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West Coast Living in Ahousaht, BC

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How a Freckle Caused me to Faint. Almost.

So this story is embarrassing, but, hey? Isn’t that the best kind of story?

Every winter, and summers now too since I am on the boat so often, I get severe chapped lips. And I mean, cracked, bleeding and scabbing cracked lips. I am working on getting better at leaving good quality lip chap EVERYWHERE so I never have an excuse, but that also means a lot of it winds up going through the washing machine and I just can’t bring myself to use it after that. Doesn’t it get all soapy after? Blech!

All Spring 2018 I had a nasty scab on my lower lip from a crack that kept opening up. You can seriously see it in photos! It sucked! At some point in July-ish, I noticed the scab was gone but a good sized brown scar remained. It was large, mottled light and dark brown, and unsymmetrical enough to send me to the Dr in Ahousaht for it to be checked out. Once again, we had a visiting Dr to the coast. We get them often here. He wasn’t able to give me a definitive answer to whether or not it was worrisome and due to my own and my family history of atypical, precancerous and cancerous moles he wrote a strongly worded referral to a dermatologist.

Ironically they were not taking new referrals and firmly told me that when I called later to confirm the appointment time. But I had an appointment, which certainly surprised the receptionist.

In mid-september Lennie and I travelled to Nanaimo for my appointment. We killed sometime in the mall before I went in. The nurse(?) who took me to my exam room offered a full body exam as well as my booked exam for my lip. Heck yes! It’s impossible to get into a dermatologist for a full body scan. She told me to undress and the Dr would be in soon, along with a med student from UBC. She had left a stack of what appeared to be paper towels on the chair but I couldn’t fathom how to cover up with those, and was I really supposed to be nearly naked when I met these Dr’s for the first time? How awkward would that be if they weren’t expecting it?!

I ended up taking off my boots and sitting patiently, still dressed. The med student, a male(!) came in to check on my lip. He asked again about the full body survey which I said “Yes please! The Nurse told me to undress, but I didn’t want it to be awkward when you came in!”. He chuckled and said it was no problem. He had to go confer with the real Dr anyways. I could get undressed now.

“Do I cover myself with these things?” I asked, pointing to the papers. “Yup!”.

Well then.

Little did I know it was a paper BLANKET!!! What the heck! What happened to gowns?

Anyways, that embarrassment aside, the Dr came in with her student again. Thankfully the supervising Dr was a lady. Call me old school, but I definitely prefer a female presence when getting nearly naked! She examined  my lip and very matter-of-factly told me she was going to do a biopsy. Apparently she sees marks like this often. They are just on the cusp of looking like something worrisome, so she likes to biopsy them to be on the safe side, but so far none have come back with a bad result.

Leading up to this appointment I had completely convinced myself this was a scar and I was going to be berated for wasting everyone’s time. I hadn’t even let myself consider she would do a biopsy and forgotten about what my past biopsy’s entailed. She quickly did the full body exam. All good. (Yay!!!)

Before I knew it, her tray was set up and the numbing needle was coming my way.

UGHHHHHH. That was Un-Com-For-Table! UUHHH. I was actually moaning as she injected the liquid. Immediately my lower lip puffed up. I should have taken a selfie. I looked ridiculous!

Then the little skin-hole-punch thing. Just some pressure. No biggie. She was talking away to the student on why they use a 3mm sample over a 2mm one. Apparently after punching the sample out they have to use tweezers to remove it. 2mm samples tend to get crushed at this point and the lab gets grumpy at them.

(I’m totally getting that “oooh I don’t feel well” feeling in the pit of my stomach right now as I write this!)

This was mega uncomfortable. And it wasn’t so much that it hurt, just the thought of digging at my lip to pull off this layer of skin was knotting up my stomach. I knew it was bleeding a lot. I couldn’t feel it. But when the med student was instructed to begin blotting it and the gauze came away soaked. Oh I knew!

Then the needle and thread! Oh yeah! Last time I had a biopsy, on my back, there were stitches involved. But this time I could see it. Now my head was light. And I was sweating. And Hot. And Oh God. I know this feeling.

“I’m going to faint”, I managed to croak as she tied up the single. stitch. One. I couldn’t handle ONE stitch!

“Knees up, lay down” she barked. Code something or another was called out the door for a wet cloth to be brought. They had this system down, it was clear. So maybe I wasn’t the only one to react this way! That was a relief. The door was opened for more airflow.

“Can I call my husband in? My phones in my jeans pocket”. She graciously retrieved it for me and I told him to come in and ask for Delores, the Nurse who knew where I was.

