I think it’s probably testament to how stressful my life has become recently that one of my pet fantasies had become having to spend a couple of days in hospital. Not, obviously, for anything serious but for something like a minor op, something that would force me to stay in bed, not deal with day-to-day stuff and just be looked after for a few days. In this fantasy, I’d be propped up on fluffy, snow-white pillows (looking pale and serene), in a sunshiny ward, cheerily thanking the lovely nurses, and blissfully dosed up on some sort of legal opiate, whilst my children visited me with quiet reverence, and with concern registered on their well-scrubbed faces. In this Hospital Neverland, all of the things that were worrying me were put on hold, and after a few days rest and being taken care I’d be sent home where my children (who had of course cleaned the house in preparation for my homecoming), would gather round me, administering gentle hugs, and offering food and drink as and when I needed it.
I really should have been careful what I wished for.
For the last few months, I’d been becoming increasingly aware that my health wasn’t all it should be. The first time I noticed it was the sudden dizziness I experienced back in February when I found out it could take the CMS months to get any child maintenance from E (something horribly true – I’m now facing going until the end of July with no payments), and I put it down to shock. After the initial symptoms had quietened down, I convinced myself that I was feeling ‘miles better’ and carried on as normal.
The other problem was that, hand-in hand with three of the most stressful months I have experienced since E left, my menopausal body was slamming me with the mother of all periods. I had had my period pretty much constantly from February until the end of April, and it was horrible. I’m not going to be graphic, but I’ve had three miscarriages, and what I was experiencing was akin to those.
By March I was experiencing breathlessness and a scarily rapid heartbeat every day. My walk to work was increasingly painful (I had to stop to get my breath on several occasions) and I couldn’t stop yawning. I knew I was run down, and stressed, so I dosed up on iron supplements and tried to make sure my diet was as healthy as possible. I put the breathlessness down to being unfit and the heart rate down to the anxiety that I’d been struggling with on a daily basis for the last six months. As the month went on, I began to suffer with restless leg syndrome, cold hands and feet and really itchy skin. By April I was unable to walk up the stairs without my legs turning to jelly (and feeling like I’d run 5k) and having to stop for a rest just to get my breath back.
Now, looking at all of those symptoms together, I’m sure you’re thinking “why on earth didn’t she go to a doctor?”, but the thing was, they didn’t all appear at once, they weren’t all severe all the time, and they were all really easy to put down to other things – age, stress, menopause – that I hadn’t considered them all as part of the same thing. I knew that the ‘period from hell’ was a problem, and that I’d have to see a GP about that, but I genuinely didn’t think there was a a serious. To be honest, I was too busy and had too much to think about to concentrate much on what was going on with me. I was spending my days working, looking after the kids, fending off calls from the mortgage company that E had defaulted on payments to, chasing the CMS and trying to work out how the fuck I could manage with no child maintenance at all from E, I wasn’t worrying about the fact that I felt crap. Also, the fact I sit down all day at work masked the problem. I was fine sitting down; it was moving that caused most of the problems. I suspected that I might be slightly anaemic, due to the blood loss I was experiencing, but because I was taking iron supplements, and doing all the right things diet-wise, I just assumed that that everything would sort itself out.
However, by the end of April I was getting breathless after just a few minutes walking and I decided that enough was enough. I went to see my GP who agreed that my periods were causing the problem, and the problems I was having were probably due to anaemia, and (after checking my heart was ok, and doing a blood test to make sure I didn’t have a clot on my lung) she arranged for me to have blood tests a couple of days later (and a pelvic ultrasound to check what was going on with my body). We booked an appointment for me to see her about the blood test results on the Wednesday. I left feeling reassured, thinking that it was just anaemia and that some prescription strength iron tablets would sort me out until we got to the bottom of what was going on with my periods.
On the Wednesday morning I trotted dutifully along to the GP, to be told that I had ‘significant anaemia’ and that I needed to go to hospital, immediately, for a blood transfusion.