After struggling with health anxiety since becoming a Mom, long time friend of Anxiety Gone’s owner met her biggest fear. What will surprise you about the following story is that, had Tanya listened to everyone telling her “it’s just your health anxiety”, her daughter may not be here today.
My Nightmare Became Reality: Tanya’s Story
In January, we anxiously boarded a plane for our very first family vacation to Mexico. Anyone that knows us, understands how much this vacation meant to our family. And I was ecstatic to watch my kids and husband dip their feet into the ocean for the first time! We were thrilled at the thought of enjoying a vacation on the beach, in the pool and endless amounts of food and drinks. It was a dream come true for us.
Before we booked this vacation, there was hesitation due to claims of other vacationers becoming ill from food or drinking the water in Mexico. It was not the destination we had in mind when all the planning began. However, we found a great vacation package that we could not pass up. And that was it, I went ahead and booked! While there, I remained mindful of what we ate and only drank bottled water. I even went as far as having us all brush our teeth with bottled water. Since having kids I have suffered with health anxiety, so it was imperative to me that we took extra precautions to ease my mind. Overall, this vacation was going great! It was the time together and relaxation that we needed. This relaxing scene would be ripped away from us like a sweeping hurricane, and all those warnings turned into a reality we never imagined!
It was four days into our vacation, I started to notice our little girl was seemingly ‘off ‘. She became a little extra sleepy and warm, not fevered, and her appetite suddenly gone. Being only three years old, there was not much she could tell me about what was wrong. That fourth night my anxiety reared its ugly head. I just knew something was wrong with her. I knew it was not the warmer weather or she was just tired from all the fresh sea air. I awoke at 3am and went out on the balcony to calm the nausea warming my body. I was sweating and short of breath. At first I thought it was something I had ate. Thoughts of my last few meals racing through my mind, not much adding up. That’s when I realized, I was having a health anxiety attack. I stood on that balcony and focused hard on the sound of the ocean waves lapping against the shore, until finally I felt cool and oddly hungry. It was the worry about my daughter that I was trying hard to suppress. Even while my intuition was kicking hard, we tried to enjoy those last few days in Mexico. However, as each day passed she got worse. More sleepy, nausea and a strange phlegm cough that would bring up mucus. No signs of runny nose or other viral symptoms. As her mother, I knew how a cold presents itself and in her whole three years of life she has never thrown up due to illness. I have seen my good share of stomach bugs with my son, and it was not presenting that way at all. Usually a virus will hit at least two of us four but nobody else was showing any symptoms. I was puzzled, nonetheless anxious to get home.
The morning after we arrived back home, my daughter had a low-grade fever of 100.04 F started – a fever now showing up six days after she started to appear ill. I immediately called our doctor and as it turned out, my family doctor was on holidays. I was scheduled to see the on call doctor that morning. The doctor ruled possible chest infection and maybe the start of an ear infection. We were sent home with a prescription of antibiotics and I felt better to have an answer. My daughter finished this five day course of antibiotics and was relatively herself for three days afterwards with the exception of her appetite not fully restored. That night she went to bed seemingly fine but woke up the next morning with a high fever of 104 F. My gut felt like it had been stabbed.I knew I was anxious and I knew damn well this could be by health anxiety but I also knew my daughter and I refused to listen to everyone when they told me that I was just anxious and needed to calm down.
Call it what you want, mothers intuition continued to repeat that something was very wrong. We cared for her with Advil, cool packs, cold compresses, and you name it. Despite all effort, her fever remained steady at 104 the entire day. That evening around 8 pm, her fever began to rise to 105 F. I did not think twice when I started the car drove off to the hospital emergency. When we went into triage, her fever was spiking at 106 F. The nurse asked me if she’s ever experienced febrile seizures. I answered no my heart pounding so hard in my chest, I could feel it in my throat. I wanted to grab the nurse at the shoulders, and scream ‘help my baby!‘ She must have seen the look in my eyes because she replied “Oh no, it’s okay I was just wondering.” I thought to myself ‘just wondering? For f*** sakes!’ As we waited in the emergency triage area, my baby was on fire. Her skin was extremely hot to touch, sweating profusely against me. I have never felt that amount of heat coming from a person’s skin. She had fallen asleep in my arms, despite my efforts to try and keep her eyes open. Not my baby, oh please how much longer?!
