Written by: Leah Bush
My name is Leah Bush and I am a 34 year old wife, mother, nurse practitioner, and experienced patient.
My greatest desire in my job is to ensure that my patients, specifically my female patients, are heard, educated about their bodies, and are able to advocate for themselves. I am so passionate about this because after I was already in the medical field, I became a patient myself. Even with my professional knowledge, I did not have the personal confidence, understanding, or the voice to even feel like I could speak up about my concerns.
Here is my story:
My husband and I got married 1 day after I graduated nursing school, got pregnant 3 months later, and had a baby the day after our 1 year anniversary. Life was chaotic, and I was exhausted and felt like absolute garbage.
“Sure,” you might say. “You were in a new career, a new marriage, and mothering for the first time ever. It’s normal to feel like crap when all of that is happening, right?”
I had been telling myself those same things. I convinced myself that I was just lazy or maybe depressed. Maybe I was just broken. “I’m probably crazy…” even.
I had never really been “sick” in my entire life, and ignored my symptoms for a long time. I only pursued evaluation when I developed some strange lesions on my tongue. “Hmm….odd” my doctor said.
He referred me to a specialist for a biopsy, but due to the nature of my complaints and my age, no blood work was obtained until a month later.
“It’s probably chronic fatigue syndrome,” said one doctor.
“Hm. I don’t really know. Have you asked your primary?” said another.
After the referral, biopsy, and continued progression of my symptoms, basic bloodwork was finally obtained.
2 Days Later:
I was sitting in a hospital class learning about balloon pumps. The CNO comes into the classroom.
“Is Leah in here?”
“Uhh….yes?” I reply.
“Your doctor called my personal cell phone for you.”
My mind started racing.
Did I do something dumb and kill one of his patients in the ICU?
Why would he call for me on her personal phone?
I answered, “Hello?”
“Hey. This is your doctor. How are you feeling? Have you taken any weird medicines? Has your diet changed a lot lately?”
The rapid fire questions startled me further.
“Uhhhh…no? Why?” I asked.
“Get another set of labs and come to my office immediately.”
I felt the blood drain from my face. “Ok,” I replied.
I didn’t know what was wrong, but I knew that if this doctor was worried, I should be worried. I had worked with this physician in dire situations, and nothing seemed to phase him.
I walked over to my doctor’s office after getting more bloodwork, and sat in the waiting room worried that I was about to die of, well anything and everything possible.
“Leah?” the nurse called.
I stood up, terrified, and followed her.
Once in the room, I asked her,
“What’s going on? What’s happening?”
“Umm…” she whispered hesitantly. She started to tell me the numbers from my labs, knowing that I would understand the gravity of the situation. They were the types of numbers I would see with my dialysis patients, and in that moment I was terrified that that’s exactly where I was headed.
There were no tears, just numb understanding. During that prolonged hospitalization, we discovered that I was in end stage kidney failure. My kidneys were working at 6%. My options were either to chronically go on dialysis or pursue a transplant.
I did end up undergoing a transplant, had 2 children afterwards, and continue to do well. But I had to learn to advocate for myself to be able to go forward with those choices.
I do not think that if bloodwork had been obtained 1 month earlier, that my situation would have changed much.
However, we may have avoided some of the prolonged hospitalization, anxiety, and gotten medications maximized. I do think that if I had been brought up in a healthcare system that listened to womens’ health concerns and complaints instead of redirecting them towards hysteria or panic attacks, I may have sought help sooner. And that may have made a difference.
As a healthcare provider, I even carried this mentality over into my first nurse practitioner job. I worked with a female cardiologist, Dr. L, and began presenting a young female patient to her. The patient began her interview with,
“Ok, I’m probably just crazy but…”
She was in her early 20s, felt her heart racing on occasion, would become short of breath, and feel like she was dying. She had been told that she was experiencing panic attacks and was given Xanax. This did not help her.
“She’s probably just crazy,” I said.
“You sure about that?” Dr. L asked. “Because you only get to call them crazy if you’ve ruled everything else out. And even then, probably not.”
Turns out, she was experiencing a heart rhythm called SVT, and with treatment she improved drastically.
Dr. L’s example and revelation has carried over in all of my other experiences as a provider, and I have discovered diseases and abnormalities in my patients that have been written off as hypochondria, panic, anxiety, neuroses, or hysteria.
I hope through this column that we can discuss different health care issues, how they may present differently in women, and how to advocate for yourself with this knowledge. I can’t wait to share more with you. And if you have been struggling to be heard, seen, understood, or taken seriously by healthcare providers just remember: you MIGHT be crazy - but probably not.
About the Author
Leah Bush - ElleTwo Contributor
Leah Bush is a Nurse Practitioner with over a decade of clinical experience in critical care, cardiac care, emergency medicine, and primary care settings. Her professional identity is rooted in her upbringing as the daughter of a pastor and cardiac nurse educator, experience in varied medical fields, and personal journey as a mother and kidney transplant patient. She has a passion for patient education and a desire to give every patient the care that they deserve but are often denied. This holds particularly true for her female patients, who are often the most overlooked and misunderstood patients in our healthcare system. Outside of work she is a lover of music, documentaries, and LSU football. Her personal heaven is warm buttered bread and a long nap, and her personal hell is matching children’s socks out of an endless sea of laundry. She’s been married to her husband Tony for 11 years, and they have 3 children together - James (10), Rebekah (4), and Henry (2). They’ve recently added another member to their family: a black-and-white house cat named Alfie.