Chronic Disease Symptoms - Doctor #23

A snippet of Ashley’s book, detailing the painful reality many chronic disease warriors go through. Told through the eyes of the ever ridiculous, Ashley Strommen. Head Illest Optimist.

We set the scene with 2011 Ashley, in the waiting room of her 23rd doctor, hoping for help.

The zip-up, puffy jacket, sweatpants, and boots do nothing to stop my shivering. It’s not necessarily that I’m cold. More a mixture of fear, sickness, and Kelly Ripa-like manic energy. This is the 23rd specialist that I’ve seen in the past 2 years and I have a depressing feeling she is going to look at me with the same skeptic puppydog eyes as the rest. But I’m going to be optimistic. Maybe I’m wrong. Perhaps this is the moment when someone will finally understand my pain. Be able to help me. Believe in the turmoil I suffer from every single day.

I look around the depressing white waiting room and evaluate others around me. There’s a mom that is trying to appease her screaming kid with some overpriced mind-melting gadget. She looks like she hasn’t slept in years, which is a feeling I can relate to. To my right is an old couple who huddle together in solidarity. The white haired woman with paper-thin skin smiles at her husband as he rubs her hand with angst in his eyes. I can tell they are in a similar battle, trying to find the truth, escape the death they feel looming in close proximity. I morn for this couple yet at the same time feel ashamed jealousy for the years they have gotten to have together. I want to reach over and tell them “When life gives you lemons stick them in your bra to make your boobs look bigger,” but a bored redheaded nurse calls my name and saves me from making a true abomination out of myself.

She points to the scale barely looking up from her chart and mumbles something about needing to get my weight. As I walk over I begin throwing off my clothes and state, “I feel like I should get naked, so it’s super accurate.” Her eyes bulge out of her head as she runs over to me, clearly incapable of taking a bomb joke. Her mortification delights me to no end.

Thrilled to get rid of the sarcastic blonde in front of her, she quickly ushers me into a room informing me that the doctor will be in soon. She is blissfully unaware of the fact I know this drill like the back of my hand. In fact I begin to think how easy it would be to dress up in scrubs and walk into a doctors office. I’d tell the first physician I saw that I’d been hired to replace Jenna (there’s always a Jenna, and she’s always a pot stirrer). The doc would nod and I’d go about my business drawing blood and making sure people similar to myself don’t get naked when stepping on scales. If all else fails I now have a backup occupation. I’m just about to Google where to buy a real looking stethoscope when the door creaks open.

I don’t bother looking at her nametag since I decide to label her “Doctor Number 23”. That may sound rude. I probably sound like cruel broad who doesn’t give people a chance. But I can tell in the first millisecond that she is going to be a doozy. This doc has already read my charts and is somehow already annoyed with me. Her body is clenched, lips tight, eyebrows up in an inquisitive nature. She will not help me. I can feel it in my bones, sense it in my heart, know it in my noggin.

“Hello Miss Ashley” she says in a clipped tone. “I see that you have already been in multiple times complaining of pain, nausea, and fatigue. A previous doctor gave you antibiotics multiple times. Why exactly are you back?”

I take a deep breath in and look down at my lap. I feel embarrassed. Defensive. Broken. Her words are like a scalding branding iron to the face. But instead of standing up and swearing like a female version of Eminem, I break down. I begin crying, let down my guard, and reveal some vulnerability. “Well, I haven’t gotten better in years. In fact, I’ve only gotten worse. I really can’t continue living like this and I’m praying you can help me figure out what the root cause is, so I can get myself well. I don’t know how long I can live with this constant pain and fatigue.”

Slowly I look up to meet her gaze and the woman was rolling her eyes. A full on, Liz Lemon, 10-second eye roll. I wish I was joking. I truly wish I could tell you that this doctor hugged me hard and promised she would do everything possible to find out what was wrong. But this healthy-as-a-horse physician rolled her eyes at me with zero compassion, only judgment.

My mouth dropped open as she immediately looked away. She knew she was caught. She immediately sat up straighter while looking at her computer and stated, “Why don’t you tell me your symptoms again so I can at least update your charts.”

I smile and shake my head. Although this is an embarrassing waste of a time, I can’t help but laugh at the hilarity of it all. Here I am asking for help. I’ve even begged for it on occasion. It is evident I am in turmoil. That there is something superbly wrong. But this woman, with all of her medical training, is immune from seeing it. She simply identifies me as another ‘chronically ill’ nutcase needing anti-psychotic drugs and a good dose of suck it up.

