Friday, March 25, 2011

Pins and Needles

First I have to apologise for being quite slack in the blogging department lately, but once you read this post, you'll hopefully understand why.

I've mentioned on and off that I haven't been feeling great since J was born. Lack of sleep has had a lot to do with it, but I've also had some weird symptoms that have been getting progressively worse, and causing me a great deal of stress. I haven't really talked about this stuff with many people, so I'm sorry to those of you who are going to be thinking "I had no idea, why didn't you tell me?" It started out as numbness in my feet and pain in my hands while I was pregnant. My GP put it down to the fact that I had suddenly evolved into a camel and was retaining enough water to last me several months in the desert. She told me it would probably go away when I got back to my normal weight. Only, it didn't... It got worse, and pretty soon I was numb and tingling down the whole left side of my body. And pretty freaked out as you can imagine. I went to see a neurologist who put me through MRI's, blood tests and a whole lot of nerve tests, while I left my then 8-week-old baby at home and thought the worst. The more I worried about it, the worse the symptoms became, and by the end of the week I was a wreck! But the test results were all normal, and the doc put it all down to stress. Hearing that was enough to put me at ease and I was so relieved that I instantly felt much better.

But the symptoms didn't go away completely and after our trip to Bali in January I felt pretty lousy again. I figured if I felt so bad after the most relaxing week I'd had all year, how could it possibly be stress-related? My GP, who clearly thinks I'm a huge hypochondriac by now, sent me to another neurologist. He read the first doctor's report, and without doing any tests of his own or examining me in any way, prescribed what he called a "nerve relaxant." Now, when you get medication here, 9 times out of 10, it comes in a plastic bag, without any information, warnings, or ingredient lists. So I googled this particular medication, wanting to know what I was taking, and it turned out to be an antidepressant/antipsychotic combination... Frequent side effects (according to Dr Wikipedia) were things like drowsiness, nausea, dizziness, anxiety...! There are so many things wrong with that scenario that I don't know where to start. The fact that I was given something so potent (and inappropriate) and expected to take it without question, is so typical of the medical profession here, and quite concerning. I was also disappointed that I was given something that would cause such extreme side-effects, without warning, and despite the doctor knowing that I was responsible for a small child.  You'll be pleased to know I didn't take it, and I haven't been back to that doctor since. I also checked with a doctor in Aus, and he agreed that it wasn't something I should have been prescribed.

Unfortunately I was still left with these bizarre, uncomfortable symptoms, and no explanation or fix for them. I went back to my GP yet again and she basically told me that since they'd ruled out everything serious, I'd just have to live with it. At 32, with hopefully years ahead of me, that wasn't the response I was looking for. For the last couple of weeks I've been feeling completely wiped out, cold, numb, aching and quietly very worried. I'm ashamed to admit that the other night I was so worked up about it all that I had a panic attack. That, of course, made me feel even worse and it has been a battle ever since to keep myself calm. I just keep thinking about how I might feel in 10, 20 or 30 years, if I feel like this now. And if one pregnancy did this to my body, what will another one do? It could just be stress, and that would be great, oddly enough, but there's always that niggling voice in the back of my mind saying "what if it's not and they've missed something?"

I decided I had to be proactive, and not just accept that this is how I'm going to feel for the rest of my life. So I did what anyone living in HK who's been let down by Western medicine would do, I turned herbal. I had my first ever acupuncture treatment yesterday and I came home with a bag full of potions and supplements. I spent over half an hour just talking about my symptoms, with a lovely woman who seemed genuinely interested in my health. Then I got to lie on a bed in a warm room for another half an hour while she inserted the needles and let them do their work. I didn't feel instantly better afterwards, I didn't expect to, but I did feel incredibly relaxed and balanced. The first thing I noticed when I got down off the bed was that I could feel the carpet under my feet, a foreign sensation after all this time with numb feet. And I still feel quite serene and light. The Chinese medicinal potion I have to drink twice a day is foul, but I'll persist with it, and I can't wait to go back next week for my next acupuncture treatment. Who knows whether or not any of it is necessary, or if it will help, but I feel better knowing that I'm at least trying to help myself.

We experienced the same degree of frustration with the medical profession here when we were trying to find someone to fix J's crooked head (see Head Case) but we were lucky enough to eventually find, after much disappointment, someone who took our concerns seriously and who has helped more than we expected. The culture here seems to be to blindly trust and do what your doctors tell you to do. If I had done that I would've ended up taking something normally reserved for manic depressives and schizophrenics, and who knows how it would have affected me and my ability to look after my son. I'm not a firm believer in traditional Chinese medicine yet, but it has been around for so long that I figure it's worth a try. I'm also going to start a regular yoga class and treat myself to a foot massage once a week. I'm tired of feeling like my body is staging its own Jasmine Revolution, and I'm hoping that if I take better care of it I won't be forced into exile anytime soon. I will keep you all posted.

On another note, I want to say how truly sad I am to see the devastation in Japan, and to appeal for help. Hong Kong based readers please check out this site Hk Mama With Love, and donate if you can. They are a local group of mums collecting baby gear, food and clothes and sending it over to Japan. I saw on the news this morning that it has started snowing in the areas hardest hit by the tsunami, and with hundreds of thousands of people living in shelters, in freezing conditions, they need all the aid they can get. The Red Cross will take financial donations too. Have a good weekend everyone.

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