‘I woke up’

The Beacon-News

By Heather H. Pfundstein | hpfundstein@stmedianetwork.com

Feb 19, 2011 06:06PM

As my eyes opened, I knew where I was — the ICU of Rush-Copley Medical Center. It was early — the room was dark, but a nurse at the Aurora hospital was talking to me, checking my vitals. I had just spent the last 36 hours fighting for my life.

I had a vague image of my brother standing over me, worry on his face. That had been the day before — good, I remembered. I was still here; “I am alive,” I thought.

For the last year, since my daughter, Ashley, was born in September 2009, I had been in pain daily, barely able to walk up and down the stairs to put her to bed. As the year dragged on, carrying her became increasingly difficult.

I had been to numerous specialists; my doctor’s receptionists knew who I was. I’d had a colonoscopy, several MRIs and had seen a blood doctor. But none of it seemed to bring a qualitative diagnosis. I was deemed depressed — unable to enjoy the wonderful life I now had: a husband who loved me; a beautiful, healthy baby girl; a full-time job with benefits; a new home; and a body that just couldn’t keep up.

I was scared.

I began to think something was “fundamentally” wrong with me. Maybe I had a stroke, lupus, cancer … I finally resigned to the doctor’s diagnosis. I took the recommended Prozac — and forgot for awhile. I was getting used to hurting. My hair was falling out; my legs ached; I couldn’t sit on the floor and get up; my brain seemed hidden in a fog; and I was struggling to keep up at work.

Life at home was suffering, too. I slept on the weekends, slept late on weekdays and went to bed early. My husband did everything: clean, cook, take care of our new baby.

I couldn’t understand what was happening. Before I became pregnant, I had completed several metric centuries on my road bicycle and was in the best shape of my life. While pregnant, The Naperville Sun underwent a redesign where I spent many hours planning the new Our City section, and my husband and I bought a home in Oswego together.

My co-workers noticed the difference in me after the baby was born, too.

“It was like watching a vibrant flower wither in the sun, and there was nothing you could do about it,” editor Nichole Roller said.

Summer passed without incident. I stopped taking Prozac because it made me not care whether I felt better. I pushed my doctors again. I hadn’t had a menstrual cycle since I’d had my now year-old daughter. The obstetrician said I was stressed — I needed to relax. No tests.

I was becoming desperate. I thought I might lose my family and my job if I didn’t do something.

And then, something did happen.

* * *

My niece was born, and I felt joy that my brother and his wife had a second child. They had been trying, and now she was here.

However, a few weeks later, my niece’s postnatal tests indicated she needed thyroid medication. My sister-in-law was in a panic. What did that mean?

She took to the Internet like any good mother would.

While searching, she came across symptoms that sounded like mine. She mentioned Sheehan Syndrome — pituitary death, meaning the body doesn’t make the stress hormone cortisol.

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Author: Leslie Carol Botha

Author, publisher, radio talk show host and internationally recognized expert on women's hormone cycles. Social/political activist on Gardasil the HPV vaccine for adolescent girls. Co-author of "Understanding Your Mood, Mind and Hormone Cycle." Honorary advisory board member for the Foundation for the Study of Cycles and member of the Society for Menstrual Cycle Research.