In 2017 while at work, I suffered my first migraine. I had headaches before but nothing like this. I suffered a sudden onset of all the classic migraine symptoms; blindness in one eye, blurred vision & jagged lines, nausea, and of course the pain.
I chucked it up to stress at work, but the headaches prolonged for years after I was not working anymore.
At the advice of a friend who also had her share of migraines, I went to a chiropractor. To my surprise, getting aligned worked but only for so long. I went from 3 or 4 debilitating headaches a year to suffering severe chronic head pain a few times a month at the end of 2021. I wondered if the Covid Vaccine was to blame and found a neurologist who ordered several tests and brain scans.
Thankfully the tests came back normal, but for a quick moment, I was disappointed as I desperately wanted answers so that I could fix whatever was causing my quality of life to go downhill. Needless to say, the doctor prescribed a migraine medication and sent me on my way.
I suffered 2 more migraines that month, 1 of which lasted 4 days with excruciating pain & vomiting, I had to be helped off the bathroom floor by a neighbor while my young daughter watched in sympathy & horror. I have reflected on that moment a hundred times since then and it always makes me think of the scene in “when a man loves a woman” where Alice is found on the bathroom floor and her nine-year-old daughter Jess thinks her mom has died. It is heartbreaking.
With no relief from the medication prescribed, I decided to revisit the doctor. Unfortunately, I left that visit feeling frustrated, angry, and worse than before. I had this knot in my stomach and a nagging feeling that there had to be something more. I did not just wake up one day with a migraine and I was done having to “just live with it”. I went home and did some research on ZocDoc.com for another Neurologist. Based on reviews I booked an appointment.
At Complete Neurological Care in Midtown after a deep conversation about my past and present symptoms, my lifestyle, my health habits, etc., my new fabulous doctor and I decided to redo blood tests and agreed that I should start an IV treatment. To my delight, I was able to do so the very same day at her office.
Two weeks later the blood test results were back. However, a bit unkind.
I had Leukocytosis. Leukocytosis is the scary word for elevated white blood cells which while not always cause for concern usually mean an infection or inflammation in the body. Less commonly, a high white blood cell count could indicate certain blood cancers or bone marrow disorders. In my case, I now had to find a Hematologist who would be able to find what Leukocytosis meant for me.
At Eastchester Center for Cancer Care, which by the way I found once again through ZocDoc at 4am the next morning, I was able to book an appointment for 10am that same day with Doctor Volterra. He requested his own blood tests which confirmed that I did not only have Leukocytosis, meaning more tests had to be done, but I also had a dangerously low amount of red blood cells. It was so low that I had to be immediately put on an Iron infusion treatment, immediately. The cause? Severe Anemia!
The leukocytosis however was my main concern. Dr. Volterra at that point, with his expertise, did not find any reason for me to be alarmed, but my heart still sank, and over the following 2 weeks I did the worse thing anyone awaiting medical test results could do- I Googled!
Let me just tell you that Googling symptoms when you suspect an illness is a sure way to convince yourself you’re dying. The possibility of leukemia, liver disease, lupus, or any of the other illnesses associated with having Leukocytosis plagued my mind. Doom & Gloom lurked everywhere.
I tried desperately to keep calm but thoughts of my family living without me, not being able to see my daughter grow up, or growing old with my partner put me through emotional hell. I had so much more life I wanted to live. No one will live forever, but I did not want to have a terminal illness.
I continued with IV treatments- a concoction of magnesium with other vitamins, as well as the Iron infusions twice a week for 8 weeks. It is no fun when your veins moonlight as a human pin cushion because they like to play hide and seek, albeit a small price to play because I am very grateful that my headaches stopped!
All these years the headaches I had been experiencing were my body screaming at me that something was wrong. I had been diagnosed with Anemia as a pre-teen but never followed through with iron supplements. Extreme blood loss due to having uterine fibroids which cause heavy prolonged periods also contributed to depleted iron. (A post for another day) Had I not followed my instincts & got a second opinion, I might have been dead in a short amount of time.
Today, I am healing. The type of Anemia I have is treatable, however only because I tackled it “early” on, sadly, for many this is not the case. 1.7 in 100,000 deaths are caused by chronic anemia.
As for the Leukocytosis, I am grateful to report those results came back negative for any further complications. I do however have to continue with regular monitoring.
I feel there are a few lessons in my story which is why I decided to share it with you.
Don’t disregard symptoms you may be having, follow your instinct, get second opinions, and ask your doctor lots of questions. Really talk with your doctor. This experience showed me the difference between doctors and doctors who care with passion.
We never know the true value of our health until we are faced with losing it, however, the possibility of healing means the damage can no longer control our lives.