So when I was twenty-one, I drove from Stillwater ot Oklahoma City to a mall to donate blood so that I could have a chance to win tickets to a Heart concert. I had organized blood drives and donated in high school, so the donating blood was no big thing. Heart tickets WERE a big thing. [I had already had a torrid love affair with my high-school-best-friend-turned-freshman-college-roommate, but hadn't consciously figured out the whole lesbian thing yet.] I was surprised when the technician, after a finger stick, reported that I was anemic and wouldn't be allowed to donate. Shit. No blood, no chance to win the tickets.
On the drive back to Stillwater, I had some weird back pains on my left side. I was very uncomfortable and had no clue as to the problem. When I got back to my rented house near campus, I did what any normal college girl would do: I ordered pizza and drank beer with my [platonic] roommates. The pain worsened, and to shorten what I tend to make a very long story, by the end of the night I was diagnosed with a kidney stone and released from Stillwater General to go home and pee through a funnel.
By the next day the stone still hadn't passed, so my mom came and got me with the intention of seeing her doctor the next day. The pain was so bad that she ended up driving me straight to the emergency room. To shortened this part of the story, these docs noted that besides the kidney stone, I was severely anemic and that maybe I had bone cancer, so they did a bone marrow biopsy. I will tell you that having a bone marrow biopsy will definitely take your mind off a kidney stone. Bottom line: No cancer. My anemia was chocked up to my being a menstruating college girl with a questionable diet. I was omnivorous at the time, but did not pay particular attention to eating balanced meals. We were all satisfied with that conclusion. The kidney stone was surgically removed (the operating room story is one for a different day), and since I was hooked up to all those IV's anyway, they gave me iron intravenously. Five days after I was admitted, I was released kidney stone free and with a replenished red blood cell count. I felt good and went about my business. No further follow-up for my anemia was ordered.
For 25 years I had recurring diagnoses of severe anemia. In fact, I NEVER had a normal red blood cell count after high school. The conclusion was always: "You are menstruating, so of course you lose a lot of blood. Take supplements. Eat more liver." Then when I became vegetarian, the tone turned more to: "What do you expect will happen if you choose to eliminate meat from your diet." I bought all of it. I'd take supplements for a while, and since my anemia didn't seem to be causing me any specific problems, I'd figure I was better, not stick with any follow-up visits to doctors to just check that, and by each regular check-up (which for me were typically 5 years apart), my iron levels would be low again. At least that's what I thought was happening.
Then in January, I started with a new primary care physician. That's where part 2 of the story will begin.