Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Invisible Illness – Dysautonomia Awareness at Local Emergency Rooms

I have not been confident in my local emergency department to care for me, due to dozens of terrible experiences. Am I mad at them? No. Is it their fault? Not really. This ER is 2.3 miles from my home. I can be upset or I can do something to help myself and others. Thanks to Dysautonomia International, I have access to educational printouts for physicians. I have dropped off information to the ER director and plan to follow up with a call today since he was unavailable.

I want the entire staff to be aware of medical issues that present themselves as ANXIETY. Please rule out other possibilities! Dysautonomia does not show up in blood work and it is common in young women, who are constantly dismissed and labeled with anxiety. There are many causes for it. My underlying condition is Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Many ERs only factor in ONE complaint and the other 10 issues get tossed aside, which could help solve the puzzle.

Times are changing. I am joining the medical field as soon as I can and I am fighting for a new way of healthcare. This is my ER and I refuse to be afraid to come here, if I am in a life or death situation, because of the lack of knowledge of invisible illnesses. Learn my name. Set aside your ego and let me teach you.

Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Pacemaker Check

Despite not having insurance at the moment, I went to my pacemaker check (priorities) and found that 70% of the time, I am paced and have 7.5 years left on my pacemaker. The bad news is that on July 1st, around 4pm, I went into v tach, which can sometimes lead to cardiac arrest.

The good news is that it was likely a result of having a fever, so we know there was a contributing factor. I went to Wuesthoff Rockledge ER, but as usual was sent away and dismissed. I always tell them I feel it in my heart when I get fevers and because I run low, a high fever for me is 100 and up. Fortunately, I made it to Florida Hospital, who admitted me for two days and put me on two IV antibiotics.

This is why I URGE people who are sick to kindly stay away. My heart cannot handle fevers and when I am sick, I am very high risk for an infection to spread to my heart and would need a heart transplant. Because of this ventricular tachycardia episode, I may have to get a defibrillator. Funny thing is, this is what I told them I needed in the first place, but again… dismissed. As you can see, these are constant frustrations being young(ish) and appearing healthy. I am feeding my emotions with Chipotle and studying for my Psych essay exam, trying not to cry in my salsa. I am thankful that I am here.

Health, mental health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Health PTSD – Warrior Status

There are some evenings when I can’t help but think about the nights when my heart would struggle to beat. By the end of the day, my blood volume would be so low because I was never educated on my health conditions or how to manage my health and had no idea what was going on. I would go all day without drinking water. I avoided salt because I assumed that’s just what you do, especially with heart issues.

Here is a quick run down about my health history:

Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome was just a small fraction of what I had going on. Last January (2017) I was still very in the dark about my health. Even though I already had four cardiac ablations for Supraventricular Tachycardia, caused by being born with an extra electrical pathway in my heart that caused rapid heart rates and extra beats, I still never had a real team of doctors who had my back.

Wolff-Parkinson-White Syndrome made it very difficult to have a fully successful ablations due to the extra pathways in very difficult and rare spots of my heart. My electrophysiologist often noticed two P Waves on my EKGs. The P Waves are the little squiggly line that shows where the heart beat originates.

After four cardiac ablations, I needed an aortic valve repair. This is done with open heart surgery and cracking open my sternum. My aorta valve was regurgitating blood flow backwards. This caused shortness of breath and other issues.

Having the ablations did not fix my rapid heart rates. It reduced them but I still got them and often. I needed medication to slow down my heart rate but I also had bradycardia (slow heart rate) so I was unable to take medication for about a decade. I would bounce from 45 beats per minute and jump up to 150, all day. I was diagnosed with Neurocardiogenic Syncope and Sick Sinus Syndrome. This means that my heart would randomly plummet, while doing simple tasks, causing me to blackout or set my heart into a scary arrhythmia. I developed a dysfunctional sinus node. The sinus node produces your heart beat, like a natural pacemaker.

Back to 2017… As if nothing mentioned above wasn’t scary enough, including my brief encounter with cancer, January 5th, 2017 was the scariest day of my life. Unbeknownst to me, my blood volume was dangerously low and I was dehydrated and creeping up to pre-diabetic status due to a careless diet and love for sugar. I wasn’t taking care of myself the way my body desperately needed me to. My heart went tachycardia, which wasn’t anything I wasn’t used to, but then the rhythm changed to chaotic. I was going into a potential fatal arrhythmia.

We called 911 and my husband (boyfriend at the time) held me in his arms as my limbs fell to the side, with no blood flow. I was going into circulatory shock. I told him I loved him and to tell my kids I loved them and the blurry lights in the distance arrived closer. Suddenly I felt my heart convert back to a normal (but fast) rhythm and I could breathe again and move my arms. This happened again and again, several times a week, for months.

