I used to only go to the doctor when I was sick. Or when something hurt. I would avoid those yearly check-ups, not because I was afraid, but because it was so inconvenient to drive all the way out there or to take time off work. And really, I felt fine, so why did I have to get checked by a doctor?
I consider myself lucky that I haven’t had any major health issues. Sure, I’ve got some chronic back pain and digestive issues, but I’ve been slowly figuring out how to navigate those. Anemia, on the other hand, I never would have known about unless I went to my doctor for blood work.
In 2013, I was struggling. I was tired ALL of the time, no matter how much sleep I got. I was having difficulty focusing, and during this time I was writing my Master’s thesis, so lots of focus was needed! I was cold, to the point that I was wearing sweaters and using blankets at work. While my colleagues acknowledged that the office was certainly a little chilly, none of them required layers to stay warm. My workout recovery was abysmal. I was sore for days after my workouts. Unreasonably sore for the work I was doing.
Did I think to go to the doctor? Nope. I tried to solve it by myself. I slept even more. I drank more coffee. I “forced” myself to focus for a bit, telling myself that I could sleep if I just got 30min of work done. And wake up early? Something I used to actually enjoy doing? Forget it.
This went on for a couple of months. It was so slow and subtle that I just attributed it to stress or something I was doing wrong. Maybe I wasn’t sleep very soundly? So I would drink a nighttime tea or take melatonin. Maybe I was really struggling with this part of my thesis? At the time I was working on basic data analysis, something that really didn’t take much focus but was feeling next to impossible for me.
It wasn’t until my friends noticed how pale I had gotten that they convinced me to go to the doctor. Ugh. Fine. I went to the walk-in clinic and the doctor asked about my symptoms, took one look at me and ordered a full blood screen.
When the blood work came in, my doctor immediately called me in for an appointment. She had checked my ferritin levels (this helps to understand how much iron my body is storing) and they were low. Really low. Normal ranges are between 80 – 300 and mine were at a 4.
My doctor put me on iron supplements right away and set-up a regular appointment schedule over the next several months for follow-ups.
I went home afterward to look up the symptoms of severe anemia, which is what my doctor said I had. Fatigue, pale skin, weakness, dizziness…huh. These were all the symptoms I had. As soon as I started taking the iron supplements and changing around my diet, I felt better.
Prior to getting checked out, I honestly thought I was going crazy. It wasn’t until others told me to go to the doctor that I listened. Had I gone for a regular check-up, these low iron levels likely would have been noticed much sooner. Rather than struggling for months, it could have been resolved much sooner.
A similar story can be said for my back issues, but that can take up a whole different post. Suffice to say, regular massages and proactively taking care of my body have, for the most part, helped to keep the worst symptoms at bay.
Waiting until you feel sick can sometimes result in a much longer treatment time and potential complications. I don’t go more than necessary, but having that yearly appointment + more if needed gives me the reassurance that everything is working as it should.