“…in sickness and in health…” I am sure that for anyone who has said their wedding vows in full health did not actually consider the weight those words have on uttering them, myself included. You perhaps had a fleeting image of you both as an older couple having lived a full and healthy life. Well, hopefully. I had that exact image, imagining a snapshot of images as we aged, as I uttered those words, looking into the eyes of the man I was marrying.
How were we to know that in 4 months time the ‘in sickness’ would be at the forefront of our lives for an inestimable amount of time.
when it all began
Fast forward 4 months and we’re in Cape Town on the last stage of our honeymoon. I wake up on our first morning there feeling like my head is about to explode from the pressure at the front of my face, a headache and earache. Add in weakness and feeling hot/cold. I knew it was viral and nothing like I had experienced before in terms of pain and range of symptoms. The pharmacist gave me some painkillers and we carried on as normal. I didn’t want to go to the Dr as I could move, talk, eat and sleep still. I was fine! Well, as fine as you can when you don’t feel well!
I am still unwell
I’ve always had a high tolerance to pain and had a ‘get on with it’ attitude when not feeling well. So, once home I returned to my usual activities. Being the end of the holidays (I’m a teacher), I saw friends and family and did some planning for the new school year. I felt more drained than usual but thought this a result of quite an active honeymoon, long flights and catching some form of a bug on the plane. Looking back, I don’t remember feeling really unwell but perhaps I just put that to the back of my mind.
Similarly, I’ve always been able to cope on few hours sleep, getting through the day, just. But I still vividly remember how I felt at break time on the Thursday of that first week back. To give some context, Monday was an INSET day (you go in for meetings and hopefully get the opportunity to do some preparation), Tuesday was for year 7 and sixth form. I wouldn’t see them on this day so I had the day to prepare, yepee! Wednesday was a 5 lesson day, one of which was with my tutor group. So, by Thursday lunch time I’d regurgitated the same administrative style lesson six times; seating plan, expectations, handing out of books and other documents to stick in books, an activity to get them back into the subject. If you’re a teacher, you know that this isn’t overly tiring, quite the opposite. It’s the return to a routine whilst hitting the ground running with the planning, preparing and the hundred other jobs that need completing in that first fortnight every new school year that is exhausting. Nothing that a good night’s sleep can’t fix.
But for me, it didn’t. By that Thursday break time I wanted to go to bed. If there was one next to me, I would have dropped down onto it. I don’t nap either. Ask my husband. I’m still as stubborn about napping as I ever was. Even now.
the testing begins
But why? Why was I so tired. All the time? Why was I feeling feverish and sluggish and, well, unwell? I go to see the Dr. “You have a virus. Rest and it’ll clear up soon.” So I ask, how long should I rest for? Should I go to work still? To which I get the response “it’s up to you”. Humpf, that was useful! A week later and a different Dr who organises a blood test. ‘Normal’. So I’m still feeling unwell and I am ‘normal’ according to my blood tests. I self-certify for a week. I still don’t feel any better so I return to the Dr’s surgery to get a sick note. I see a third Dr. Bingo! He actually asks in detail about where I went on holiday, for how long and when I started to feel unwell. I can’t remember when but I get sent for more blood tests, including malaria. And I get referred….to the Tropical Diseases Unit at Oxford Hospital. Sick note still states ‘unwell’. Finally, I might start getting some answers. Hopefully.
Fast forward 2 months. I’ve had countless blood tests for everything imaginable. All negative. I did discover I had glandular fever when I was young though. At that age it is a fever and cannot be diagnosed as anything more than a fever. So, the specialist tells me that I either had glandular fever (fever has passed by now) and/or a virus contracted from a mosquito that they are unaware of. Something like Dengue fever. Joy. She tells me not to return to work until January so I can recover.
So by now I’ve been off work for 2 months. I spend every day lying on the sofa watching series after series and film after film interspersed with reading. I even managed to read Mandela’s Long Road to Freedom in a week. But life is becoming tedious and I don’t have the energy to do much more than this. Once or twice a week my parents would come pick me up, take them back to theirs, let me chill on their sofa, maybe walk into town, then drive me home. Those days really helped lift me. However sluggish, heavy and tired I felt, I always got up and had a shower.
By December I could go on a walk with a friend or have a coffee but I always felt so exhausted afterward. I spent my birthday at home and Christmas was a few hours spent round my sister’s before I ‘zoned out’ and got taken home.
back to work
Fast forward to mid-February. I’d just about managed a term of a reduced timetable. When I say managed, I limped and crawled to that final week with a few days off in total. Lessons were added on, I set cover for my other classes as well as planning my own lessons and marking students’ books. I even managed part of two parents’ evenings. But I needed time off and I could not make it to the final Friday. I was completely exhausted. It took five days of doing nothing in February half term, feeling physically ill, to feel more myself again.
The day everything made sense. Why I had been feeling like this for almost 6 months. Why I still felt like I did. Surely no-one with glandular fever still feels this unwell after 6 months. Surely. We checked the NHS website in the week, my husband listing the symptoms, me replying ‘tick, tick, tick, tick…’. It had been mentioned by my sister-in-law and my parents in the Autumn but I was being referred to a specialist, so no, let’s not think about that for now.
I asked the Dr “is it…?” ‘Yes” was the reply. Finally, an answer. A reason to feel this way. What a relief.
Now I can begin to take control of my recovery.