Christmas Eve has always been one of my favorite days of the year. A super happy time. This past year was different. I thought I was dying.
By the end of a day full of eating, present opening and even a beautiful snowfall, my arm was tingling and felt as if it was "asleep." I stayed up the entire night thinking that I was having a stroke. By morning, my other arm and legs were beginning to feel that way as well. I just knew that I had only a few hours to live. Should I watch the kids open presents for the last time or head to the ER? This was my mind.
Rewind about 20 years.
As a child I was always afraid of being sick; going to the doctor. I had experienced a reoccurring illness at a very young age. I remember having to endure invasive tests and procedures over an extended period of time and no one being able to figure out what was wrong with me. It was a lot for a 7 year old to absorb, both physically and emotionally.
I was finally diagnosed with something and the illness went away, but the psychological damage was already done. As I grew up I would always think that every little thing that was slightly off with me physically-- a scratch, a bruise, a bump-- must mean that there was something terribly wrong with me. I never wanted to go to the doctor because I was afraid of what we would find out. Totally irrational. But apparently a very common reaction after a serious childhood illness.
Incidentally, it was during this time of anxiety as a child that I began to turn to food for comfort. I hated to be alone at night. I could kill two birds with one stone by staying with my grandparents. At their house I could sleep in the bed with them and eat whatever I wanted, whenever I wanted. I equated their house with safety and comfort and I would go there every chance I got.
Thankfully I have been relatively healthy throughout most of my life. I remember a few times in high school that I thought I was dying, but other than that I managed pretty well. It wasn't until last year as I reached a weight that was 100 pounds over my recommended range that health became an issue once again.
In October I was stricken with unbearable stomach pains that kept me doubled over for 3 days. Afraid to go to the doctor, sure that I would find out I had cancer, I chose to suffer. The abdominal pain was bad but what was going on in my head was excruciating. I put off going to the doctor until finally my symptoms eased up a bit. It turned out to be something minor.
In November both my kids and myself were constantly sick. Every time one of them was having difficulty breathing or my throat started to hurt, I went into panic mode. You see, this weird form of hypochondria extends to my children as well. The common cold translated to pneumonia in my mind. Between both children, our insurance records indicate that we went to the doctor no less than 13 times in the month of November. I would plan for my husband to be the one to take the kids. Bless his heart for willingly doing what many dads are never even asked to do. The agony of waiting to hear their diagnosis was more than I could take on several levels. The fear would cause me physical sickness and pain.
By Thanksgiving I was near a breaking point, but had no idea.
The week leading up to Christmas brought me an early gift. Cramps. Severe cramps that felt like the menstrual variety but weren't. I self-diagnosed the pain as ovarian cancer. That had to be it. I just remember becoming so extremely aware of the insides of my body that I could not concentrate on anything else. Every little twitch, pain, cramp...brought on more of the hysteria.
Christmas Eve was not particularly stressful. It was a beautiful snowy day, unusual for Texas. We had been to see both sides of the family and enjoyed fellowship and food with our loved ones. For the most part the cramps had subsided and I wasn't thinking about it too much. I had just opened my last present around 10:00 pm when the warm tingle began to creep up my right arm. It felt like my arm was asleep but there was no reason for that to be so. I had just been sitting there normal.
Immediately my heart began pounding. A stroke, I thought. I am going to be 29 when I die of a stroke on Christmas Eve.
We got home and I went to lay down. Justin had to put the kids down and lay all the presents out by himself. He just looked at me like I was crazy. I knew I must seem crazy, but I also knew what I felt in my arm. By the middle of the night my other arm was doing the same thing. This sent me into even more of a panic. I drifted in and out of sleep for a couple of hours but one time I woke up and realized that my right leg was tingling also.
Once the decision was made to take me to the ER, it was almost as if I had resigned to the fact that I was going to die. I had let go of the stroke theory. That would have killed me already. By this time I believed I had a brain tumor that was encroaching on my spine and affecting my central nervous system.
I sat in the ER for about 3 hours only to be told I had a pinched nerve in my neck. I was given a muscle relaxer, an anti-inflammatory drug and sent home. I really wanted to believe this was it, but I knew that wasn't what was wrong with me. I'm not a doctor or anything but I knew a pinched nerve on my right side wasn't likely to affect both arms and legs. But I took the meds and tried to believe I was okay.
After a few days on the meds and no change, I began to worry more. I knew they were wrong. My mind began to wander to dark places and I was panicing. At one point I could feel the tingly sensation in my cheeks, temples, and ears. I freaked.
I really and truly believed I was dying. Or I would not have been the one to call and make a doctor's appointment with my primary care doctor. As we drove into town to see him, my throat began to swell, or so it seemed. I thought I was not going to be able to breathe for much longer.
My Grey's Anatomy-educated guess was that the brain tumor was at the point where my neck and spine met. It was growing so exponentially fast that it was literally suffocating me as we drove. I thought about telling Justin to just keep on going to an ER but decided an ambulance could take me from the Dr. office as soon as he diagnosed me. I knew that I would be wheeled in to surgery immediately and I knew there was a good chance I wouldn't make it. I remember thanking God for giving me that Christmas with my children...
As I sat on the waxy paper in the doctors office, I could hear the tick-tock of the clock so loudly it hurt my ears. Soon the doc walked in. He gave a surprised glance at Justin (like dude, why are you here, too?) and I remember being so annoyed that he asked him about a football game out come. They discussed it. Seriously! Right there in front of me as I was being choked by my neck tumor.
So he did a neurological exam, asked me an extensive line of questions. Then he said the words that shocked the pants off me. He said, "Keelie, your symptoms are indicative of someone with anxiety."
In my mind I was trying to process that. He asked if I had been under any unusual stress lately? "No," was my expedient reply. "Not that I can think of." And truthfully--I couldn't. I didn't realize that my level of anxiety was different from any other mother or person. I thought it was normal to be in a constant state of panic and fright.
He assured me that I had no signs of any neurological problems, no MS, no tumors and wrote me a temporary prescription for Xanax. We walked back out to the car. I was in shock. I was trying to comprehend what he had just told me. I was thinking that was ridiculous. Absurd. I was looking at my diagnosis sheet skeptically reading the words GAD-Generalized Anxiety Disorder and that's when I noticed it.
The tingling sensation was gone. Completely. Not in my arms, legs, face, nowhere. And I could breathe just fine.
That's weird. The tumor must be...shrinking?