Updated: Jul 8, 2020
Take Heed of Hidden Health Warnings
Every morning when I'm getting ready for the day I put on my blue medical bracelet. And at least once a week someone asks me what it's about. My bracelet is a bit personal, but I first resist my natural impulse to retract into my introverted shell, and I share.
I got the bracelet over a year ago for my own health and safety. Unfortunately, as I grow older, I'm accumulating aches and pains, allergies and awarenesses of my own fragility. So I figured I should emblazon them on a bracelet while they still fit on one side 🤔.
Years ago I would have only included a lifelong allergy to penicillin which, apparently when I was a toddler, blew me up like a blowfish when it was first administered after a mild infection.
However, ten years ago, my poor overall health revealed two more ailments. The first issue occurred during a 13-hour marathon drive home after the Thanksgiving holidays with my family. I love to drive. I love the peace, serenity, and solitude. And I've been cursed with car sickness if I dare read anything, so I might as well let others "hobby" while I relax behind the wheel. Unfortunately, this time, my right leg started to ache. After finally pulling into the drive and limping inside, I gave myself the prerequisite week of manly stubbornness before seeing my primary. My doctor noted my obviously enlarged calf and suspected I had a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). An emergency ultrasound confirmed the diagnosis. The DVT was quickly remedied through some blood thinners. However, given my doctor's thoroughness, they ran a genetic test to determine I have a genetic predisposition to blood clotting (prothrombin mutation).
We opted to remain vigilant rather than invite the risks of continuous blood thinners. However, ten years later, after another clot from a wicked bike accident and a third acquired during surgery, after which my hand blew up like a balloon, one last DVT in 2018 was the straw that broke the camel's back and now I'm on Eliquis blood thinner for life. I've accepted the risk of a scraped knee or sloppy kitchen knife work releasing a spewing eruption of blood that rushes me to the hospital in place of the perhaps more catastrophic risk of a traveling blood clot. Just a few weeks after beginning my Eliquis regimen I tripped on the stairs to the front entryway. I crawled up the stairs to display my sliced big toe oozing blood and noticeably throbbing purple hues. I discounted the need to rush to the hospital, trading that option in for a paper towel-wrapped bandage which I squeezed for fifteen minutes of excruciating, blackout-worthy pain. As the bleeding stopped, I had successfully defined the line between self-medicating and an ambulance ride. Several months later on summer vacation jog, I tripped over an asphalt ripple on the streets of Philadelphia, landing sprawled out face down, sacrificing my phone face for my own face. My elbows and knees throbbed and squirted while I hobbled a mile back to my family in the hotel. I figure this was just part of life now, though I do wonder if I will drop my stubbornness if the time comes when I truly must rush to the hospital. At least my medical bracelet can speak for me if I can't speak for myself.
Not a year after my first DVT, I belatedly went to my doctor to sort out a stomach ache and back pains. I expected some med and a heating pad, but instead, my thorough doctor eventually diagnosed me with Hemochromatosis. Hemochromatosis is yet another genetic disorder in which my body accumulates a bit more ferritin (a blood protein that contains iron and helps your doctor understand how much iron your body stores) than my body needs. Over time, this slight accumulation can become dangerous. For me, at about 40, my ferritin was 1486ppm, well over the 100-200ppm normal range. I was placed on a low iron diet and regimen of weekly phlebotomies (one-pint blood donations, not the frontal lobotomies my kids thought I required) until the low ferritin new blood helped bring my count back to normal. The risk of such a condition, that often goes undiagnosed for years and decades with only the symptoms (abdominal pains, weight gain/loss, hair loss, loss of energy) treated, can be life-threatening. As ferritin accumulates, it often rests in internal organs. The doctor forewarned I could be "rusting from within". Luckily a biopsy confirmed my condition had not advanced to such a level so now, through ongoing semi-annual phlebotomies, my Hemochromoatosis is well in check. I urge everyone to get a full iron panel including ferritin, at your next annual physical. It might save your life.
So now my blue medical bracelet is a subtle reminder of my growing tenderness and may perhaps one day help an emergency responder properly treat me and save my life.
And the silver lining...as an introvert, my bracelet is a great conversation-starter around once a week...which is plenty for me!
So this Valentine's Day, give your loved ones a magical gift, a medical bracelet of their very own...they even come in red!
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