This is the first part in sharing my personal experience of battling ill health.
Shortly before Christmas, in 2016, I was unwell with a common cold and sickness. From thereafter, family members began to notice I was mis-hearing words and sentences. I went to see my GP who put my hearing, well lack of it, down to the after effects of the cold I had, and then prescribed me some nasal spray.
After using the nasal spray for over a fortnight and with no improvement, I went back to my GP. Again, she said it was down to my cold and to keep trying with the spray. I persisted until I actually noticed my hearing issues, and this was coming up to a month and a half since the issues began. My GP referred me to an ENT Consultant at Norwich Hospital, which I thought was odd as that’s not the hospital I go to for anything. Then the waiting began…
I was employed during this time, I started a new role as a Sales Assistant in a charity shop, I felt like I was in my prime as I had fought hard to overcome my social anxiety and despite having these hearing difficulties, I was happy, I was content. I felt the best I had ever felt, especially mentally.
But it was too good to be true…
Work started to treat me differently because of my hearing. I remember one shift that made me feel extremely isolated, it was lunchtime and there was about 4 of us sitting around a table, they knew about my hearing difficulties and I watched them, in disbelief, while they were talking and laughing. I spoke up and said “What did I miss?”, to which one of them, who eventually made the effort to make me understand, replied with, “It doesn’t matter”.
I was devastated. I thought I fitted in well with my colleagues, but it turned out that when I needed their support the most, they were ignorant, they didn’t bother with me anymore. I thought things couldn’t possibly get any worse.
But again, I was wrong.
Towards the end of March 2017, I woke up one morning with blurry central vision, I didn’t think nothing of it as I assumed it was because I had just woken up. When I went into work, I felt different – I couldn’t put my finger on what it was, but I tried to carry on as normal throughout my shift.
The ‘blurry spots’ had not changed, I had to rely on my peripheral vision (side vision) which was really difficult. I kept feeling ‘off-balance’, not to the extent of dizziness but I couldn’t walk at my normal pace without feeling like I was tipping over.
I had no idea as to what was going on.
It wasn’t until roughly 3pm that day, that I reached breaking point, tears filled my eyes and a colleague took me into the office so I could let the tears flow. After telling her everything that had been happening, she suggested for me to go to A&E. She was worried about me, and frankly, I was petrified. That was my last ever shift there.
I don’t like to waste doctors time and I felt guilty about the thought of going to A&E for something I didn’t feel was an emergency, I strongly felt something was really wrong but not to the point that I would have considered it to be an emergency. So, I didn’t go to A&E that night.
The next day, my colleague’s concerns kept going over and over in my mind and I spent most of the day in tears. I told Mum about what had happened at work the day before, and like me, Mum didn’t feel like it was an emergency. I became more terrified, which I didn’t think was possible, and I got to the point where I begged Mum to take me to A&E because I was thinking the worst.
But I should have guessed, they had no idea what was causing my symptoms. All they could do was blood tests and observation tests, which resulted to nothing, but they did send off an emergency referral to a ENT Consultant. They sent me home but advised to come back if my symptoms worsened.
Within a few days, I received an appointment, for the 31st March, to see a Consultant, I was relieved as I thought I would finally get answers. The night before my appointment, I was extremely irritable and restless, I managed to get an hours sleep. I was nervous because of the appointment and anxious due to who would be taking me to the appointment.
I slept on the journey to my appointment, which was about 25 minutes. I was struggling to walk without holding on to something and yet the person I was with kept telling me to hurry up and walk at their pace. I was relieved to finally sit down in the waiting room despite this person demanding my phone so they could play a game while we waited.
After some time, it was my turn to be seen. The Consultant I saw was lovely, she carried out basic tests to do with my hearing and asked me questions about my health. Most of the time, I tried to answer the questions myself, but the person who I was with kept belittling me and putting it across to the Consultant that I did not care about my health.
I never thought a relative would be that unsupportive.
The Consultant wanted me to go to the audiology department to have a hearing test but the relative refused as they had somewhere else to be. I left the appointment knowing that an appointment for a hearing test had been requested and I also knew I was more drained after I left the hospital – but this wasn’t because of the appointment.
I slept on the way home too, a mixture of feeling drained and not wanting to make conversation as I was livid as to how I was treated. I couldn’t wait to get home.
Throughout the rest of the day, I was in and out of sleep. In the early evening, I woke up really confused and Mum had noticed the left side of my mouth had fallen. Mum started crying and rang 111, and asked my sister to come round so she could keep an eye on me whilst Mum was on the phone. The operator advised Mum to take me to hospital ASAP.
On the way to Kings Lynn Hospital, the confusion faded but the left side of my mouth still felt like it had fallen. When I was told what had happened, I was convinced I had a mini-stroke (TIA – Transient Ischemic Attack). My Nan had experienced these a few times within the last 2 years so I knew of them and the warning signs.
It made sense with how much stress I was under.
I didn’t wait too long before I was seen, more blood tests and observations were taken and I also did a balance test, which involves trying to walk in a straight line by placing one foot closely in front of the other. I couldn’t place my foot in front of the other without losing my balance. This made me break down in tears as a few months prior to this, I could walk perfectly fine and had no balance issues.
The nurse was perplexed as I was, apparently, too young to experience a TIA but all the symptoms added up. He asked Mum her opinion on what it might be and she replied “a mini-stroke” and the nurse nodded.
We sat waiting in one of the bays as he referred me for an emergency MRI. Half an hour later, he came back to tell us there was nobody available to do the MRI there and then, so sent us home with an appointment for the following Monday.
We went back to A&E on the Monday and ended up waiting 2 hours just to be told the earliest emergency MRI appointment would be in a fortnight and in the meantime, I had to be signed off work. The wait felt like forever.
I became really depressed very quickly, everything was just becoming too much.
The day of the MRI appointment arrived; I was so nervous as I’d never had an MRI before. When I went into the room with the MRI scanner, I was taken aback as it looked so much smaller than I had imagined. Not ideal for someone who doesn’t cope well in small spaces. Ear plugs were put in, a button to hold and press if I started to panic and needed to get out, I laid down on the board and the nurse placed this cage-like structure over my head – which did not help my anxiety at all! – and was moved into the scanner.
The loud tapping noises were very loud and daunting at first and I tried to create a beat, from the pattern of the noises, in my head. I imagined myself dancing to the beat – which was interesting considering I could not dance at all! By the time my anxiety had calmed down, it was time to come out. I disposed of the ear plugs and went to get changed back into my clothes. Before we left, we were told that the results would take up to 2 weeks.
The following day, I received a phone call. I had to ask someone else to answer on my behalf as my hearing difficulties now affected phone conversations. After the call ended, the person who had taken the call, wrote down on a piece of paper, ‘That was about your MRI results, they want to see you this Saturday”.
If you would like to continue reading about my story, please head over to The Beginning of The End.