Posted by Pattie on 12/30/2002 09:05:00 AM

December has been an aweful month for me. I slowly lost energy and then I lost the war against infection and succombed to pnemonia by mid-month. I ended up in hospital for five days. Actually, I spent the first two days in the emergency ward waiting for a bed. I was moved to four different places -- first triage bed where I was pumped full of epinephrine derivatives because I couldn't breathe. Asthma makes pnemonia an incredibly difficult experience. They didn't know I had pnemonia at first. Just uncontrollable asthma. Then I was moved to a bed in emergency, still not under control. My blood oxygen dropped and my fever shot up. 39.7 degrees celsius (which I found out later converts to nearly 104 degrees fahrenheit). That is when they freaked. Me, too. I never, ever get high fevers and I was burning up. Chest x-rays, blood cultures and screenings. I kept thinking, omigoddess, it is lupus. This is the part where the lupus attacks my lungs. I was scared. Turns out it is just an infection in the lower right lung -- no blood disease, no lupus involvement, but still pretty sick. I spent the last two days at the hospital on the lung ward in a semi-private room with a lung cancer patient. I felt grateful that it wasn't worse news.

There is a lot right with Canadian health care. There is access. There are hard working people who get to concentrate on making you better instead of what kind of insurance you have. I spent NO time in emergency discussing my coverage. The last time I went to an emergency room in the States I spent the better part of an hour trying to convince the hospital that I was covered by an HMO. It turned out that I was at the "wrong" hospital. It was bureacratic nightmare and in the meantime, I was throwing up my guts in dry heaves and dehydrated, but the insurance was more important. At Royal Jubilee none of these questions arose. I didn't even have to sign anything to get in the door. I just presented my health card and gasped for breathe. In less than 20 minutes I was on a stretcher and breathing in a bong of epinephrine. I noticed the difference immediately.

But Canada's hospitals are overcrowded and in British Columbia they are understaffed. I have not been able to find a family doctor since arriving here. In truth, I haven't spent as much time as I should trying, but I did try twice and twice I failed both times to find a doctor that would take me as a patient. Both processes took a few months. In other words, the doctor shortage means that that doctors can reject you as patients and they do things like schedule "interviews" with patients before they will take you on. Being fat puts me at a distinct disadvantage in this system. I suspected that I failed the interview in one case because I am fat. In the other case, I rejected the doctor because she was fat prejudiced. So I guess this little interview system works both ways.

I have been playing with fire because of this. Lupus sufferers should have regular blood tests. Asthma needs to be monitored. I haven't really done either in two years. So I guess this month I paid. It turns out that my potasium was dangerously low because I take a dieuretic on a daily basis. The dieuretic is because I have constant inflamation and fluid on my joints. I've been told that is not uncommon among lupus sufferers, however the prevailing notion that it must be because I'm fat creeped into the mix.

Fat prejudice lives on in Canadian health care. The love affair with the scale isn't as pronounced here. They don't make you weigh at every visit to the clinic. But the doctor assigned to me in the hospital was adament that my "obesity" contributed to my problems with asthma. I don't buy it. The first time I got asthma it was after losing 130 pounds. I was not "overweight" at the time, but I was dating a smoker for the first time in my life and I had started smoking again myself. I got pnemonia (viral that time, this time bacterial) in 1991 immediately after losing 35 of the 60 pounds I had gained back after the big diet two years before. I was weakened from the radical dieting (high protein, no carbs) and the flu put me in an asthma tailspin. If anything, I suspect dieting, not obesity has contributed to my weakened and wacky immune system.

But the doctor insisted that my asthma would remain bad unless I lost weight. He did a lot of double-speak about dieting. He wanted me to lose weight, but not go on a diet. When I protested that dieting had made me ill in the past and that when I have "tried" to lose weight, my health worsens and I ended fatter than ever, he agreed. However, by the end of the week, he wanted me to see a nutritionist and he talked about how weight loss would help with the swelling and maybe would get me off the diuretic. Nevermind that plenty of thin lupus patients have to deal with joint swelling and retention of fluids. In short, without much medical evidence to cite, this doctor believed that obesity was my problem, not lupus, not infection and not asthma. It was exhausting to fight the prejudice and the resultant guilt and shame I felt.

I'd like to say that I was brave and held my own. But the truth is a lot of self-hatred has reared its ugly head again. I hate this body of mine. I don't want to hate it. I want to love it bravely in the face of a world that spends a lot of time and effort telling me it is bad. But when I hurt, when I can't breathe and when I feel pressure about my weight, I cave in emotionally and I hate being trapped in an unloveable body. But I have way too much evidence to the contrary to simply believe that weight loss will solve anything. So here I sit between the proverbial rock and hard place. On the hand, I want to be well. On the other hand, the only treatments offered me spell disaster for me. I hate this. It is incredibly exhausting and I can ill afford exhaustion right now.

The most frustrating part of this is that I'm still not well. I can't talk, which means I can't make radio. I can breathe, but I'm still coughing. I have very low energy levels and need to rest most of the day. The smallest efforts exhaust me. I am getting stronger every day, but not fast enough. I'm behind in my research work at a time when a bunch of things are due. The things I need to do to get better in the long run are out of my reach at the moment. I am impatient. And with time on my hands, my head plays games with my heart. I thought writing might help. I'm not sure it has.