I was continuously dismissed, labeled with anxiety and even prescribed acid reflux medication for heartburn. I did not have heartburn, I was having chest tightness and pressure but this was just a small example of being disregarded and carelessly misdiagnosed. Eventually, I had a 30 heart monitor on to capture every episode. The monitor was hidden under my shirt and robe. My body would shut down before the doctor’s eyes as he mocked me and stated it was just anxiety and an EKG or heart monitor wasn’t necessary. Despite my history and the fact that I was the happiest I had ever been, I was always sent home or they couldn’t catch an episode.

Six months later, I finally found an electrophysiologist who set me up with a pacemaker that I needed ten years ago. My neurologist also looked at the tests and confirmed that what they thought looked like an anxiety attack was my body going into circulatory shock. I can also finally take heart medication to keep the fast rates at bay, now that I have a pacemaker.

Like a thick gloom, blanketing you and swallowing your body, the memories take over. There were times that I literally begged for my life. I could barely breathe and my arms and legs lost color and I couldn’t move. My body would start shaking vigorously as I took small rapid breaths. “Please help” was all I could pathetically mutter to the unconcerned nurses who assumed I was a drug seeker.

Those six months still haunt me, especially at night. No doctor EVER thought to ask, “Why does this young woman have such a unique health history?” No one thought to do genetic testing or to ask questions. They all let me slide through the cracks.

I’m here and I am still fighting. I will always fight, until I can’t anymore. I am here to stand up for others like me. I am here to inspire others to advocate for themselves and to not give up. I am still here.

Even though my story isn’t over, I still continue with sleep apnea and my aortic valve has hypertrophied. I will need open heart surgery once again, with a pig valve and possibly in the near future. I will need a new pacemaker years to come. I don’t have insurance so my sleep apnea is not being treated. I don’t know what to expect in the future but I do know that I will love every moment that I am given.

  • Educate yourself on your health conditions.
  • Get every medical record and keep a file
  • Print information on your rare diseases or disorders to give to your medical professionals
  • Find a support group or therapist
  • Eat healthy and stay hydrated
Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

I Believe You

When your medical team thinks you are just stressed or maybe have a common ailment and never test you for anything out of the norm, it can be frustrating. You feel lost and alone and just want answers. Sometimes this process can last years!

Up to 12 million people are misdiagnosed each year (1 in 20) and medical errors are the THIRD leading cause of death in the US (CDC, 2006) and kill 150,000 people per year. It is also disheartening when friends and family start to question you and think that maybe it is in your head. I have been there!

I am lucky to have a beautiful support system and people who care about me and I have made leaps with my health care, though I still have much more to discover. Advocacy is so important. Though my hands are tied due to finances and lack of health insurance, I still do a ton of research regularly and do what is best for my health and wellbeing with nutrition, detoxing my body, supplements and cutting out emotional toxins. If you are suffering from anything, I got your back. I am on your side. I am always here. Don’t ever be afraid to reach out.

Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Sleep Apnea

I remember when I was 16, telling a doctor that I stopped breathing in my sleep. “No. Not at your age. I don’t believe you.”

For the last 5 months, I fought for a sleep study. I was denied because of my age and weight. After making several calls, hours on the phone on different occasions, I finally got approved.

Two days after my test I was called and referred to a pulmonologist. In 4 hours and 13 minutes, I stopped breathing 27 times with an average duration of 49 seconds. The highest duration was 117 seconds!

My point is, don’t ever give up. Keep fighting and I believe you.

It’s a bittersweet sweet moment to get these results back. Part of my is relieved to finally get help, answers and care as well as prove that I wasn’t crazy and to not be dismissed anymore. The other part of me wishes they were right and that I was just a hypochondriac.

Body and Beauty, Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

Unveiling Invisible Illnesses – War Paint

I always try to smooth my hair and conceal my tired eyes. I always dust on a peachy pink blush and a fun lip color, regardless of how I feel. This is the mask of an invisible illness warrior. Occasionally, there are days that I struggle to even lift a limb to put on my war paint. On those days when I bare a naked face and join society, I get told over and over and over again, “You look tired.”

When someone looks exhausted or drained, instead try asking if they need anything or offer help, a compliment or anything positive. I wear makeup to hide when my face goes pale while my blood pressure drops and my body starts going numb, ringing in my ears or the sound of my pulse takes over while my vision starts to sparkle or fade. I wear lipstick to hide the loss of color while I brace myself against the wall or casually sit down and continue to smile and listen to your day.

Every day is a struggle, whether it is big or small. On the really bad days, it is a lonely world and it feels like no one understand. When you try to reach out, no one listens because they think you are young and healthy and perfectly fine. It feels dismissive and disheartening, quiet and empty as you hope for tomorrow to be a better day.

