I was hoping to ease my way into the unfamiliar US healthcare/insurance system next month when M’s very generous work-based insurance coverage kicks in, but no such luck. Yesterday, we spent eight hours in the Emergency Room. As our temporary insurance was supposed to be only a last line of defense for a short amount of time, we have a high deductible, so I expect this will be a quick and rude crash course in healthcare costs, US-style.
I have had sharp pains while breastfeeding for weeks now… or possibly months — it’s hard to recall. To put it plainly, when I feed E2 on my right side, I get a pain that feels as if someone is putting a long needle in through my nipple and then jabbing it about in the breast tissue. Sometimes it is painful, sometimes just uncomfortable, but had never been debilitating. At first, it only occurred for the first few minutes after I’d finished feeding. I didn’t think too much of it — there are a lot of various aches and pains associated with pregnancy and the first year of motherhood and I was used to them coming and going. After a while, the pain started coming during the feed as well, but I was used it by then and hardly noticed the change. Silly me — I should have noticed. I should have seen a doctor about it while I could for free on the NHS.
Four nights ago, the pain changed dramatically. I fed E2 in the middle of the night and then put her down to sleep. I felt the pain come and waited for it to pass. But it didn’t. It came… and came… and came again, and got more intense with every wave. Within minutes, it was more painful than I’d ever known it. It made my skin break out in bumps, it made my hands shake. I sat in the bed and rocked in pain, and eventually went into the living room so I could writhe on the floor, clutching at my chest, without waking M and the baby. It went on like this for nearly three hours before it finally, mercifully subsided and I could get a few hours’ sleep.
The following two nights were exactly the same. I got only 3 or 4 four hours’ of sleep each night, and spent most of the time on the living room floor, shaking and moaning in pain. It started happening in the day as well — nearly every time I fed from the right. If I’d been in the UK, I’d have gone to the doctor immediately, but I was hoping to wait this out, hoping it would go back to how it had been, so it wouldn’t count as a pre-existing condition when M’s work insurance starts.
I’d assumed it was a pinched nerve, but on Sunday night, I suddenly had a brain-wave and thought it could be thrush (a yeast infection). I pulled myself off the floor, over to the computer, and looked thrush up. The symptoms seemed to match perfectly, and I was convinced. One website suggested that garlic combated thrush… and I recalled someone once saying that a clove of garlic placed directly in the ear will cure an ear infection… So, in my pain-induced senslessness, I put two and two together: I went into the kitchen, cut open a clove of garlic and put the raw cut side against my nipple. The pain that shot through me was like nothing I’d felt before and I promptly wet myself. But I was desperate for relief and thought it might be doing some good, so I stood that pain as long as I could — about 15 minutes — before dashing to the bathroom and desperately trying to wash the garlic-sting away under a stream of hot water. It really did seem to have done some good — the pain seemed so much less — but I suspect now that it was just that the same pre-garlic pain now paled by comparison.
I finally got to sleep at 8am. The baby needed feeding around 1pm and the pain returned — with more intensity than ever. I couldn’t face it anymore, and rang my mom to ask what you do if you need a doctor on a Sunday. Thrush is easy to treat — I just needed to see a doctor to get the right prescription which would be safe for me and for the baby. My mom said our only real option was to go the Emergency Room and that she’d come over right away to pick me up.
We were admitted the to ER around 3.45pm, and my mother and E2 and I sat down to wait. And we waited. And waited. E2, by the mercy of God, was an angel — so incredibly patient and well-behaved — as her naptime and then her dinnertime and then her bedtime passed. After seven hours — at 10.45pm — we were finally seen by a doctor.
I explained about the pain and that I thought it was thrush. She examined me, and looked perplexed for a minute. Then she asked me to lie down, and proceeded to give me a good old-fashioned breast examination, like I haven’t had from any medical professional in 15 years of living in the UK.
I sat up. She said it wasn’t an infection and it wasn’t thrush. Instead, she’d found a cyst and an “irregular object”. She asked if I’d ever had a mammogram (no) and said she wanted to refer me to a breast surgeon for either a mammogram or an ultra-sound. I explained that we are on temporary insurance and I’d thought maybe I should wait until the real insurance kicks in in March. She paused, and said, “Um… from what I felt… I don’t want you to wait that long. I want you to get this examined as quickly as possible.”
She then explained that she suspected the pain was from the cyst or the irregular shape pressing against a nerve. And, oh, did I want some really strong painkillers? I’ve never said “YES!” so earnestly or quickly in all my life.
By some small miracle, I had no pain at all last night. I still took ages to fall asleep — it had been a stressful day and my mind was racing. I couldn’t stop my mind from thinking about the worst. I finally fell asleep at 2.30am. My mother came round this morning and took care of the girls so I could sleep in. I got up at 1pm — disorientated, but it nearly made up for three nights of no sleep, and I felt human again. I fed E2 when I got up and the pain came back, but my mom stayed, so I could just sit in the corner and rock without having to worry about the girls. I know I could have taken the painkillers, but whatever drugs I take will filter their way into the baby as well, so I don’t want to use them until I absolutely have to. I knew I could ride the pain, and I did.
I rang the breast surgeon’s office today, and they offered me an appointment on 13th February. By the time I realised how far away that is and tried to ring back, the office was closed. I will ring tomorrow and see if I can get anything sooner. I don’t want to deal with this for another two weeks if I can help it.
It was a very unsettling day. I am certain it’s a nerve, but I can’t help but worry a little that this irregular object is something more sinister. And, that if it is, whether the insurance coverage will travel smoothly from our current temporary cover to M’s work cover. Part of me is kicking myself for not realising and getting it looked at sooner, while we were still on the NHS. Part of me is saying that the timing has been a blessing, because I have my mother here to take care of the children while I am in pain.
And, deep down, I think that’s true. I think it will be alright, and the timing is a blessing. And this is just another stressful and expensive thing that, like the pain, we will just have to ride. We’ve ridden so many things already — just add this one to the list.