High Blood Pressure.
Congestive Heart Failure.
C.Diff, several times over.
This is, collectively, what killed my mom.
Not to mention liver and kidney failure and internal bleeding in her last days.
It’s a lot to take in. I’m not sure I even know all of the conditions she had. But what I do know is that proper preventative care, early on, could have prolonged, if not saved, her life.
While there is no use in pondering the “what ifs” or the “whys” of it, there is value in looking at the facts. A number of my mom’s health issues could be genetic and as her daughter, I could be next in line for them.
Until this week, I haven’t had a true physical since, from what I can remember, 2008. 11 years. It’s one of those things I kept meaning to do, but there was school and then work, travel, social outings… Always something else to put in front of the annoyance of going to the doctor where appointments are never on time and you’re not guaranteed good medical care anyway.
I’ve been to the doctor a few times over those 11 years. I’ve lost my voice a few times and ended up on steroids. There was a minor concussion in there, and a bout of strep throat earlier this year. An ache or pain that might impede my progress at the gym? I was in the doctor or chiropractor office the next day. But no physicals. No well checks. No blood draws. Just the assumption that I was healthy.
With my mom’s passing, I realized it was time to get checked out.
Another confession? I was absolutely terrified.
What would they find? Would my family medical history work against me? Was Dr. Google right and I had insert terrible medical condition here?
I found a doctor near my office that described herself as someone who prioritizes preventative care and holistic approaches to health concerns. Her numerous reviews supported that philosophy. It was important to me to find someone that isn’t a “pill pusher.” I don’t believe in taking medicine for the sake of taking medicine – diet, exercise, and lifestyle changes should be prioritized if possible – and I wanted someone who would listen to me and respect my wish to prioritize lifestyle over prescriptions.
I was uncharacteristically nervous as my appointment began (on time!). I told both my doctor and nurse that I was very nervous about the physical, and my concerns that something would be “wrong.” They were reassuring and patient, answering my numerous questions without making me feel rushed or silly for asking them.
My appointment appeared to be scheduled for 20 minutes online, so I naively thought it would be more of a “meet and greet.” I’d walk in, chit chat for 20 minutes about my health, ask a few questions, and schedule any follow ups.
I got “the works. Full physical, blood draw, female exam, even a tetanus shot. I have never handled the female exams well, and had a full on anxiety attack over it, which made it worse. To be honest, this was the area I was most worried about. There is a family history of gynecological cancers, and I think in my mind I was already at “the worst of the worst case scenarios.”
Don’t ask me why – I’m obnoxiously optimistic most of the time, but it was a very real, very scary thing for me, even as I heard the doctor (saint that she is) explaining everything, confirming things were “normal” and even seeing the words “low risk” in my chart next to the testing order. There were a lot of deep breaths, a lot of counting to 10, and a swearing that the next time, I’ll schedule my appointment at the end of the day instead of first thing in the AM so I can have a glass of wine before things get too personal.
Ultimately, my blood work was as near as perfect as it can be and the rest of my exams came back all clean. Getting a clean bill of health was worth every moment of being uncomfortable. I now have a baseline, as well, for future appointments, something I lacked.
One concern I wanted to address with my doctor was around my digestion. I’ve had digestive issues for years. In middle school, my stomach issues were so severe they caused me to miss school on occasion. Unfortunately, my then doctor didn’t take me seriously. He put me on a pill that didn’t work and when I ran out of it, I learned it was a placebo – “just a sugar pill” as my mom put it. He told me, an eighth grade girl who got on the bus for the 45 minute trip to school every morning not sure if she would make it without getting sick or needing a restroom, that it was “in my head” and I “just didn’t want to go to school.”
Maybe that’s where my dislike of physicals comes from?
My doctor said, right away, “well, let’s find out what’s going on.”
I didn’t realize until right then how much those words meant. I’ve had a stomach ache my entire life, it seems. It often feels like someone is in my gut, twisting and pulling things around. While I thankfully seem far past any “bathroom issues,” I know now its not normal to have a stomach ache all the time.
I’ve documented some of my investigations into food and how my body reacts to it over the years. I’ve felt my very best when I’ve done a true Whole30 – no cheats – and eaten largely gluten-free. But I’ve noticed in recent months that veggies, including my beloved cauliflower, brussel sprouts, and broccoli, especially raw, don’t seem to like me very much. I crave veggies when the temperatures go up and ate a LOT of salads over the last couple of weeks – I felt terrible, a big part of the reason I brought it up to her.
To begin the process of elimination of factors, she put me on a low FODMAP diet beginning today, as well as intermittent fasting, which I’ve been doing since my appointment last week. The goal is to reset my gut and then reintroduce food groups to determine what food, if any, trigger a response. If we find its not food, then we’ll look into things like Irritable Bowel Syndrome or Crohn’s Disease, but we do feel confident it is likely food-related.
I’ll share more about low FODMAP later this week – once I get over not being able to eat avocados for the foreseeable future – as well as intermittent fasting. I’m finding what I’m studying for my Precision Nutrition certification has aligned nicely with what I’m reading about FODMAPs, and there’s certainly a challenge around meal planning and prepping that is worth documenting.
The point of this blog post?
To encourage you to go to the doctor.
Despite my anxiety around my appointment, I’m relieved I went. I know my status now, and I’ve found a doctor that wants the same goals: to treat with lifestyle first, and to help me find why my stomach hasn’t always been my biggest fan. I do believe you have to be your own advocate when it comes to healthcare, but I also believe that with some effort, it is possible to find a healthcare provider that aligns with your goals and beliefs.
At the end of the day, it’s about preventative care. An hour at the doctor today could save your life tomorrow.