After five hours, the fever was gone and all we had was a urine sample. The doctor comes in, and I give him our history over the past couple weeks. He tells me the urine sample had a couple small abnormalities, but nothing to cause concern at this point. My brain is going wild, ‘small abnormalities’, but I don’t question. He was sending us home with a possible virus and a five day fever protocol paper. Then as I am about to leave the room, she begins to vomit mucus. I am holding her over the garbage can as the nurse comes over. She tells me to lay her back down, so she could let the doctor know. Two hours later he comes back into the room with another diagnosis of gastroenteritis. I am half asleep as I question “A stomach bug? My son’s had that a few times, it has never presented itself this way?” This doctor told me if symptoms don’t subsided after five days to bring her back. Five days! There was no way I would let this go another five days! I was tied up inside as I left the hospital, defeated and angry. I put her in bed at now 3 am and I spent the next few hours checking on her between pacing the house. My anxiety was twisting my insides, and my mind was going there. I was so worked up, my heart pounding in my ears and my body tense. ‘That doctor is wrong. What is happening to her?’
In the meantime, my husband is getting our son ready for school. As he is looking after my usual morning routine, I got sick to my stomach. Once my son and husband left the house, I made the decision to distract my brain. I began to tidy the kitchen and my nerves subsided, making me feel slightly better. By the time I had finished loading the dishwasher and wiping the counter, my daughter awoke with a fever again. I carried her small limp body downstairs. From this point on, she could not gather strength to stand or walk and later sit up. She had barely enough nourishment since it all began two weeks prior to this point. Once again, I called the on call doctor and they had us in again within the hour. I trusted that this was not my health anxiety – something was seriously wrong.
The doctor commented on how ill she looked, however with no other symptoms she had to send us home. Over the next couple days nothing changed. Her fever would spike to 105 F then disappear for couple hours. She was able to nibble on food while the fever was down and remained hydrated. Still she became increasingly weak. I was at the doctor every day, pleading. On day four since our first emergency visit, I demanded the on call doctor to start testing her. I had my son in tow during this entire ordeal, and he was beginning to get very restless. I remained completely calm for my daughter as this doctor did a strep swab and ordered a chest x-ray, both negative. With no answers, my daughter crying and my son being very uncooperative my nerves were on edge. Doing all I could to just keep from having a breakdown, it was important for me to stay strong for my kids. I did one thing I have never done in my five years as a mom, I called for help. Thank goodness for Grandpa who brought some relief with potato chips! But once again we went home after an excruciating long morning. I found out later my doctor office was very concerned and called the hospital after we left the office. Within a half hour of returning home I got a call from the hospital. She is being admitted! They found a bacteria in her urine and that is all she could tell me. Finally an answer! I’m not crazy, ha!
I now had an answer after nearly three weeks, but the next 24 hours were the most terrifying for me. I dropped my son off with Grandpa before bringing my daughter to the hospital. During this time, she became completely delusional. I will never forget her talking about the man holding a unicorn in the car, the trees going away and something about sparkles. Her eyes rolling back and forth as she spoke. If I hadn’t known any better, you would think someone had drugged her. It was extremely disheartening, and to this day I believe she came close to no return. I was the only one to see her in this state, and it is burned into my memory.