Oh boy, I bet I was a sight. red swollen lip, flushed skin, messy and sweaty hair. Ugh.

That cloth felt so good though. And all through this I was just wearing my paper blanket!

Slowly I began to feel better. I had been left in the room alone with Lennie by this time. Oh and a cup of sprite for a sugar boost. I redressed and felt well enough to head out. Not without a selfie of my new look and an update to my Mother though.

“I was wondering how you would handle [a biopsy]”, she replied. Thanks for the vote of confidence Mom!!!!!!

The Dr had told me to expect a call in two weeks with the results.

We spent the night at Mom and Dad’s and we had a really good laugh over the paper blanket debacle. “That’s what they use now. Haven’t you seen one?” “Never!” I replied. My brother’s girlfriend agreed, she was still seeing skimpy gowns at her clinic. I guess our Dr’s aren’t with the times like Mom’s is!

A week and a half later I came home to a voicemail, reassuring me that everything was ok and my “freckle” was nothing to worry about. I am pretty sure it is a scar from that scab that lasted months and months, but hey, if it’s as benign as a freckle, I don’t mind what we call it!

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Oops.. I did it Again!

I’ve been writing lots for the Westerly, but falling behind on personal projects. I started a memoir in the spring, yet that too has fallen to the side in favour of other projects I needed to stay on top of. And a new crocheting addiction!

Writing and little snippits, words and phrases have continued to flit through my brain. At some point I figured I should sit down and get them down. So here I am. Pounding away at the keys.

I don’t know if I have ever mentioned that I have Essential Tremor: “a nerve disorder characterized by uncontrollable shaking, or “tremors,” in different parts and on different sides of the body. Areas affected often include the hands, arms, head, larynx (voice box), tongue, and chin. … It is only when the tremors become severe that they actually cause disability. ”

Currently my tremors are relatively benign. They are the worst when I am stressed or anxious – most notably when I am treating a patient (I am a First Responder in Ahousaht), and at times I have simply asked bystanders to open gauze packaging for me if my hands are shaking too badly to do it myself. People often ask if I am scared or don’t handle the sight of blood well. Nope. That’s all fine. The adrenaline and worry for my patient sends the tremors out of control. Consciously trying to calm them makes it worse so I am left with relaxing my body as much as I can and accommodating.

I am in a Facebook support group for Essential Tremor. There are group members from all over the world with varying stages of the disorder. Some are young. Some are old. Some are parents with toddlers who are affected. Some don’t even have Essential Tremor but have been diagnosed with something similar and the support and tips we share are useful.

This morning, someone in the group shared a link that acupuncture can relieve Essential Tremor symptoms for days to months after a treatment session. I think I have seen this information before. The article came out in February 2018, but due to my fear of needles, I dismissed it as a treatment I wasn’t willing to try just yet. When I saw the post this morning. I sent it to the local acupuncturist and asked for an appointment. Thirty minutes later I was booked for an introductory session in a week’s time! How exciting?

Have I mentioned I am scared of needles? I mean, I am not the type that cries and screams when I have to get a vaccine or anything. But it takes a lot of breathing exercises to keep me calm! Haha. I also (nearly) faint from getting just one stitch. More on that later. So, I am excited yet nervous. My husband has believed in acupuncture for years and is a strong advocate for its effectiveness. He used it many years ago to get through drug withdrawals and an addiction to heavy street drugs. He has never had another craving since!

Watch for an update in a week or so. I am really excited to note the differences pre and post treatment. I think we will also try treating my chronic trigger points in my neck that cause me regular muscle-tension headaches. I have tried dry needling once with a visiting Dr. to the coast. It definitely helped. Acupuncture is known to help with trigger points too so I am looking forward to that relief!

Wishing you the best for the Autumn season!

 

~Marcie

 

 

Ahousaht in Bloom

Last fall I received a Neighbourhood Small Grant for a flower planting project in the village of Ahousaht. This spring, the Clayoquot Biosphere Trust, the organization who awarded the grants in our region, was given a grant of their own to film the results of the grants within our area. I was asked to attend the film premiere and possibly speak about our project in Ahousaht.

Ahousaht is a small village. Our population sits around 1000 people. There is no road access as we are on a small island off the west coast of Vancouver Island. It’s about a 35 minute boat ride from Tofino, on a good day. Weather systems regularly impact our travel and shut down boats. There are no grocery stores, though some essentials are stocked across the harbour at the “general store” and fuel dock. Few shop there regularly though.

