Wednesday, October 7, 2015

My Brain is Formidable (or, Apparently I'm not actually fatally ill)

So, last Wednesday a week ago, I popped into my doctor's office.  She looked over my chart and said in a chirpy voice, "your lab results look great!"  That's the takeaway: I'm officially and certifiably in excellent shape, confirmed not only by those lab tests, but also by a subsequent abdominal ultrasound.  I'm fine, really.

But the reason that I had that ultrasound is that when my doctor chirped, "your lab results look great!",  I responded with "are you kidding?!?"  And then I proceeded to grill her.

I should back up.  Way back in June, I had my annual physical that comes with a side order of blood test stuff. I have always been an insanely healthy person, so much so that about thirteen years ago, when a co-worker needed a kidney, I figured "what the heck?  Let her have one of mine!  I have more than enough health to go around!"  Since then, I've given blood regularly, adopted kids, run marathons, finished an IronMan, and done other rah-rah uber-healthy things.  My annual exams always make my doctor wistful, wishing she had more patients like me.  And so it was very gingerly that my doctor suggested, back in at my exam in June, that one of my blood test results could bear a bit more watching:  I ought to get re-tested in three months.  And since the watch-able result had something to do with kidney function, I agreed (but in my head did that "hah, hah; no way there could be anything wrong with me" thing that I do).

Zoom forward to mid-September, and I went in for another blood test.  The doctor tsk-tsked that I rode my bike a whole two or three miles to get to the blood test, because that could throw off the results, but at least I did ride slowly and leisurely.  These days, I've been biking more than 40 miles each week, plus running 13 miles each week, so a little 2-mile bike ride isn't really a workout.  I did my blood test, patted myself on the back, and biked on home.

And then on Friday, I got the results via computer, in this newfangled electronic records system that my physician's office has set up for me.  Ugh, what a horrid mistake!  Because this is where my formidable brain took over.  What follows is partly understandable, and mostly just really embarrassing.

So, the result my doctor was looking at back in June was my KFC -- my Kidney Filtration Category.  Okay, it's not really called a "KFC", but since what follows in this story is the result of my own brain instead of actual doctor advice, I'm going to call it "KFC" so nobody is even tempted to try to get medical advice from this post (other than, "trust your doctor", which I didn't have the opportunity to do).  On Friday afternoon, my email binged with the news that my test results were in, so I looked them up on the newfangled computer system, and it said, "Your KFC is 52%".

Okay, what the heck does that mean?  I looked around on various reputable -- I swear! -- web sites, and every single one of them said, "Dude.  Your KFC is supposed to be close to 100%. If it's below 60% for more than a quarter of a year, your kidneys are probably dying on you.  Get some good meds to keep them from getting worse too quickly".  I quick called my doctor's office, made an appointment for the first available date -- next Wednesday, and settled in.

From Friday to Wednesday, in the absence of actual doctor feedback, my formidable brain took over.  I already mentioned that I did research in reasonable places to do research, all of which shook their heads sadly at me and said that it's merely a matter of time before I go on a transplant list.  It wasn't long before the symptoms set in on me.  The fact that I'd been completely symptomless up to this very point was easily explained by those same reputable web sites, which said, "Most people with Chronic Kidney Disease exhibit no symptoms."  Oooh!  That's me!  But then, the tell-tale signs of true kidney failure started setting in:  thirstiness.  nausea.  chills.

By Monday, it had become increasingly clear that the problem was not merely that I had a weak kidney; no.   The pain that had started infecting my stomach meant that the kidney loss was a secondary cause of pancreatitis.  Or stomach tumors.  Or both.  Or maybe something having to do with my lungs.  My husband did his best to stay calm, as did I.  He said, "If it were anybody else but you, I'd have thought you were over-reacting.  But you are always so calm, I know this must be serious."  We went out for our anniversary dinner, and I watched him eat his food. I couldn't even touch mine.

And then Wednesday, I finally got to see my doctor, and she smiled cheerfully and said, "your lab results look great!"  And I asked "Are you kidding?  What about my KFC?"  She said, "Oh, people only use that for dosing purposes!  We really care about THIS number (some acronym) and THAT number (another acronym), and yours are both GREAT!"   And I asked, "Well, what about my chills?  My pains?  The pancreatitis?"  And so my doctor offered me anxiety medicine.

The doctor said, "By the way, you've lost weight!  That's great!  What have you been doing?"  And I said, "NOT EATING!!".  Losing weight is not the sign of health that it's cracked up to be.

I haven't taken the anxiety meds, but I did agree to take some heartburn medications.  And even though I felt perfect two weeks ago and I totally knew that it was my brain that had stressed me out, I was still stressed enough that eventually I whined my way into a total abdominal ultrasound.  And that's how I know that I'm fine, because apparently I'm beautiful on the inside.  But dang, my brain is powerful -- I'm still  having minor random stomachaches, and I know I've spent a bunch of money on meds and tests just because my brain led my body into scary new territory.  Not wasted money, exactly, but certainly money and anxiety that wouldn't have happened if I'd gotten the test results from the doctor instead of getting them on the computer with a 5-day head start on a proper interpretation.

How embarrassing.  It truly is nice to know for sure that my body is okay, just like I had always thought it was . . . and in an odd way, I'm even glad that I got to have the humbling and very educational experience of not being able to rely 100% on my health.  But I thought I'd had more control over the stuff between my ears.


  1. As a healthcare provider, this is why I dislike patients having immediate access to laboratory results. There are so many opportunities for worry---I just talked someone off the ledge regarding an "abnormal" level that was nothing to worry about (level of, say, 11.6 when 11.5 is the upper end of normal). And you strike me as one in the upper centiles of levelheadedness and rationality. Imagine the degree of fretting from the more worry-prone and the demands for repeat testing/intervention in the truly anxious.

    1. All of my friends who work in health care say, "NEVER worry until after you talk to the doctor. NEVER worry first!" So, now they tell me. And now, after all this gut-wrenching (in an almost literal sense) worry, I have to say that I agree with them!