A Story About My Grandpa: Please Do Not Ignore Medical Symptoms

Posted: October 12, 2014 in Uncategorized

I want to take a minute to talk about my grandpa.

Not the most recent picture of me and my grandpa obviously, but one of my favorites!

In March 2012 my grandpa passed away. There were a number of issues that contributed to this, including that his doctors may have ignored a CT scan in 2007 that showed the pulmonary fibrosis that lead to his death. But what I want to talk about here is how he ignored the symptoms of it until it was too late.

It reminds me a little bit of a story by Thorn on Shapely Prose about her mother’s death from DVT, where she had shortness of breath and was told by a doctor not to come back until she lost weight. Taking that to heart, when it got worse she didn’t go back because she hadn’t lost weight.

There are a lot of differences of course. My grandpa, that I am aware of, was never told not to come back until he lost weight. That I’m aware of his weight never explicitly was related to him not going to the doctor sooner. But it reminds me of it because there is still a similar issue of blaming oneself for medical symptoms and not seeking medical treatment because of that.

My grandfather years back, around 2005, was working on getting more active. There was a community rec center right down the street from his house and he would go down there to walk on the treadmill and he would also take his bike and ride around. Around that time though is when my grandmother’s health started deteriorating. She had Parkinson’s and either Parkinson’s related dementia or Alzheimer’s. As the dementia got worse she would get anxious and upset whenever my grandfather wasn’t home and he slowly stopped leaving to walk or go for bike rides. He took care of my grandmother over the years as her health got worse. The dementia got worse and physically over time she was able to walk less and less and was able to do less for herself. Besides her getting anxious when he wasn’t home, and later even on even if he was just in a different room, taking care of her was a lot of work. She would only sleep a few hours a night and so he was getting less sleep too. And while others were around helping take care of her, he was always doing a lot of it himself.

As happens a lot with caretakers he was so busy taking care of her, taking care of himself took a backseat.

So when he first noticed that he was getting out of breath more easily, he chalked it up to being out of shape and thought he just needed to start exercising more again. Meanwhile his breathing just got worse. Eventually it got so bad that he went into the ER.

There was some back and forth diagnoses over this time, eventually he had to be intubated, and he passed away. By then the doctors had settled on the cause of his breathing difficulties- he had pulmonary fibrosis, likely caused by a medication he was taking for his heart.

And I still wonder though how much more time he could have had if he had gone to a doctor and been properly diagnosed when he first noticed he was getting out of breath more easily.

And that’s why I’m writing this. Because I also think that it incredibly common for people to do- we blame ourselves for things and can end up missing important medical issues. Especially when it comes to something like getting out of breath more easily.

Not only in ourselves, but we are also quick to always throw the blame of things of that nature on the person experiencing them. I see this a lot in how people talk about people who are overweight and obese. Trouble breathing? Obviously you just need to lose weight! And you are obviously out of shape. If you just got out and walked more you wouldn’t have that troubled.

And yes, physical inactivity can lead to becoming out of breath more easily. Unfortunately this can also be an effect of serious health problems such as DVT or pulmonary fibrosis. And those aren’t going to be cured by losing weight or getting out and walking more.

So please, let’s stop suggesting people are always to blame for these issues, because of their weight or activity levels.

And even more importantly, I hope others never let that kind of self-blame for not being as active as you feel you should be, or not being the weight you feel you should be, keep you from seeing a doctor when you notice a change in your health, whether it be that you are short of breath more often or any other symptom. (I also hope that doctors in these cases check all possibly causes instead of sending people away telling them to lose weight or exercise more without making sure it’s not something else causing the problem.)

  1. […] And of course ignoring health problems because “I must just be out of shape” or “I… […]

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