We have enough of a youth population to have our own schools – Both an Elementary and High School. Most teachers are from other areas and stay for 2 or 3 years. The high turnover creates an inconsistent environment for students. However, we have several teachers that have stayed for years now, and are beginning to have more locally trained and certified teachers available!

A doctor visits the village 4 days a week and health nurses about 3 days of the week. Any medical emergencies or appointments outside of the doctor’s regular hours requires travel to Tofino or a larger city. In some severe weather, our water taxis are unable to make emergency trips and at times the Coast Guard has come in to transport patients to the hospital.

Everything takes just a little more effort in Ahousaht.

In general, that’s ok. It’s part of the vibe that goes with this location. But there’s one area where I can’t accept a delay in help, transportation hang-ups and lack of service – Mental Health supports. I can’t accept that we only have a counsellor available once a week, and a clinical psychologist once a month (I might be wrong, this is just what I understand at this time). I despise the fact that there are no formal after hour supports for mental health crisis. Not everyone has a landline to call a crisis support hotline. None of this is Ahousaht’s fault though. These services are government funded and are limited based on remoteness and population size. Remote, Indigenous populations tend to be more vulnerable to mental health issues, however, and the services are needed more than ever in these distant areas.

Recently we had a series of meetings with various officials and it sounds like we may be getting an increase in services. It’s nowhere near enough, but at least people are listening. In the future, perhaps more local residents can be trained and employed in these fields within our community.

But, back to the flowers….

I wanted a way to help. To improve mental health without getting wrapped up in the politics of available services. Flowers have been shown to improve mental health and the simple act of gardening does as well. I wanted to encourage people to garden in their own backyards and provide some colour in a public space that the community would see on a regular basis. I received permission to plant daffodil and crocus bulbs in a grassy area between the school gym and the road. It’s a high traffic area that will expose the flowers to many community members.

The key to dealing with a lack of mental health services is to not need them in the first place. That means we need to deal with prevention rather than responding as crisis’ arrive. Gardening is just one way to help prevent mental health crisis and it is by no means a cure-all. But it helps. Seeing the smiling faces of children working with their mothers, grandmothers, aunts and uncles, I knew a small difference had been made. And when spring arrived and those same families were planting flowers in their yard, I knew an even bigger change had been made. Each year it will multiply and grow, like the bulbs we planted along the road.

My goal is to get all of Ahousaht in Bloom. I started a Facebook page to arrange workshops, share educational information and inspire others to garden. I hope to create a flower planter next grant season near the community hall or Administration building. It saddens me that you can’t see a single flower from these areas. Wouldn’t it be amazing if there were always flowers in view, no matter where you were? 17426327_1814144082172130_1733531300813175870_n

When Depression Takes Over

 

I don’t like to admit when I am falling into a depressive funk. It makes me feel broken and weak. I feel like it’s my fault as if I actually could have stopped it from taking over.

I avoid it for as long as possible but eventually I have to admit it’s happening. When my fiance begins asking if I am ok because I am so quiet and not my usual bubbly self, I have to give in. Even if I don’t admit it to him right then, I admit it to myself. The tears come easier. My breathing is more laboured. I’m tired and emotional. I want someone to be with me but at the same time, I want to be alone and wallow in my own self pity. I want to get away, yet stay in the comfort of my home. Sleep doesn’t come easily at night, but my eyelids are heavy all day.

Depression eats you from the inside. It’s a shadow no-one can see that follows you like a storm. Your personal cloud of darkness. You can never run fast enough to get away.

I am not on any drugs. I don’t think I am a “bad enough” case to need them. Another denial or the truth? I can’t even step back far enough to tell. Nature helps, when I can get up the energy or determination to even step out the front doors.

As I write this, my vision is clouded by tears. There’s no reason for them. They’re just there.

I was seeing a counsellor who came into our village once a week. She was my age and we connected well. Together we explored cognitive behavioural techniques with some success. I was able to step back and evaluate my depressive thought patterns, allowing me to start correcting them on my own. Unfortunately that counsellor has moved and there isn’t a replacement yet.

At my lowest point, I would be collapsed on my classroom floor at recess, or even in one instance, the computer room floor while my class continued working next door, balling away like a  baby. Whether teaching in my school caused my depression or only exacerbated a previous unknown condition, I will never know. My situation may have been different in a different school or community but I will never know and don’t want to know.

I am happy with where I ended up in the end. My fiance and I have a simple and loving life. Just like me, he struggles to understand my depression and that’s ok, because we’re both learning together.

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