As a few of you may know, I have been recently diagnosed with an autoimmune condition. It was a long road, and only a drop in the bucket when viewed through the lenses of our broken medical system. I tell my own story first, and will make connections to kyriarchy in a following blog post or two.
Almost exactly ten years ago, in winter of 2008, I woke up one morning and couldn’t summon the strength to get out of bed. I was in the middle of my second full-time quarter of seminary, and working 35 hours per week. I acutely felt that my body could not keep up with my demands. After a week of missing class because I was so exhausted, I made the decision to withdraw from all but one. In the meantime, I was referred to a medical doctor (who also happened to be an Evangelical male). When I explained the way I was feeling, he ran a bunch of blood tests, and found nothing. I insisted that it was a physical problem, but he only focused on the possibility mental state or illness, and offered to prescribe me some medication. I refused.
That wasn’t my first time explaining to a doctor that I was feeling unusually tired, and subsequently being offered an anti-depressant. While I was wrapping up my time at The Master’s University, I noticed that I was not feeling rested, no matter what kind of sleep I had gotten the night before. So I brought it up to the doctor at a routine exam, and it only took a minute for her to offer me a prescription for an anti-depressant. So, after hearing the same thing for the second time, I decided I should try a different route. Hello, naturopathic medicine.
This doctor was kind, and tried her best to help. She found traces of EBV antibodies, and I was given B shots and a treatment for adrenal fatigue, which helped somewhat. But I couldn’t afford to maintain the treatment, because insurance did not cover most of the supplements, and I was a quintessentially poor seminary student. I was putting things on my credit card.
Years go by, and I accumulate more health issues: allergies, sinusitis, digestive issues, and female problems. But I do not have the time, resources, or inclination to see another doctor, so I rely on Google and books for self-diagnosis and treatment.
The year after I was married, my partner finally got me to visit a medical doctor. We were relying on ACA marketplace insurance, and naturopathic doctors were very hard to come by in our area. Even if I had found one, there was no way we would have been able to afford the many naturopathic treatments not covered by insurance.
This MD took lots of blood tests, and prescribed me omeprazole for my digestion, and vitamin D after blood-work revealed deficiency. After multiple visits to go over blood-work that yielded little insight, she told me there was nothing else to do except accept that I had chronic fatigue, eat more vegetables and fruit, and “think positive”. At this point, I was not armed with enough knowledge to advocate for myself, so I let it slide.
Two years later, while living in central PA, I was bitten by a small creature (insect or arachnid) while sleeping. My forearm swelled and turned red, and I vomited for two days. I didn’t connect the two, but again visited a DO after lingering stomach pain. She also ordered a standard round of blood tests, but also an ultrasound, and an endoscopy. The gastroenterologist who performed the endoscopy found nothing, and suggested that I could have IBS. Around this time, I also visited an allergist who took one look up my nose, and got very worried. He ordered prick tests for all the typical tree, weed, grass, pet, and mold allergies, and I was found to be allergic to at least two things in every category, but especially mold. I thought that definitely explained some things, but answered little.
I went to various medical doctors who treated each of my symptoms as a different subset, rather than connecting all of the dots to find a root cause. Each prescribed me pills of some sort to alleviate symptoms, but nothing to actually address the problems.
Six months later, back in the PNW, I visit another general doctor to follow up on my digestive issues, and she diagnoses me with IBS after two visits, as well as prescribing meds for pain. Doi, I thought.
Now two years have passed, and it’s 2017. I still have all the same issues that started over 10 years ago. So, when we finally get insurance that will cover naturopathic doctor visits, I decide to gamble on one of them again. This doctor connects some dots, and orders more tests. Two issues become apparent: SIBO, and Hashimoto’s. For all my self-diagnosing, those conditions never appeared on my radar. When the diagnoses came, I was giddy with relief, while simultaneously deflated. The symptoms were not in my head! But autoimmune issues? What a downer.
There were several factors that contributed to a 10 year-long delay in my diagnosis: lack of insurance (therefore lack of funds), lack of funds even with insurance, lack of knowledge, and gender. I’ll write more on this in part two.