Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Vocabulary of Chronic Illness

All chronic illnesses come with new vocabulary words. It’s why Making Sense of Nonsense: Medical Terminology And You, is one of the first classes we have to take at the University of Catastrophe. There isn’t a slower group or an Introduction to Medical Terminology class. Instead, as soon as we are diagnosed we hear assorted medical professionals speak in code. Somehow we have to decipher what they are saying, so we learn new words.

When I was diagnosed with Myasthenia Gravis I had to learn about Anti-acetylcholine receptor antibodies. Cancer taught me exactly where my anterior mediastinum is. I also learned to point to my manubrium

Before I had cancer I didn’t know I had a manubrium. For some strange reason my kindergarten teacher didn’t teach me this useful rhyme:

Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes.
Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes
Eyes, and ears, manubrium, and nose.
Head, shoulders, knees, and toes, knees and toes.

That might have proven helpful. Instead I learned about random body parts through having cancer.

18 months of IV chemotherapy taught me words like alkylating agents, protocol and nadir.

Diabetes came with its own vocabulary, too. In the six months since I was diagnosed I have learned these new words:

Carb Counting
Carb Factor
Something incredibly evil called Dawn Phenomenon
Hyperglycemia and Hypoglycemia

Six months ago when I was diagnosed my diabetes educator warned me about low blood sugar. She kept telling me about hypoglycemia and how to treat it using the Rule of 15's. At the time my blood sugar was in the 280's. The very idea of low blood sugar was laughable. I will never have a low. That's what I thought. Until a few weeks later when it felt like a giant hand squeezed my head.

I was watching Naruto Shippuden (because I am a geek) and all of the sudden I felt a crushing sensation in my skull. I felt so strange that I stood up and nearly fell over. I've fainted a few times and I knew I was teetering on the edge of blacking out. Somehow I managed to travel the 130 miles from my living room couch all the way to the kitchen table where I had my glucose meter. Although I couldn't feel my hands, I managed to get a little strip into my meter. My blood sugar was 45.

That was terrifying. Now I know what hypoglycemia means. Some vocabulary words I learn the hard way.

If you have a chronic illness what was the hardest vocabulary word for you to learn?

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I am not a doctor. I do not have a medical degree. Nothing on this site qualifies as medical advice. These are lessons I'm learning at the University of Catastrophe. What I find to be correct answers in my classes may not be the right answers for you.

If you are enrolled with your own major at the University of Catastrophe, please consult your doctor, therapist, attorney, auto mechanic, veterinarian, plumber, dietician, arborist, acupuncturist, manicurist, mother, local dairy council, shoe shine boy, or other equally qualified professional, for advice and assistance.

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