Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Does chronic illness make us less likely to seek treatment for other medical issues?

Do we become so used to pain, to feeling unwell, to the mosaic of symptoms that can accompany illnesses like RA, that we ignore other health issues? Are we more likely to put up with minor symptoms of another condition, reasoning that our plates are already full enough without yet more doctors and more treatments? Is this necessarily a bad thing?

I probably have Interstitial Cystitis, according to a uro-gynecologist I saw a couple of years ago after I'd decided it was time to figure out why I have to pee about thirty times a day (really). She prescribed a relatively new medication, an extremely restrictive diet, and told me to think about coming back for a cystoscopy.

I never did. I never even tried the medication. Why? Because a week or two after that, I was on my way to an urgent care cardiac clinic after a call from my university health centre doctor had convinced them to see me right away. That was just the beginning of the mire of appointments, procedures, ambulatory monitors and new medications I waded through over the next year, and which still hasn't entirely let up.

I made a conscious decision that I would prefer to live with my relatively minor IC symptoms (and there are people who suffer a great deal more with it than I do) than to embark on yet another treatment plan or add yet another specialist to my swelling retinue. I didn't want to try another medication. I'm too passionate about food and cooking to stick to the diet. Some might call that irresponsible, but I know it's the best decision for me at this point.

Our plates are full, and we frequently face difficult decisions. Should I try that new medication? Is that surgery really necessary? And, most importantly, how can I live the best life possible with chronic illness? For me, the answer to that question has sometimes been that I must weigh two negatives in the balance, and go with the one that least disrupts the many good things in my life.

This was me on Sunday. My sister and I enjoyed a lovely picnic at a little, old, unused church that sits up on a hill overlooking the lake near our house. My plate is filled with things I wouldn't have been eating if I was on the IC diet: tea (yum), tomatoes (yum), sausage (yum!).
So instead of rigidly restricting myself, I eat a healthy, diverse diet. I exercise. I treat my RA aggressively and I'm working with my doctors to get my heart sorted out. And yes, I pee all the time, and sometimes feel a little uncomfortable. But I get to keep that extra little bit of my life outside of the cycle of illness and treatment. And that, to me, is worth more.


WarmSocks said...

Interesting topic. I evaluate whether or not any issue bugs me enough to expend the energy that will be required to deal with treatment. Sometimes it's easier to just deal with the symptoms.

Remicade Dream said...

Wow - your timing is great! I have an appointment to see a urologist next week for suspected interstitial cystitis. I've also questioned whether I'd be willing to do the extremely restrictive IC diet, which contains most of my favorite foods. You've given me something to think about.

Splinter said...

I always get treatment for the most life-threatening. As far as I'm concerned, if it's not going to kill me next week then it can wait to be treated.

Helen said...

Thanks for the comments! I only started to think about this recently, but I've realized I do it quite a bit. Of course if something is serious I'll seek treatment, but in general I'd rather deal with the symptoms than put all of that time and energy into starting a new diagnostic or treatment process.

Remicade Dream - good luck with your appointment! Yes, the diet is very restrictive. I suppose if my symptoms worsen in future I will consider it, but for now I'd still rather enjoy the foods I love (in between trips to the bathroom).

pollyannapenguin said...

Hmm, very thought provoking. I think Warm Socks summed it up nicely though. ;o)

Mind you, I was off to the doc (or nurse) just for a 'spot' on my arm, so I suppose I can't count myself as one of the stoics! On the other hand it WAS doing Vesuvius impressions and was kinda gross ... and I knew the treatment couldn't be tooooo horrendous. (Especially if I don't try to take it all at once, like yesterday!)

arthritiskitchen said...

Yes I do think that chronic pain can make it less likely to seek treatment for other things. It has for me. I think that sometimes we can start to think that if we can 'get by' even though struggling that we try to just 'work through it', because that's what we do with our RA and like conditions sometimes on a daily basis.