I remember sitting on my living room couch with my mom and sisters. Every Thursday night we would stop what we were doing and get ready to watch Grey's Anatomy. I distinctly remember the Grey’s Anatomy episode when a woman came into the hospital with a huge tumor on her belly.
She kept putting off getting it checked because she was scared. Bad past experiences with doctors and hospitals left her wanting to deal with hospitals as little as possible. Her putting it off ultimately led to her death. This episode really stuck with me.
I remember thinking, ‘How could she be so stupid? How could she have lied to herself for so long?’ She obviously knew there was something wrong, yet these choices ultimately killed her.
I also thought that if I was ever in that situation, I would never be so dumb. I would never let my fear get the better of me and I would never lie to myself like she did — until I did.
When I was in the 6th grade, I went to the doctor because of pain in my feet only to come out hearing that my feet were getting deformed. So, it was decided that the only way to fix this was with surgery.
When it finally happened, I was shocked with how long and painful the process was. My little sixth grader brain couldn’t fully grasp the magnitude of the surgery and the aftermath of it. About a year after the surgery, I finally felt like my feet were back to normal. But my left foot never felt quite right. The long recovery and shock from the experience made me never want to be in that position again, and it ultimately made me weary when it came to the wellbeing of my feet.
As the years went by, signs that my foot was getting worst became more evident. I would get sharp stabs of pain whether I was walking or not. I would be forced to stop walking if the pain would get too bad. Like my grandma, I could feel the weather changing in my bones, specially my left foot. I put off getting it checked by a doctor, even though it needed to be done. I believed all of these things were bearable until they weren’t.
Over fall break I went home and asked my mom to make an appointment with the doctor. After a couple tests, getting surgery again was my only option and trying to find a “right” time for it was hard. It was decided that over winter break might be the best time, since putting it off wasn’t an option.
It wasn’t until I was in the hospital getting ready for my own surgery that I understood her fear, as the nurse attending me couldn’t get the IV in my vein until the fifth try. “Se te ponchan las venas porque están muy flaquitas, mija. ¿Estás nerviosa verdad?” (“Your veins keep popping because they’re too skinny, sweetie. You’re nervous right?”) She was keen on accomplishing this task at hand. She had 30-plus years of experience doing this, and my thin veins weren’t going to break that clean track record, I guess.
I was already in a hospital gown, lying on the plastic bed waiting for the doctors that were about to cut my foot open come talk to me. Amongst all the chaos and thoughts of making a run for it, a nurse came in the little pre-op room and started fact checking all the information I previously provided.
He then asked me what foot I’m having surgery on. “Left,” I said dryly, since crying in front of strangers is the last thing I want to do before going into the OR. He proceeded to stamp the word “YES” on my left foot. “POR QUE ESTA EN INGLES, SI ESTAMOS EN MEXICO?!” (“WHY IS IT IN ENGLISH, IF WE’RE IN MEXICO?!”).
All the surrounding nurses as well as my parents congregated in the room agreed on this. I deeply appreciated that he was trying to make me feel better, since at this point I was radiating anxiety. I found it funny. I laughed, and then I started crying. I was anxious and it was the Monday at the start of finals week. ‘I should not be doing this. I should not be here, but I am.’
I received loads of support, not only from my friends and family, but from my professors too. If it wouldn’t have been for them working with me, I wouldn’t have had enough recovery time back home. It was essential that this surgery went as perfect as can be and recovery and rest were a big part of it.
To not make this story any longer than it needs to be, what I’m trying to say is that NO ONE other than yourself, knows your own body more than you do. I ignored the signs for a while which is a normal thing to do because fear is part of the human experience.
However, we should never put our health or sanity aside. (Which is something I am extremely guilty of always doing myself). We shouldn’t need to be constantly reminded that our health should not come second whether physical or mental. Staying healthy first should always be a priority.
What I can say from this situation that has hopefully helped me and made me grow as a person is stop ignoring you. Know the signs your own body is telling you and act on them. I am lucky to not be in a life or death situation like the lady from Grey’s Anatomy, but just like her, I hesitated and avoided it out of fear and personal reasons. Because I took so long to acknowledge that something was wrong with me, there is some irreparable damage and I will eventually need to have surgery again. Listen to your body and listen to the signs. Treat your body with care and kindness, and always cherish it.
Paula Ortiz Cazaubon is a photographer for The Beacon and can be reached at email@example.com