This week marks the beginning of fall, but since I live in Wisconsin changes have actually been happening for weeks already to remind me summer is over. The humidity has left the air, cooler breezes now tell me to close windows, leaves are beginning to bear signs of spectacular changes yet to come and daylight hours are suddenly noticeably shorter. Fall enters quietly with gentle indicators of more bold change to come.
This fall these timely predictable outdoor changes remind me that I was fortunate to listen to subtle changes in my own body last spring. In April after raking out flower beds nearly concealed by leaves from the previous fall, I began to experience chest pain. Thinking I had simply put a bit too much zeal into my spring cleanup, I chose to not worry much about my discomfort at first. A couple of weeks went by and the pain did not go away or even improve and my mind began to churn with worried thoughts.
Eventually, I ended up going to the ER of my local hospital convinced I was having a heart attack. I felt a little foolish that day standing there describing my symptoms (I thought I was way too young to be having a heart attack!), but I knew something was wrong. After an afternoon of numerous tests, all of which indicated I was definitey NOT having a heart attack, one final blood test was not quite right – another subtle change. Even though that particular test was only slightly off the normal range, it created enough concern in my ER doctor’s mind to order a CT scan to look for a possible blood clot in my lung. Needless to say there was no blood clot. The doctor who had up to that point been almost jovial reassuring me I was more than likely perfectly fine entered the room slowly, now with a far more serious expression on his face. “Your CT scan indicates a mass in your left breast about an inch in diameter,” he informed me. He said some other things as well, but the only words I heard were mass, breast and inch. At that moment the path of my life changed forever. Dramatic change came from subtle clues!
Since that day, numerous nurses have told me that patients often come in with a complaint or symptom and find out they have a separate totally unrelated condition. The body seems to have an uncanny way of speaking to us when something isn’t quite right. Listen to your body. Follow your instincts. That doesn’t mean get paranoid or worry about every ache and pain. Some of us would be in the ER every day if we did that. But when you fell like something is off, go with you gut. Don’t wait. Get checked out. Pay attention to subtle changes. It could save your life.