Today was my graduation day. I officially have a Master of Science degree in Biology. I had huge doubts as to whether I would ever see this day. I assumed that at some point I would just give up and drop out. When I think about all that went into getting that degree…
My graduate career started a few weeks even before classes starting when I told my family doctor about my education plans. He advised me that I should not attempt graduate school. That the state of my health was precarious and taking on such a stressful task would be ill-advised. By the time classes started, I was beginning to think that he was right. Within the first week of classes I was already missing school because of an emergency scheduled heart catherization test. Once that test came back negative (thank God), it took just a few more tests and finally the Tilt Table Test which diagnosed my dysautonomia. After this initial large hurdle, however, I started my beloved beta-blocker (we’re tight.. it’s a love-love relationship) and things got easier for that first year of graduate school. Every now and then I’d have a problem and I’d have to adjust my meds, but it was manageable.
What I hadn’t counted on, however, was the toll that school and work and the stress of it all was taking on my body all throughout grad. school. This became clear by my last semester of classes.
I started off that semester wearing an Event Monitor for the first three weeks. I was the girl wearing the funny electrodes and attached to a machine that occasionally “beeped”. This was the semester that I was in a doctor’s office every other week, I was in the ER a couple of times, I had countless medical tests, and once again I was missing classes for being sick.
Things were starting to drastically go from bad to much much worse. I was throwing up blood and lost over 10% of my weight, but the end was in sight. I managed to finish out the semester and the last of my classes required for my degree. I was very fortunate that I had one sympathetic professor who didn’t mind that I was half comatose in his class, with my head on the desk nearly every day, and another professor who liked me based on previous performances as an undergraduate student (I went to the same school for both undergrad. and grad.).
After that semester I slowly dragged myself back to health with rest, relaxation, and thesis writing. So while I never fully believed I could do it, especially in that last semester when things got so difficult, I successfully wrote and defended my thesis and graduated today!
Also, apparently, I’m very talented at pretending to be excellent when actually I’m just trying to get by.
Notice my feeble attempt to remain anonymous despite the fact that probably half of you already know who I am..
Every now and then I feel as if my body is breaking down on me. I seem to be experiencing new and terrifying symptoms every two weeks of late. With these new symptoms, I am faced with a choice of whether I seek medical attention for them or choose to ignore them. Because of my biology degree, I have just enough information to be dangerous to myself. This is only exacerbated by the fact that I am exceedingly stubborn. So the latest symptom that would send any normal intelligent person to their doctor is the fact that I had brown urine. This could be from any number of scary terrifying reasons, but because of the bloodwork I had about two weeks ago and my biology background, I feel like I can ignore it for the time being. I am prone to thinking that it’s either extreme dehydration, or is a result of increased CK levels (which I have had in the past). This intermittent symptom, coupled with the fact that I am having trouble waking up to my alarm these days, makes me feel betrayed. Like I said earlier, I feel as if my body is breaking down on me. I feel like it is being stealthy about it too…. little pieces that tear apart and disappear. Almost like they were never there. I say it’s sneaky, because the medical tests will hint at it, show evidence of it, and then be perfectly normal again. Anemic one day, fine the next. Muscle death yesterday, just dandy today. Ketones and protein in urine last week, only to disappear the next week. I find this incredibly annoying. If my body is going to treat me like crap and if I am going to suffer the symptoms of it, I’d like to get to the root cause. I want treatment! And I can only get that, if we stop this irritating game of “hide-and-seek”.
But like I said earlier: Perspective is everything. I have seen people whose bodies are TRULY breaking down. They make what I suffer with look like a walk in the park. Sometimes I view this with: “Hey! My pain is pain and I deserve to get upset about it!” And I do. I do have that right to be upset, because what I’m dealing with does suck and it’s not something that can or should be compared. But sometimes I view the fact that others suffer worse symptoms with: “I REALLY appreciate what I have, even if it is hard for me at times.” And again, I do. I am so grateful for the health I do have. For the support I have. For the medical insurance I have. For the family I have. With any given day, my perspective may change. One day I may cry and rage at the unfairness and the next day I may thank God for the gifts I have been given. I believe that this change in perspective is just something that tags along with chronic illnesses. I’m almost positive that every patient out there probably can empathize with what I’ve written here.