So I decide to lay it all on the line. Be real as can be. Eliminate the censored version I usually tell. If I’m going to go down in flames, might as well do it with a dash of honesty and a ton of bravado.

Below is the monologue I proceeded to tell. It may not be verbatim, but I’d like to think it is.

The pain is like something from a nightmare. Every ounce of my being hurts with the fire of Thor. My muscles feel as if torture machines are pulling at each appendage in attempt to rip me limb from limb, Spartan-style. My joints are stiff and rigid, almost like the worst sunburn of my life mixed with the anguishing pain felt after getting in a head on car crash… 13 times in a row. Getting from sitting to standing position almost breaks my heart because the 20 seconds it takes drags on like a stinging all-consuming eternity.

Forget typing or texting because my hands become utterly useless. Not only does moving each individual finger elicit searing pain but my hands loose the ability to grasp things as my strength has diminished lower than that of a guppy. I would cry but that would make my lungs feel like they are collapsing into themselves.

A simple headache is not merely a troublesome annoyance. It’s as if a giant clothespin is clamped around my think-tank squishing my skull to ash. The aches can either be all over or travel in a slow moving perversion from my neck, to the back of my scalp, to my forehead. This pain makes any light feel like 1,000 suns are 2 feet from my face, shifts any innocuous odor to liken that of standing in a dumpster, and turns any faint noise into a screaming siren.

The pain can also be felt in my ribcage where I could swear a Sumo wrestler sat on my chest while I slept. It can take place in my mouth and throat feeling as if I ate a whole pineapple for an appetizer, a head-to-toe porcupine for an entrée, and shards of glass for desert.

The stomach pain and seasick-like nature that encompasses my being is all consuming. It is in a constant state of bloat and makes similar noises to the Indy 500 with groans like an engine, and sounds of tires squealing. These noises are coupled with a constant pulsing pain as if a monster is trying to make bread by kneading my large and small intestines. This nausea occurs at all hours of the day. It keeps me from sleeping. It keeps me from eating. It keeps me from working, playing, or doing anything productive.

In the first phase of this nightmare I am drowning in a sea of sweat as a continuous 100 degree temperature causes a waterfall of smelly water to seep through my pores. It’s almost worse than if one were to pee the bed because this ammonia smelling fluid is found not in a small puddle under my bum, but on every inch of bed that I flail around. Changing the sheets becomes an hourly occurrence and changing my drenched clothes is a necessity every 15 minutes.

Not to be outdone these hot flashes are brought to an immediate halt when the cold flashes set in. My body will ignore the actual temp in the room, and I will feel as if I am in an arctic tundra, stark naked, sitting in an ice bath. This freeze does not go away with 14 blanks, a winter jacket, heating pad, or snow pants. My teeth chatter so violently I feel I will break a tooth and the body shakes make my ribs hurt and muscles ache.

The term ‘tired’ takes on a whole new meaning. Sleeping 6 hours during the day and 12 at night for months on end does nothing to curb the extreme fatigue I feel. This sleepiness extends to every limb, which has weakened to the point it’s almost impossible to get out of bed. I no longer consider walking an easy task as my legs threaten to give out each step that I take. Washing or combing my hair becomes impossible as my arms are utterly useless objects hanging limply at my sides.

This hellish lethargy is nothing compared to the dizziness that comes with it. If I was able to stand up on my own I would immediately fall down or run into a wall. All balance and coordination goes out the window. It’s as if I am drunk and stumbling all over the place without the super fun night out with friends.

On the flip side this overwhelming tiredness is hilariously countered with insomnia. Although I feel as though I haven’t slept in 30 years my pulsing heartbeat at times keeps me awake staring at my ceiling. I can feel my body shutting down but instead of the gradual unwinding of my brain it will zing to life as if I was injected with a shot of adrenaline.

But other then that I feel fabulous. How about you?”

I’d love to say after this speech of epic proportion I dropped the mic, spun on my heals, and sauntered out of that clinic in a grand fashion. But in actuality I waited like a chump for ‘Doctor Number 23’ to hear my physical agony and prayed in silence that she would have an answer.

Instead, I got multiple prescriptions for anti-depressants and a recommendation to see a therapist. Super.

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