There I was, lying in a hospital bed in the A&E department of Parkway East Hospital on May the 11th. Saline drip running into one hand, an oxygen clip on the other attached to a machine which hummed in tempo with my (racing) heart rate. I had no hands free to use my phone, so I had plenty of time to think.
About how I was discharged from the same hospital just two days ago after having been admitted for 2 nights.
About that high fever that has been going on for a ridiculously long time. (Two and a half weeks at that point in time, still ongoing today which makes it 4 weeks.)
About how I nearly passed out several times that day, which panicked me enough to sent me flying (okay, not quite) back to the A&E department the third time in a week.
Rewinding three weeks back, the holiday trip which seemingly sparked it all. A getaway which turned sour after I had about half of my cash stolen from my baggage (my first time ever having cash stolen abroad despite travelling frequently), which left me with no cash for the remaining 3 days there. And the high fever began as soon as I landed back in Singapore.
And how just 5 minutes ago, I was wailing my eyes out for almost an hour because the A&E nurse insisted on running the drip at the maximum rate. (I needed emergency rehydration, from the looks of it. And the tears weren’t helping.) After much whining and punching of the nurse call button, they finally acceded to running it at half the rate. The tears stopped, I got slightly more comfortable and started thinking.
Why am I so suay*?
(* – unlucky)
The thoughts continued further. I realized that hey, if my life was a movie, the happenings of the past three weeks would have made a pretty good drama serial. I began plotting in my head just for fun, a story about a female protagonist who seems to be hit by a string of bad luck one after another. (I can’t say much for the acting though.)
Another sudden realization. The previous three weeks is quite possibly one of the most happening periods in my life.
Stolen cash. High fever. Hospital Admission. Dehydration. Crying like a baby in the A&E.
Then for no particular reason at all, I started giggling. Not the high-pitched, loud girly giggling. (There was a younger girl resting in the bed next to me for intense abdominal pain and no way would I want her to think I was laughing at her.) But the silent kind of giggle.
Everything was an experience. Not a good one for sure, but an experience nonetheless. I now know what a holiday trip from hell feels like.
Suddenly, I just felt like taking a photo to remember that moment when I saw the brighter side. I attempted shifting the oxygen clip from my right hand to my drip hand … and promptly sent everything haywire. I couldn’t help but laugh a little again as I punched the nurse call button for the nth time that night. Oxygen clip replaced, I now had a free hand to take a selfie.
Believe it or not, this photo kept me going for the subsequent week and beyond when I was re-admitted into hospital for even more investigations and drips. I got depressed for a while when I could do barely anything without feeling like I was going to pass out, but bounced back quickly.
All I had to do was to glance at that photo.
See that goofy looking girl with the drip in her hand and her tongue sticking out at you? That was you just X days ago, I told myself. And if she can still be as goofy, so can you.
What is it about illness that opens a person up as a free-for-all repository of the worst, most condescending advice imaginable?
Unsolicited Medical Advice – Nothing about Everything
One word – no. I’ll stop you before you even start.
I’ve stopped talking to people about my health (apart from a trusted 1-2 closest friends) precisely because of this reason. Because everyone seems to want to have a say.
“I think you should change your doctor, I don’t think your current doctor is doing a good job.”
“Why don’t you opt for something more natural? Like Traditional Chinese Medicine.”
“You should seek a third opinion. Your current medications are too expensive.”
“You should take more vitamin A/B/C/D/E (or whatsoever).”
No. I did not ask you for your advice. And no, I don’t think you’re in the position to judge that “my doctor is not doing a good job” or “my medications are not right for me”. Neither should you be dishing out advice when you do not have the full picture. (Which you definitely don’t – I’ve kept 90% of the ‘picture’ hidden. The remaining 10% are the occasional symptoms you see.)
I speak for myself and most chronically ill people out there. I understand your intentions are good/you want to help. But really, no thank you.
Instead, this is what I ask for.
Trust that my doctor and I are allies, that we are working together towards the best possible way to fight this monster that is my illness(es). My doctor is doing his best. So am I.
Just because I am not in what you think is the “optimum state of health” does not mean that my doctor is not doing a good job. We are doing the best we can. It’s challenging to restore a car that has been in a bad accident to it’s original state of glory. Likewise for humans.
I accept my current state of health now (although you might disagree) because it’s already several times better than how it was before – when I was going in and out of hospital every week or even every night.
The road to recovery is not always smooth. There will be hiccups.
Trust in the fact that I am perfectly capable to manage my own health and make sound decisions.
Realize the reason why I am rejecting all forms of unsolicited medical advice is because I’ve been with this long enough to understand myself and my own body, and that I know my own medical history best, and what my current health can and cannot tolerate. (Not because I am stubborn or close-minded, as some people put it. On top of the fact that you’re sticking your nose up somewhere it doesn’t belong.)
There are many other ways to help without walking down the unsolicited medical advice route (which trust me, pisses the person off more than “helping”). Supportive messages when things aren’t going too great is good enough. And even if you’re silent when we’re seated face to face, I’ll still know you’re with me.
It makes me feel like you think this is somehow still my fault. Like, if I really wanted to get better, I would just do the random thing you were telling me about, because obviously that’s what you would do in my situation and then you would get better and then you wouldn’t have this issue. But that’s not reality.
All your unsolicited medical advice totally cured me! (J/k) – The Only Certainty Is Bad Grammar
My painful invisible disease is more real than your imaginary medical expertise.
Unsolicited Medical Advice – Unsolicited Medical Advice Warriors
In the midst of my health insurance application right now and I can’t help but feel a little marginalized. And I’m pretty sure anyone out there with any form of medical history would be feeling the same way too.
In fact, some form of marginalization will definitely occur if you’re anywhere less than in perfect health, insurance or otherwise. I still clearly remember my part time waitressing stint at Swensen’s in 2005, when my manager grumbled aloud about how he sent one of my floor-mates back because she was feeling giddy (which was a nice gesture actually) which was then followed by “Can’t stand this kind of sick people. So useless and a waste of time only!”
That was then I promised myself that I’d never fall sick because this kind of managers are pretty much everywhere.
The point that ‘one should not be a sickie’ was further hammered in when I filled in my internship application for a local airline company in 2007, which asked for a medical history so detailed I felt I was applying to be in the police force instead of a lowly IT intern. (Thankfully, my medical history was still close to zero then.)
Then, 2008 happened and I had to adjust to what I coined as my ‘new normal’.
Subsequently, 2010 happened and I had to re-adjust to yet another ‘new normal’.
I was beginning to fear for my future, especially in a productivity-centric society. Surely, every company would only want to hire a healthy employee who can work her days off with as little sick leave as possible.
Thankfully, the only form of marginalization I’m facing so far is insurance. In all other aspects, all I can say is that I must be a really lucky person to be surrounded with the people I’m with now.
I’m really grateful and indebted to the people who gave me a chance to prove myself despite the occasional flare-ups due to my compromised immune system. I believe I brought this up to you guys in person before but I was told ‘not to be silly’. (; Thanks to you, I managed to reach a point where I feel self-actualized in almost every single aspect of my life.
To those out there living with chronic illnesses, keep your chin up and stay awesome.
“I was very grateful to have heard it again. Because I guess we all forget sometimes.
And I think everyone is special in their own way. I really do.”
– Stephen Chbosky, The Perks of Being a Wallflower