Too young to die

vintage-soviet-health-poster

By Gracie Gribble

I have a history of health problems. Scarlet fever when I was eight years old, multiple suicide attempts at 17. All of this has been hard on my heart.

For months I have been feeling fatigued with lower-back pain, shortness of breath, and chest pain.

I had seen doctors before, but they all explained it away.

When I presented to the emergency room, the young doctors there basically laughed at me. All they could say was; “You are too young to die.”

I wondered if they’d ever heard of SIDS.

A few weeks ago, I noticed that my watch was signalling a heart rate of 105-138 when I was doing nothing at all. I had just started wearing my watch again after a long period without it, and I was surprised to see my resting heart rate was 40+ beats higher than normal.

Considering that I had just received the Pfizer vaccine, I decided it was wise to see a health professional.

I approached the Clive Bishop Medical Centre out at the RFDS and saw a doctor there. She told me that she wanted to run tests to check my heart. The next day I wore a Holter monitor and had my blood taken.

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The following week, the previous doctor was not available, so I was booked in with a different doctor. The doctor in question explained to me that my results looked normal to her, and I responded by explaining that I wanted to find the cause of the anomaly. I wanted to do more tests or be referred to a cardiologist, but she wanted me to “see how it goes” and “wait and see”.

In the war against heart disease, it seems, the rules of engagement insist that you have to wait until the enemy strikes first.

I did not, and do not, understand why. In my opinion, this was a “complete disregard for my suffering and a complete unwillingness to help me” (this is in fact what I said to her, word for word). It felt like she was trying to palm me off to someone else.

It is worth noting that this doctor was looking at my average heart rate and not the pattern of highs and lows. She explicitly made it clear that she thought there was no risk in waiting to see what happens. But surely danger exists at the extremes, not the averages. Looking at the case of poor Alex Braes, for example, he’d been, on average, not dead for 18 years when he presented at Broken Hill Hospital in 2017. Now he’s gone, and it appears Broken Hill has not learned a thing.

I called and put in a complaint, but my voice went unheard. I was never called back, like they said I would be, and the issue clearly never went anywhere. Considering the shortages of toilet paper that have accompanied the pandemic, I have my suspiciouns about where my letter was ‘filed’.

A week later, at the pre-screening for my second Pfizer shot, they asked me about the problems with my heart.

“It could be pericarditis,” they said, and the doctor explained to me that “it will go away, it’s not life-threatening”. She told me; “If you feel like that again, just go up to the hospital and they will treat you there”. Again, palming off responsibility. It was not a matter of feeling this way again; the symptoms had never stopped. I don’t understand why they allowed me to get the second dose without knowing for sure.

The next day I spoke to the original doctor again. I had requested a second opinion on my results after the original fiasco. She told me that my results were not, in fact, normal, and that my heart rate was spiking in my sleep.

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“I don’t feel comfortable with you not seeing a cardiologist,” she said. She seemed surprised when I told her that I had received a second dose of the vaccine. I was surprised that the previous doctor did not pick up on the irregularities in my heart rate. When your heart rate is 152 at 2am, you’re either a werewolf or something else is clearly wrong.

Yet again, I approached the Clive Bishop Medical Centre to request a blood test. What I had requested had been missed the first time. I was met with incredulity: “Why would you want to test for that?”

My understanding of the protocol is that blood tests should be done to test for all possibilities. When I explained my reasoning, he responded with; “The cardiologist will make you get tests anyway.” Again, trying to push the onus onto someone else.

Despite his comments, he assured me he would create the forms for the blood tests and leave them at the front desk. When my partner went to pick them up the next day, they were nowhere to be found. “They have been forwarded to Clinical Labs,” they assured him.

When I went to get my blood test the next day, the forms simply weren’t there. I couldn’t believe it. I rang the Clive Bishop Medical Centre for comment, and they assured me that they would be written and sent through.

After all this, I will still be seeing a cardiologist. One is coming here, but we don’t know when that will be. With the border issues, it could be weeks, or it could be months.

It’s as if the doctors just aren’t on the same page. Out of the several doctors I have seen, only one has taken things seriously. Not at all coincidentally, she was the only one who seemed to me experienced in years. The rest seemed straight out of school.

Nobody doubts that frontline medical workers deserve our thanks for soldiering through the pandemic. Nor do we doubt they’re stressed, overworked, and occasionally make mistakes. In the media game, a mistake means little more than the embarrassment of a retraction or, at worst, some legal strife. A mistake in medicine can lead to so much more, and that’s a cross to bear that must crush many doctors, young or old.

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But we also know we’ve been haemorrhaging experienced medical staff for the last few years, the smoke from their burning tyres as they flee Broken Hill enough to give us respiratory disease, on top of the things from which we suffer, for which the cures seem very far away. What a worry.

I am, after all, too young to die.

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