Plus, wow, they discuss the relationship of thyroid hormone and heart disease a lot. Also, something I had to find out on my own.

All the above thoughts led me to feel a lot less trusting of the system. I found that I feel like one of a herd of cattle in the waiting room, especially at the hospital. I feel like no one is going to give me more than a cursory glance unless I start complaining – loudly. Even when someone is compelled to look again, I feel like the treatments and tests are ordered dispassionately, without regard to how they might affect me as a person, with all my quirks and unique history.

As I’ve spoken about these things to other people, I’ve started to feel angry. I started to think, “How dare any doctor suggest this is in my head after spending only a few minutes with me. They don’t know me. They can’t possibly know that.” I started to feel like I need to say “no” to more of these tests – the risks may just be theoretical for the prescribing doctors, but they are very real to me. I need to learn to feel less guilty when I find more relief with alternative medicine than with the pharmaceutical-driven one (many medical doctors and occasional strangers try to derisively tell me that the alternative care is at best placebo, when I can say for certain that it isn’t). I’m more educated than most, and I need to act like it.

I just feel it’s tough to be assertive when you’re trying to gain the cooperation of someone who holds the hammer on whether you will get the medicine or diagnosis you need. Being labeled “non-compliant” is devastating for someone with chronic disease, and a doctor can make your life very difficult by labeling you that way. They can tell you that you don’t feel better because you didn’t listen to their advice. They can deny more testing on that basis.

It’s a delicate balance, for sure, but I’m feeling quite motivated these days to figure it out. I’m just really tired of being sick.

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