All That I Am - Part 7
Employment. I was, until 2002, a valued member of the workaholic society. I began my working life at the tender age of 15 and other than taking maternity leave when I was 30, I'd hardly ever missed day of work in those early years. It was later when my problems began. I had many bouts of illness, working through most of them - soldiering on as the saying goes! I can only ever remember two occasions of absence and that was because of salmonella and sinus surgery. I was 24.
Salmonella was the outcome of an unplanned lunch with my friends. I ordered a seafood dish which, looking back, I remember being slightly cold. That night I began with stomach cramps and then vomiting so violently that I couldn't move further than the bathroom door. Like the fool I was, I attended my place of work the following morning only to be sent home before 10 am. I was really quite ill and didn't realise the seriousness of the situation until a few days later when I visited my general practitioner. I was so fortunate not to have landed myself in hospital and to this day I don't know how I kept myself out.
I also suffered with crippling headaches for much of my 20's. Migraine, they said but I always seemed to have a cold. It was diagnosed much later that I had chronic sinusitis and they decided to fix me with sinus surgery. I suppose even back then things were not quite right. The surgery was successful but, as for me, well -- I came round from the anaesthetic and lay almost paralysed for days. A procedure which would normally take just 2 days to recover from and just one day in hospital -- took one whole week in a hospital bed and 3 weeks to recover! The alarm bells should have rung at that point, especially when the nurse noticed that my fingers were blue and all panic broke out around the ward. "I have Raynaud's!" I screamed, but they didn't know what that was, except for one doctor who was fresh from med school. I became centre of attention for the rest of the day, being given a pair of gloves and endless cups of coffee -- what could have been worse!
The defining moment came in my 30's when I finally accepted that this Raynaud's thing was rather more than just a nuisance. The attacks were much lengthier, more debilitating and certainly much worse than ever before. I was 34 and enjoying motherhood to my little girl. I still worked, although it was part time to fit in with my routine. It was January 1, 1995, New Years Day. I'd spent the night, New Years Eve, lying awake suffering from an extremely sore throat. The fireworks outside popped and banged until the small hours and I watched every one of those rockets explode in the sky from my bedroom window. I rose from my bed that morning to a new year and possibly the first turning point of my life. From that day on, I became sicker and sicker. It was Friday, January 13th -- unlucky for some -- well, that was certainly true for me. I'd battled on at home with a flu-like illness that never improved, but got worse each day. The doctor was called and I was instantly admitted to hospital with -- wait for it -- pneumonia! I knew I was ill, but I didn't realise how bad I actually was. It was at that very point I first heard the word Scleroderma. Just like I remember my first Raynaud's attack, there I was lying in a hospital bed learning a new word for my condition! It was a young doctor, again fresh from med school, who noticed my fingers turning blue. He noticed that I'd also been attending clinic for my gastric problems which had begun in pregnancy.
"Do you have scleroderma?" he asked.
"Sclero what?" I replied.
"Scleroderma -- have you never heard of it before now?"
It didn't sound like a serious condition, a bit like being told you have a treatable rash. He mentioned skin and he mentioned hardness, he prodded and poked me and then wrote a whole lot of pages before he left.
My husband came to visit with his usual report of his 50th attempt to make the washing machine work and the the successful creation of dinner cooked on my new stove. I had a list of instructions all penned out ready for him to take home, mainly the programmes for my wahing machine and settings for the oven. I told him a doctor said I had something I couldn't pronounce and after that it was never an issue on any of his visits.
I spent a week in hospital on intravenous drips. The cannulas were always being taken out and resited because my veins were too small. I was sure glad to get home but that strange new word evaded me and for a time was forgotten, after all it was nothing to worry about -- was it?