I originally posted an unfinished draft of this post by mistake and pulled it out to complete it, only to realize that it’s a pretty long story (like all my stories…daldal eh, hehe). I’ve decided to break the post into three parts to make it more digestible. Bear with me, it’s kind of complicated.
Before anything else, I’d like to disclose the fact that I am a medical doctor, just your average run-of-the-mill GP (general practitioner). When people ask me what my specialization is, my usual jibe is “Patient. I’m a doctor who is currently specializing on how to be a good patient.” I graduated from Medicine and passed the Physician Licensure Exams in 2011, practiced in several clinics as a moonlighter (our term for freelance GPs taking up reliever posts and other odd jobs) for 5 years and am now working from home as a medical writer/ researcher for an international corporation that caters to pharmaceutical companies. Again, this is no humblebrag opportunity, I just wanted to clarify that I’m not some Quack pretending to know a lot of medical things to weave incredible faith stories. I want to get that out in the open so that skeptics/ agnostics/ atheists will know that faith and science/ reason are NOT mutually exclusive.
Growing up, I was as healthy as a horse…a horse with some minor food allergies and allergic rhinitis, and a couple of head trauma incidents, that is. 😛 The only relevant illness in my medical history was Grave’s disease, an autoimmune thyroid dysfunction that causes the thyroid to release excess thyroid hormones (i.e. hyperthyroidism), which in turn causes increased metabolism. I had my thyroid ablated in 2007 and have been on thyroid hormone replacement for years. Steady lang. Oh, and appendectomy…the only time I was ever admitted in a hospital before was when I underwent appendectomy. We caught it early, so it was a minor thing.
And then recently, things became out-of-this-world weird. Being a doctor, I usually try to self-diagnose and self-manage before seeking my colleagues’ opinions (sakit talaga naming mga duktor yan). Having some medical training helps in that when you start entertaining the possibility that you might need emergency care, chances are, you (
DO need) should’ve gone to the ER eons ago.
Feeling Like a Malingerer
My medical adventure started in July of this year, when I had to be brought to the ER after having been found unresponsive on the floor for an hour. I could hear everything but could not move AT ALL. I could hear the Lifeline responders saying that apart from my slow heart beat (averaging at 40’s when the normal range is 80-100 beats per minute), it looks like I was just asleep. My BP was okay, my blood sugar was slightly on the lower end of the normal range, and the physical exam was unremarkable. I was breathing fine and was even able to swallow when needed (yey no drool, thank You Lord for leaving me with a little bit of dignity!). I tried to open my eyes to let everyone know I was okay, awake and aware, but my eyelids just made these annoying fluttering motions that wouldn’t stop until my sister put her hand over my eyes. Since I seemed pretty stable, they waited for my husband to get home (he headed home as soon as my sisters called him) before bringing me to St. Luke’s Medical Center, QC. Oh yeah, I graduated from St. Luke’s College of Medicine and had my internship at SLMC QC, so it’s like my second home. Well now it really feels like a second home, given all my admissions in the past four months 😛
I was able to move by the time we arrived at the ER, so I was horribly mortified and seriously wanted to turn back, especially since I knew some of the residents on duty at the ER at that time (Hi, Keith!). We even traded a few hirits along the lines of “Hinimatay? Kailan LMP (last menstrual period) mo?” which I refuted with a resounding “CHE!!!”
Everything seemed back to normal until I was about to transfer from the stretcher to the ER bed. I suddenly had that sinking feeling again and my whole body was started to get really heavy. I had just enough time to call Karlo’s attention before my eyes closed. My mind was wide awake, racing with a million thoughts and panicking at that point. Again, I couldn’t move, couldn’t open my eyes, couldn’t speak. Every time I tried to do anything (open my eyes, wiggle my toes, anything), nothing happened except that it felt like my brain was getting strained and I was starting to get a headache with the effort of trying to move. So I kept still and prayed because really, what else can I do, right? My prayer was along the lines of, “Lord, ano ‘to? Arte lang ba? Naririnig ko sila. Kung arte lang ‘to, pwedeng paki pitik naman ako? Nakakahiya na eh!”
For a while, nothing happened. And then about 3-5 minutes later, my limbs started feeling lighter and I was able to open my eyes effortlessly. Karlo was waiting by my side and some residents started taking down my medical history. I was able to answer for myself but in the middle of it, I had another episode. So weird. The rest of the day was essentially like that — being able to answer a bunch of questions a few minutes at a time and having a couple more episodes of temporary paralysis, lasting for about 2-5 minutes each time; physical exams, neurologic exams, blood extractions, IV insertions, etc. I heard Karlo and the other doctors trying to decide on which service (specialization) I should be referred to, given that my blood work was still in process and the only other observable abnormality was bradycardia. We ended up having Cardiology as our main admitting service with referrals to Neurology and Endocrinology.
I was referred to Dr. Geri Mariano, a young and energetic neurologist, whom I already knew from medicine days. I remember her proctoring our Neuro exam when she was a resident and I was in third year. She is also in charge of the Neurocritical Care Unit (NCCU) in SLMC so we had some pretty recent interactions back when my dad was in the NCCU. While she was interviewing me, I had another episode and she noted another seemingly minor thing — my pupils were dilated but briskly reactive. It was easy enough to confirm that they were dilated only when I was having an episode, given that I was out every 5 minutes or so that day. The neuro team’s initial impression was that of a complex partial seizure, so I was given IV diazepam with every episode, which was becoming more and more frequent as the day wore on. Let me just say that IV diazepam is a nightmare! Ang hapdi sa ugat! Plus I didn’t like the drowsiness that came with it because I had a hard time keeping track of details because benzodiazepines mess with short term memory. I remember being asked if I knew where I was and whether I can recall people’s names, and I remember how embarrassed I felt after having said “Yeah, of course I know where I am, and I know who you are!” with indignation, only to blank out. Bangag!
I remember waking up with a jolt in the NCCU because of the pneumatic compression stockings (device that regularly inflates and deflates automatically to sort of massage the calves used to prevent deep vein thrombosis in patients on prolonged bedrest) and thinking, “NCCU?! Nilagay niyo ako sa NCCU, grabe naman! Baka arte lang ‘to, NCCU agad? At OMG bakit ako may pneumatic compression, na-stroke ba ako?!” I find it pretty funny now, but the level of panic, confusion and embarrassment I felt then was so disorienting at the time. I couldn’t understand what I was happening and my symptoms were so weird, so my logical conclusion was that nag iinarte lang ako. Talk about poor insight, haha!
The other details of the next couple of days were hazy because I was in and out of consciousness, thanks to diazepam. I can remember waking up a few times whenever family and friends visited, and I remember waking up late at night one time because Karlo was crying by my side and I wanted to reassure him that I’ll be okay except I was too groggy to speak, so I just patted his arm. Good thing our med friends dropped by at that time…I felt much better seeing him being hugged and comforted by close friends when I was too vegged out to do anything.