26 January, 2014

Let's talk about health, baby!

I want to talk about health. Health is the common factor that binds humanity together – we all want it, we all need it, some of us have it, it applies to everybody bar none.

I take health pretty bloody seriously. To say I am (only) 27, I know about e-numbers like Dr Gillian, I obsess about my sleep like an over-tired parent, and I prioritise feeling good over having too much fun.

My attitude is a reaction to watching my Mum decline so very badly when I was 7, and never seeing her get back up. I was there when she tried to battle through flu, glandular fever, whatever it was, tried to raise 3 toddlers, tried to work full-time, tried to still feed us all at the end of the day, whilst feeling like hell. I watched Mum persevere and deteriorate and never recover and 20 years later her health has never been back. It just upped and left.

As well as my inherent fear of something shattering my health like it has my mother’s, I choose to be healthy because it leaves me feeling happier and energetic , day in and day out. I learnt from mistakes I made 5 years ago, I learnt that taking care of myself is central to a sunny disposition. And I love sun.

There is without a doubt a direct correlation between the extent to which people take care of themselves and their mood. It makes me sad when I see people so unhappy, not taking care of themselves - they have no idea how good they could feel! People tell me I am mad for going to the gym on a morning or having salad for lunch, but they don't know how different I might be if I didn't do those things. People tell me I am ‘always’ smiley, happy and chatty – well they probably haven’t seen me on 4 hours sleep, or hungover, or the morning after a Pic & Mix party. Or indeed at any point in the past 7 days. But on the good days, I know that being healthy contributes to a huge proportion of my happiness, it leaves me feeling like every day is a sunshine Saturday. And I have just been paid. And it’s my birthday.

Leading a healthy lifestyle doesn't leave me invincible. I get run down very easily. I ‘overdo it’ and my emotions run rapid at all times – whether I am laughing, moaning, crying or just plain happy, I am guaranteed to be doing it at full throttle, with a supporting choir and backing dancers (I am working on toning that down). I also don't manage stress very well. I just get stressed and then I get ill and then I get stressed because I am ill.

This week I have been knocked down by tonsillitis again and it has changed my whole being. I have been irritable, angry, reactive, so very tired, unmotivated, sensitive and teary. As the week wore on I felt my illness get increasingly out of control, and myself and my poise spiral with it. That lack of control over my own mind, body and heart is not fun. When I glimpse just one week of this, I cannot imagine being in my Mum’s shoes and my heart breaks when I try to.

Society teaches it’s young that our health is something we can control – from the moment we step into school we are taught eat well, exercise, sleep, don't over-do the custard creams and you'll be fine! Although we can take steps to be healthy, we can't control our own bodies. More than that, we rely on the NHS and a very small percentage of the population to help us when we are sick. Only the doctors and nurses amongst us have access to the knowledge, skills and drugs to make us feel better. I used to believe that if you went to a doctor, they would always know what is wrong and give you the right medicine. Now I know that even with our healthcare systems in place, being treated correctly is sometimes a bit of a lucky dip. Being treated with compassion is even more of one. The NHS is great, but sometimes it is a ruddy tombola. Whilst we are lucky to have a tombola at all, it’s exasperating when you lose.

This week, I LOST big to a Doctor at a walk-in centre. In short, the man who saw to me ignored all my symptoms and told me I was fine, that medicine would not help me and that in order to receive antibiotics I needed to be “so ill you wouldn't pick money up off the floor.” (HOW exactly do Doctors measure that?) All this while I sat in tears, with a temperature, my tonsils big and sore. I have experienced these symptoms enough times in my life before to know what they mean – they mean I need drugs and I need them nowwww!! But not according to this man who patronised me as I cried out of frustration and desperation – after a week of progressive pain and exhaustion, this man refused to take me seriously. HOW. DARE. HE.

Not one to go down without a fight, I got in at my GP (which in itself was a result) the following day and was prescribed a high dosage of antibiotics without hesitation. I was so relieved that I temporarily felt better, as I ran along in the freezing rain to the nearest late night pharmacy, clutching my prescription like a lottery ticket. My relief was paramount, but my anger from my experience of the previous day set in deeper. How dare that man who calls himself a doctor have dismissed me as he did, when I had so blatantly needed treatment?

The chairman of NICE has recently said that patients need to be pushier with their GPs and see themselves as equals - I could not agree more. GPs know medicine, but you know your body.

What I want to know is, how is medical negligence allowed to happen? EVER? Sometimes misdiagnosis is pure human error, but sometimes it is someone just refusing to take you seriously. I experienced negligence on the smallest of small scales, but it all translates into the same thing – when we do not have ultimate control over our bodies and when we are sick, why are the few people who can help us allowed to deny us just that? And belittle us whilst they do it?

I have seen first-hand how important it is to stop and listen when your body isn't happy, and how easily our health can be taken from us. I believe it is down to those who are qualified to make sure that each and every individual is as healthy as they can be and treated as though their health matters – prescription or no prescription, it’s equally about compassion and consideration.

Despite getting run down easily, I am lucky to be a strong and mainly healthy girl and I will do everything I can to hold onto my health for as long as possible, even if that means being really boring sometimes, crying outside walk-in centres and shouting at people until they give me my meds!


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