In 2001, I was savoring life. This would be my last summer without ever even hearing about "Addison's Disease." This summer would be a time of great change.
My first warning signs of having Addison's set in fully was an overwhelming sense of my body not keeping up with my mind. I had always been strong and able to go nonstop. Like a machine, I was churning and going and being productive. Then, at only 33 years of age, I was suddenly finding my body rebelling against me. It started slowly...I would find my muscles feeling less strong...walking was not as effortless, lifting a heavy object was not as easy, and my endurance was fading.
More stark was my inability to regain my lost strength by resting or by even trying to increase my workout regiment. Nothing was working to help me feel more vitality. I wondered if this was normal for my age. It had started out so slowly, I thought it was simply a sign of my body not being in its twenties any more. I had no idea. Finding a reasonable explanation is a part of human nature. Most often, times of feeling unwell will eventually pass. Surely, this would be the same kind of thing. I'd tell myself, "Give it time and you'll be back to normal." Days, weeks and months passed by as I watched my "normal" slip further and further away. Never did I imagine that my body was being subjected to a rare disease that would soon have me flat on my back fighting for life...
As my Addison's set in, I began to crave V8 juice. I had always liked it, but not really enough to keep on hand. I started drinking one every morning. It seemed to help "pump me up." Then, within a week or so, that was not sufficient, so I added another one around lunch. Soon, I kept a V8 next to me at all times. My mom would bring me a case of V8 and she questioned out loud one day, "I wonder if you are deficient in some kind of mineral, this doesn't seem to be an ordinary craving."
No, I don't think that suddenly surviving on V8's was "normal" but I obeyed my cravings. I even informed the multitudes of doctors I had been rushing to see about this new never-ending food choice. Later, I would find out that these "I had a V8" moments probably were key in helping me survive in a prolonged state of Addisonian Crisis. The sodium alone helped increase my sinking blood pressure. Going from doctor to doctor in an effort to try to discover my ailment - I'd been told so far, "You have chronic low blood pressure and a sodium deficiency." No one asked, "Why?"
I didn't particularly like salty food, but I did like a salty V8. Later, I discovered that the sodium I gained in each drink helped my plummeting blood pressure rise high enough to barely sustain my body to a sitting position. Soon, the hurried walk to the kitchen in an effort to get my V8 had become a dangerous journey. Something was wrong. Really, really wrong. When did walking to the kitchen nearly put me into an unconscious state? But, during each visit to the E.R. or to a doctor's office, the physician would look at me and see my youth with my deep sense of humor and embarrassment and they'd determine that I simply needed rest. Didn't they understand me? Didn't they listen? I didn't feel the need to be dramatic. I plainly would explain my symptoms and assure them that I had been "resting" for weeks on end. It wasn't working. Sometimes, my blood pressure and my electrolytes were so off-ish that they'd hook me up to an IV for a few hours. The fluids, sodium, potassium, etc. would perk me back up and I'd sign my discharge papers to be sent home. And, within 24-hours, I would start the severe process of rapid deterioration once again.
Weeks passed. My mom took me from doctor to doctor in the medical center in Houston, Texas. One of the world's best, and there were no answers. There were definite signs, but not one doctor put it all together. I remember getting so sick and people coming to visit. They'd walk into my bedroom and their face would be horror stricken. Friends were pitching in. My friend Kelly would cook us meals and come dust my house. She had been my life-long friend; she knew in her heart that I was dying. What could she do but help ease my suffering in watching the house become more and more neglected. I had kept a relatively "perfect" house. It wasn't so "perfect" any more. I could only lay there and watch it fall apart. My husband was stretched too thin. Having to care for a severely ill wife is sort of time-consuming. Other friends would drive my kids to and from school. Some would want to call to provide me with company, but they didn't quite understand that I could barely gain enough energy to talk. My fuel tanks were depleted. I was sputtering. I turned on the answering machine and tried to ignore the life-sapping world. This was my worst nightmare.
People who knew me did clearly see that the worst was taking place. I had family and friends sit by my side and pray for me; some wise loved ones would lay hands on me, then cup my face in their hands and tell me that I was in God's hands now. Meanwhile, my husband was physically functioning on the highest level ever, but he was nearly out of his mind with worry. He was doing everything; the laundry, the dishes, the cooking and taking care of me with tender love. His wife was dying. He knew it. My daughters...I can't even hardly talk about that part. I tried so desperately to shield them from the truth, but there was no possible way to protect them from the ugly truth. Their mother was not the same. They developed huge anxiety, especially my youngest daughter, as they had to leave for school. Both feared that I wouldn't be there when they got home, and they'd never see me again. No doctor could give an answer. I had become so ill that David was now having to stand behind me so I could simply go to the bathroom. He'd put his strong arms under my arms and wrap his arms around me, locking his hands together. He'd slowly walk with me while helping to push my legs, one by one, in front of me so I could move forward. We had become so synchronized that a system was developed. We adapted. He was determined. Regardless, it's a lowly experience when you can't even sit on a toilet without physical assistance. However, there is also a level of illness that gets so desperate that you don't care. Staying conscious becomes your focus. That is your daily plan. Never did David imagine that the marriage vows of "you two will become one" to be like this. He'd stand like this with me beneath the shower head so I could try to be refreshed. I was addicted to showering. It had always helped before all of this started. Never did he complain. Of course, we always cherished the closeness. But, this wasn't how we wanted it to be. Now, I couldn't even stand on my own, but he stood strong for both of us.