It has been more than a decade since my diagnosis. I had been symptomatic for quite some time, maybe most of my life, but in the years following the birth of my children the symptoms became increasingly frequent.
I have White Coat Syndrome.
Those who share my diagnosis know that when one has this affliction, they are prone to behave inappropriately in medical institutions and around medical personnel. This syndrome does not generally effect my day to day life, however, having received the diagnoses, I try even harder to compensate for it with a keen sense of awareness and attention to detail in medical situations. Unfortunately, this strategy is not always helpful.
Those who do not suffer from this syndrome, cannot possible imagine the anxiety induced by the barrage of questions one is bombarded with the instant they require medical help.
“Describe the pain, is it a burning pain or a sharp, stabbing pain?” Short of being stabbed or burnt, how is one to answer that question? And, should you venture a guess, what if you’re wrong, and the pain you feel is burning not sharp (or the other way around)? Such potential for misdiagnosis!
“Describe your symptoms?” Well, how much detail does one include? What if you leave out small embarrassing pieces of information, thinking they are irrelevant, but really they are the hinge your diagnosis turns upon? What if you share too many of these potentially pertinent details, and face an awkward silence, followed by a very insincere, “Thank you.”
While I thought the pressure was intense when advocating only for myself, it is nothing compared to trying to describe the afflictions of my children. Now I face situations such as: most childhood rashes are inconsequential and need not be treated. However, in the case they look like this, or develop into this, it could be symptomatic of something much more serious and you should seek medical attention immediately. In what can only be a terrible coincidence, most of my children’s rashes have elements of the benign and elements of the serious. What is one to do then?
My sister, Eleanor, is an experienced nurse, and over the years has graciously attempted to navigate this potential minefield with me. She has responded kindly to many pictures of cuts (do they need stitches?), rashes (serious or not?), and bodily excretions (what?!?!) Undeterred, she has answered phone calls and listened to descriptions of a wide range of symptoms, and no matter how embarrassing, has remained calm, helpful, and non-judgemental.
This same sister, held my hand through three of my four labours, calmly assuring me all was well and as it should be, and loving my baby when I couldn’t the time it was not. She has endured me at my most symptomatic, and loves me still.
Yet, you can imagine my surprise when months prior to the birth of her first child, she asked if I was willing to be present at his birth. This same woman who diagnosed me, was inviting me into her hospital room on the most momentous day of her life! Having been there for me and my younger sister, Kendra, she wanted us to be there for her. A united sisterhood welcoming new life. I was elated!
Ok, and honestly, though I know my experience counted for something (four kids!), I couldn’t help but wonder if it was Kendra she wanted there and being compassionate, didn’t want me to feel left out. Really though, do the why’s matter? I was going to be a labour coach!
The night before heading to the hospital, Kendra and I whispered and giggled well into the night in Eleanor’s spare room. We anticipated what was to come, and re-lived our own experiences. It may have been more prudent to arm ourselves with a good night’s sleep knowing what was in store for us, but no one has ever accused us of prudence.
Morning came shockingly early, and after giving Eleanor and Wade a head start to check in at the hospital, Kendra and I followed. We talked seriously about how this day was about Eleanor and not us. We were there to assist her, as she was always the first to drop everything for a friend or family member in need, and this was a time for us to be helpful and mature. It was not about us, it was about her.
Our discussion meandered to the frustration we had both experienced when our husbands seemed more interested in trying the laughing gas or incessant snacking rather than focusing on us, and we were determined the spotlight would remain on Eleanor. And Wade. This was their day. We would endeavour to support quietly when needed, but remain in the background.