Once we were admitted and they put the fluid IV in her tiny arm, she started to come back. The pediatrician explained they found a rare type of pseudo bacteria in her urine. It took 48 hours for it to start growing and that is why there was nothing present during our first visit. But this being four days later I was irritated it took my persistence and my doctor calling them looking for answers. He continued to explain. “This bacteria is very serious, if untreated or not treated in time the end result is an unpleasant one”. He didn’t have to say it, because from what I witnessed on our car ride to the hospital, he meant deadly. I was completely numb from the inside out, and now just terrified of losing her. There was no question I had to remain strong for her. But when my worst nightmare was confirmed, my nervous system felt like it had stopped functioning. That first night in the hospital was traumatizing for us both, and we still had many unanswered questions. They needed one more urine sample before my daughter could start the course of antibiotics. But my daughter was not having any of it. There was no way anyone was going to tell her when to pee in this strange, bright lit room. She had just been poked and prodded at for IV and bloodwork, and just wanted to go home. The nurse on duty that night, was adamant I get a sample for her. And believe me I tried everything, my daughter just simply refused. I tried to explain to the nurse that my daughter needs to decide when she is ready to pee. There is no way to force a frightened three year old to pee in a cup! After a couple hours of this back and forth, the nurse demands I bring her into the bathroom. The nurse takes my daughter and attempts to force her onto the toilet. My daughter was angrier then I had ever seen her, and then started screaming at the top of her lungs “STOP IT! I DON’T WANT TO! LEAVE ME ALONE!” With an enraged expression on her face. I had never known this behaviour to come out of my usually sweet child! At this moment I quickly scooped her up, and held my daughter against my chest. I turned to the nurse in tears, and said “We are done! This is not happening like this.” Her reply was questioning why she was so worked up, asking me if something happened to her. Now I am angry and utterly insulted! I said to her “This is happening to her right now, she’s terrified!” She left the room while angrily telling me that she needs to medicate the kid and will call the doctor to see what he wants to do. I continued to try to calm my daughter down. Talking to her about random topics until the nurse came back in. Her demeanor was changed and she told me the doctor said to let my daughter rest and hope she pees in the morning. I thought to myself, he must have kids because any parent that cares about their child would never see them through what this nurse tried to pull! I was feeling devilishly proud of my daughter for standing up for herself. The nurse left the room and I laid next to my daughter, calming her cry to go home. Eventually, she fell asleep as I watched over her the entire night and prayed so hard for my baby not to be taken from me.
Fast forward a few days in the hospital, we learned her kidneys were unharmed and the course of two serious IV antibiotics were killing the bacteria. She was sitting up again, eating, starting to stand on her feet and her fever gone by day three. This is where we faced our next challenge. Getting her to take the antibiotics in an oral liquid. The plan was to get her to take the medicine orally, so she could be taken off the IV and home within 24 hours. Easier said than done because with all the vomiting up her medicine weeks prior, she now hates liquid medicine. As the nurses found out, trying to force it into her results in medicine spat all over and one angry three year old! To my daughters defense though, this medicine was white and had a grainy texture that was impossible to hide. To make matters more difficult, the hospital protocol absolutely forbid us to mix it with juice, as we have done at home. Thankfully, my creative husband tricked her into taking it and the next day we were free to go!
Being at home together again was the most heartwarming feeling I’ve ever experienced as a mother. Her brother did not leave her side over the next couple days. Reading her books and saying “I love Sissy. I am so happy she’s home!” It truly brought a whole different meaning to being together, and we are grateful for the happy ending. With all my daughter had to endure, we appreciate so much more how strong-willed she is!
Unfortunately, we’ve been left with a mark on the idea of travel to tropical destinations, but not completely shut down the idea go again in the future. For now though, our family vacations will take place within our border until the kids are a bit older. We learned, it is not the destination or how much money you spend making memories with your kids. They will have just as many, if not more, fun memories of family time at the cottage, playing at the park, learning new things, or searching out local trails to explore with mom and dad!
The Health Anxiety Aftermath
After returning home from the hospital with my daughter, I was left with some unanswered questions. She was back home and doing great. But for myself, health anxiety has a way of creeping in when I least expect, and it really hit me a couple days after she returned home. Although I felt like a nervous wreck the entire time my daughter was sick, I did everything to suppress it – I had to.
