So, two weeks ago I developed a health symptom which was worrying enough to force me to overcome my crippling health anxiety / fear of medical situations, and seek help. At the time, I was just hoping for reassurance, really: I was very sure there was something seriously wrong, but I’ve thought that before, and I’ve been wrong every time, so I hoped I’d be given some tests, and then sent on my way, having been told that there was nothing physically wrong with me.
Unfortunately, it didn’t work out like that.
I had to visit the hospital three times last week, which would have been traumatic enough, given my extreme anxiety about hospitals, even without the added stress of the blood tests. Much to the hospital staff’s surprise, this was the first time I’d ever had blood taken, having so far managed to get through my entire life without having to face that particular fear. (I didn’t even know what my blood type was…) If I’d thought the tests themselves were going to be hard, though, they were nothing compared to the wait for the results – and the news that there did, indeed, seem to be something a bit strange going on when those results finally came back.
At this point, the hospital staff still weren’t too concerned. On Friday, they told me they’d like me to come back for a different test in a few days time, purely to allow them to rule out what they felt was the very slim possibility of it being something serious. And that’s when I completely lost it. At this point, I’d already endured two full weeks of the worst anxiety I’ve ever experienced, and the news that I’d not only need further testing, but would have to somehow get through the entire weekend with that threat looming over me, prompted a full-scale panic attack: I was so upset I literally thought I was going to die, and I mean that in all sincerity – I genuinely felt like I couldn’t get through another minute with that level of fear hanging over me, let alone an entire weekend.
The good news was that the panic attack convinced the person I was dealing with (or who Terry was dealing with, rather: I was long past the point of reasonable conversation by that stage…) to refer me to the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary for an emergency appointment the next day – Saturday morning. The bad news was that I was unable to calm myself down, and ended up at my doctor’s office 20 minutes later, being prescribed valium… which I was too scared to take at first, because I was terrified it would make me feel spaced out, or worse.
Suffice to say, it was a VERY black Friday.
On Saturday, after a sleepless night, and still feeling so anxious I felt like I could barely even speak, we made the hour-long drive to the ERI. At this point, in addition to my extreme anxiety, I was also very aware that no one at either of the hospitals I’d been dealing with felt this test was really necessary. While they had acknowledged that the blood results did merit further investigation, they didn’t think it was anything serious: they were happy to do the test just to rule it out, but they’d made it clear that, as far as they were concerned, they were really attempting to treat my anxiety, rather than a genuine threat to my physical health.
They were all wrong.
At the ERI, I was given an ultrasound scan, which, to my absolute horror, confirmed my suspicion, and my worst fear: I have an ectopic pregnancy – i.e. a pregnancy which is growing in the ovary/fallopian tube (probably the latter, but they’re not 100% sure), rather than in the womb. It’s a serious, and potentially life-threatening condition: words like “very bad news” and “extremely concerned” were used when they broke the news to me – which naturally did absolutely nothing to calm my already frazzled nerves.
When a pregnancy occurs inside the ovary or fallopian tube, there is, unfortunately, no possibility of saving it. At worst, its presence can cause the ovary to rupture (Which, not to put too fine a point on it, could kill me if it wasn’t operated on fast enough…): even if that doesn’t happen, however, many women end up having surgery (i.e. my absolute worst fear) to remove the ovary altogether.
In my case, however, because we’ve managed to catch it at such an early stage, there’s a good chance of them being able to treat it with drugs, rather than going straight to the worst-case-scenario (surgery). On Sunday morning, we headed back to the ERI, where I was injected with a drug normally used for chemotherapy, and which I’m told will – hopefully – stop the growth, and allow my body to get rid of it naturally. (Apologies for the blunt language here: I honestly can’t think of an easier way to say it…) As you can probably imagine, while obviously preferable to surgery (Which I’m told the surgeon would be unlikely to agree to at this stage anyway, as the pregnancy is so tiny they would be unable to find it, and would likely have to remove the entire ovary and tube), this isn’t exactly an easy option: this is a heavy-duty drug which is normally used to treat cancer – it has a number of unpleasant side effects, and while I’m told the success rate of it is high, especially at the very early stage we’ve managed to catch it at, it doesn’t work for everyone: which means I may well end up facing surgery anyway.
Needless to say, I’m absolutely devastated, and so terrified that the only reason I’m managing to write this at all is because I finally agreed to take some of the valium I’d been prescribed, which gives me a few hours of relative calm before the panic starts to creep in again. As strange as I know this will sound, ectopic pregnancy really IS one of my biggest fears, and something I’ve worried about my entire adult life: mostly because my mum had an ectopic pregnancy after she had me, and as they didn’t have the benefit of early detection in those days, she did end up losing an ovary, and being very ill because of it.
I was just a few years old when this happened, but I do have vague memories of it: memories which, it seems, have been jumbled over the years, to the point where the story was basically re-writen in my mind. Until this week, for instance, I’d thought my mum had been told she was likely to die from it, and had just barely survived: when I told her this, my mum was absolutely horrified, and told me that while it was, indeed, a terrible and frightening situation (in her case, the pregnancy was much further advanced when it was discovered), she was at no point told she was dying. I’ve no idea where I got that from, but I grew up with the conviction that, if I ever got pregnant, the same thing would happen to me, and that it would likely kill me.
If I’m completely honest, one of the main reasons (although not the only reason) I’ve chosen to remain childfree all these years was the absolute conviction that my health anxiety would make pregnancy impossible for me – and that I would almost certainly end up in the exact situation I find myself in now. Now that my worst fear has actually been realised, part of me just can’t get over the fact that I could be THAT unlucky, while the other part is just all, ‘Well, seriously, Amber: what did you THINK would happen?”