Health, Unveiling Invisible Illnesses

How To Be There For Someone With A Chronic Illness

Imagine you have two people who are not on the same page, let alone the same book. One struggles with chronic illness and the other is averagely healthy and maybe even deals with a common ailment here and there, but how can they relate when it comes to health? It may not come easy to some when they have never had their health jeopardized. It is important to build a bridge to have a connection with your family or friend.

Invisible Illnesses

Perhaps your friend or loved one has an invisible illness. This means that they look healthy on the outside but on the inside they struggle with an illness like diabetes, lupus, PTSD, POTS, Thyroid diseases, Cardiac and Neurological diseases, to name a few.

We all have our own battles.

It can be tough to look at someone who looks fully capable of living life the way you do but we are all different. Understand that just because you may be healthy and can juggle so many tasks, does not mean it comes easy for others.

It is important to recognize that with all things, there is a spectrum. With chronic illnesses, that spectrum can vary day to day. One morning, we may have so much energy that we can clean the house and go out to get lunch but the next morning we may be bedridden.

Personally, putting on makeup every day is my way of putting on war paint. I hide my dark circles from waking up every hour. I conceal the redness in my face or sometimes add blush to my pale skin. When I look well, I don’t get asked if I am sick or told I look tired. I feel normal and ready to take on the day.

Just because you friend or loved one looks put together and seems young and healthy, doesn’t mean she wasn’t up at 4am with severe back spasms and again at 5am feeling dehydrated and again at 6am in more pain and a numb arm until it is finally time to get up for the day. She probably got dizzy a few different times while her blood pressure dropped, causing nausea and tachycardia. Be grateful she answered the phone or showed up for lunch and she we be grateful for you.

The Spoon Theory

The Spoon Theory is a metaphor to explain the limited energy that someone with an invisible or chronic illness struggles with. Say you get 12 spoons each day and each task costs a spoon or two. Sometimes a shower can cost 2 spoons on a rough day. Going to work can cost a lot of spoons as well. Cleaning the kitchen? That will be 3 spoons! Sometimes if you push yourself too hard, it costs spoons from the next day which will leave you in bed with limited spoons.

We call people “Spoonies” who fit in to the Spoon Theory.

How to be there for a Spoonie:

  • Understanding – The fact that you have read this so far is already a huge deal for your Spoonie. Trying to understand what life is like for your friend or loved one shows a lot of compassion and empathy. This is your biggest step and the most important. For some, we are constantly judged, assumed we are lazy, told it is in our head, called a hypochondriac or just straight up dismissed. Certain medical conditions sometimes take up to a decade or longer to get diagnosed. Often times there are several misdiagnosis’s and even people get left in a grey area where no one knows what to do. We feel alone and lost.
  • Keep Your Ideals To Yourself – We appreciate your concerns, absolutely. I can vouch for myself that I have done plenty of research, am fully aware of my body and what is normal for me, have a strict diet with optimal nutrition and supplements, non drinker, non smoker and always staying positive as well as seeing a therapist. My health is a full time job. You can’t even pronounce what illnesses I have so please don’t try to cure me. Of course, we appreciate advice but keep it simple and keep it at that. Do not try to push your ideals on someone or tell them if they exercise more they will feel better or that they can meditate to a cure. All we want is a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, positive vibes and understanding.
  • If You Are Sick, Stay Away! – Seriously, some of us have compromised immune systems and if you have a cold or flu and bring your germs to anyone, even a healthy person, it is just simply rude. If you bring your germs to someone who is already ill, it is cruel. We don’t fight infections and other illnesses very well and most of the time it makes our other issues worse and for some, it could mean a trip to the hospital.
  • Social Gatherings – There is a good chance we might not make it to your event or night out. I can assure you that we wish we were there but more often than not, our health makes us flakey friends. Please don’t stop inviting us! We will always try, even if the chances are slim. Also, please don’t get upset with us if we don’t make it. We would rather be out having fun with you than stuck in bed.
  • Know That We Are Fighting A Battle – If we seem a little off, let us be a little off. There are countless times when I was hanging out with someone while my vision blurred and I start seeing stars, getting light headed and heart palpitations but I push through because this is my normal life. Something that has always bothered me was when strangers, coworkers or peers say “Smile! It can’t be that bad!” Well, maybe I am struggling with an ocular migraine that day, low blood pressure or didn’t sleep well, so if I have a case of resting bitch face then let it be. I know it could always be worse but I am here, smile or not!
  • My Illness Does Not Define Me – I am a strong warrior. I love art, music, travel, culture, anything vintage, food, nature, giving back and being creative. I can be sensitive but I persevere and I keep my chin up. I have not given up and I won’t. I have bad days but I climb above it and stay positive, even it it is a full time job. I am not my illness. However, it is part of my life, whether big or small. It may affect me but it is not who I am.