But once my daughter was home, safe and sound, I collapsed with an overload of anxiety due to this traumatic experience, as I sat in my room alone and cried that hard, can’t-catch-my-breath ugly cry. I was devastated thinking of all the ‘what if’s‘. What if I had not been so quick to react? What if I had not gone against every doctor we went to? I felt ignored and lost with how to help her at the time. My husband was the rock during everything, keeping me from completely crumbling under anxiety. He was cool and calm with it all, even taking the overnights while our daughter was in the hospital. He made it light and fun for her, while I stayed with our slightly anxious son. This a reminder why we make such a great team. We do not always see eye to eye, but when our kids’ health is of concern he is there to hold us all together. During that horrible ordeal, I made a choice to keep what was happening quiet from friends and most family until after she was admitted to the hospital. This is out of character for me and I couldn’t help but play it over in my mind. As if I should feel guilty for keeping my focus on my sick daughter. I can only describe this time as a blurry tunnel around her and I. Nobody else was allowed in that moment. I had to remain present for her. It was not necessary for me to get any extra input from others. As if my sub-conscious mind knew there was no room for wrong advice or friends trying to keep me from worrying. I did not have the calm presence of mind to be responding to such comments. I now respect my decision and would react the same way again.
A few weeks after my daughters’ hospital stay, we are at her pediatrician follow up appointment. He told me this strand of bacteria dwells in pools and hot tubs. It is also seen frequently in cystic fibrosis patients. This made sense with the vomiting of mucus in the beginning, before it moved into her bladder. I already suspected this with the amount of disgusting pool water she had swallowed in Mexico. There was no doubt in my mind now! I will not be persuaded otherwise, because my daughter nearly lost her life. And it is the only situation that makes sense timeline wise.
Now, here I am months later and overcoming the anxiety from this traumatic experience has remained a challenge. Over time I have learned having anxiety and being a mom, means I have to face the worst fears. Otherwise it builds up in my mind, allowing those thoughts to overcome my well-being. That is why I challenge my health anxiety when at all possible. I could not even write of this personal aftermath six months ago. It would make me angry, my body would go ridged from head to toe while I cried. I am slowly healing, but will never forget.
I had not been swimming with my daughter since Mexico, and anxiety would start at only the thought of her in a pool. This is a fear I knew needed to be challenged and I had to take her swimming. A close friend (Anxiety Gone owner, Chantal) invited us over for a swim, and she happens to be very familiar with anxiety. This was a great opportunity for myself to finally face this fear. However, I let anxiety take the win and left my daughter home with daddy. A day later, she invited us over again. This time I ignored my health anxiety and went with both kids. If not for my friend, I would have packed up and went home! I was shaking, stomach in my throat, and starting to cry. Meanwhile my happy and completely unaware daughter dipped into the pool. Her face lit up as she giggled touching the water. I told myself, she is okay! We are fine! Repeatedly until I felt the calm take over. The anxiety slowly slipped away.
Now that’s not to say my health anxiety does not creep in here and there. I still have my daughter keep head above the water for now. Do I want her to learn how to swim? Of course! But there are classes for that, and it is just one of those skills that will take time. So what if she is not swimming laps and jumping into the pool at three years old! I would prefer she learned in a swim class, where she will get the proper techniques. No sense sending myself into a spiral in front of her. That would only result in her having a fear of the water. I overcome fears by taking small steps at a time, and I am this example to my kids. I will challenge my fears and not allow my health anxiety to take full control. Following this situation, getting in the water was the first step to making it wonderfully fun again!
There are some important things we want you guys to take away from this absolutely heartbreaking story about Tanya and her family.
- Trust your gut, not your anxiety
- Sometimes, it’ isn’t ‘just your anxiety’ and it’s important to recognize the difference between anxiety’s irrational thoughts and reality
- After going through a traumatic experience, it’s crucial to take time to recoup
- Sometimes, it’s better to step back
- Moms, it’s okay to not share what you’re going through while you’re going through it
If you are struggling with health anxiety or a traumatic experience, please speak with a professional therapist. Online therapy gets you the best therapist for you depending on your situation, so you can reach out to them whenever you need.
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