It’s one of the few times in my life that my instinct has proven to be correct. I could not possibly be less happy about it.
The worst thing of all is that this drug is slow to work: I have to go back into hospital tomorrow to have some more blood taken, but we’ve been told not to expect much from that visit (in fact, it’s likely that my Dark Passenger, as I’ve dubbed it, in a bid to make this whole ordeal easier on myself, will actually have grown some more by then…), and that it’ll be Saturday before we’ll know if the treatment is starting to work. In the meantime, there’s a small chance that the ovary could rupture anyway, which means I basically feel like I’m living with a ticking time-bomb inside my body. I’m scared to move, feel too sick with nerves to eat much, and I’m having to sleep with the light on, so I can distract myself with reading, rather than lying in the dark, worrying myself to death, and knowing that, as bad as things are right now, it could still get much, much worse.
It hasn’t been a fun week, all things considered.
Under normal circumstances, I’d have been signed off work for the next few weeks, as, even in the best case scenario, in which the medication works exactly as it should, I’ll still require several weeks of careful monitoring, and multiple hospital visits – and that’s without taking the extreme anxiety out of the equation. As I’m a self-employed blogger, however, well, I’m basically having to sign myself off instead. Right now, I can’t even fathom the idea of taking outfit photos, or writing beauty product reviews, as the unopened ASOS and H&M packages currently sitting in my kitchen prove.
I don’t, however, want to stop writing here altogether. My GP, as it turns out, has a special interest in anxiety disorders, and has been attempting to help me with mine. I say “attempting”: to be perfectly honest, this has so far been of very little help to me (I know that, once this is over, the health anxiety will obviously have to be addressed, but right now my focus is on dealing with the physical condition, rather than the mental one, and I can’t really focus on much else. The doctor’s insistence on using medical terms rather than layman’s ones doesn’t really help with that either…): one thing he has told me, however, is to write this all down, almost as a form of therapy. The doctor has some kind of complicated right brain/left brain theory to explain all of this, and while I’m not even going to try to explain that here, it did make a certain kind of sense to me, in that writing has always been my therapy: it’s sometimes the only way I can make sense of my jumbled thoughts, and writing this mammoth blog post has helped me more than anything else I’ve tried so far.
When I wrote my post on whether or not bloggers should write about politics a couple of weeks ago, the majority of you said I should feel free to write about whatever the hell I like here. There were a few people, however, both in the comments section and on social media, who, while respectfully agreeing that I’m free to do whatever I want with my own blog, said they’d personally prefer for me to stick purely to fashion, and not deviate from that subject even a little bit, or they would unfollow me.
I was actually a little surprised by that, because, to me, this has never been a “fashion” blog, in the true sense of that word. It has always been primarily an online diary, and while I do write a lot about fashion, purely because it’s one of my main interests, I’ve never promised to exclusively concentrate on fashion, and right now, I just can’t do it. This current situation has totally consumed every aspect of my life, and while I’m hoping that everything will go as smoothly as possible, and normal service will resume very shortly, in the meantime I hope those of you who are only here for the fashion will understand that my health (both physical and mental) has to come first right now, and I will not be remotely offended if the fashion fans choose to unsubscribe or just skip those posts that aren’t to their taste.
In a bid to end this insanely long post on a somewhat more positive note, I just want to add that, as bleak as things feel to me right now, ultimately I know I’ve been incredibly lucky. The treatment and compassion I’ve had from the staff at both the Edinburgh Royal Infirmary and St. John’s Hospital in Livingston, for instance, has been the best I could possibly have hoped for: I feel incredibly fortunate to have access to such high quality, totally free healthcare, and also to have the love and support of my family and friends, who are the only reason I’ve made it through the last few days. I know there are lots of people out there who aren’t so fortunate, or who are dealing with far worse situations, and while it’s an obvious exaggeration to say that health anxiety saved my life, the fact remains that, had I not pushed for early – and some would argue unnecessary – testing, my first interaction with the NHS would have come at the standard 12 week ultrasound: at which point it would likely have been too late to even hope to avoid surgery. As I mentioned above, I’ve had my share of issues with the NHS in the past, and I know the system isn’t perfect, but we’re SO lucky to have it, and I don’t take that for granted, even for a second.
So I’ve been incredibly lucky… but unfortunately I’m not quite out of the woods yet, which is why I hope you’ll understand the interruption to normal service, and the temporary switch to old-skool diary-style blogging, if and when I’m up to it. (Also, I’m anticipating at least a few comments here telling me I shouldn’t be blogging at all right now, so I just want to reiterate that writing this has been really cathartic for me: I don’t in any way feel obliged to keep you all updated, and that’s not why I’m writing this – it’s just that writing is the thing that helps me most right now, and if it continues to help, I’d like to continue to do it. I know no one expects an explanation of what I choose to write here, but I did just want to give you all a heads up about the temporary change in content…)
Finally, I realise this post is now almost the length of a short novel, and if you’ve made it to this point, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I do, however, have just one small request for you, which is that you please, please refrain from posting any ectopic pregnancy horror stories in the comments sections, or by email etc. I know a lot of people like to think that ‘these things happen for a reason’, but, not being religious, I’m afraid I really struggle with that one, and am doing my best to concentrate on the positives, and to hope that I’ll be one of the lucky ones for whom this current treatment works. Once this is all over (and assuming it all goes well), I would like nothing more than to be able to chat with those of you who’ve gone through something like this, and who know how I feel: right now, though, I’m still so freaked out by it all that happy stories are pretty much all I can handle: thanks for understanding!