What Puncturing My Lung Taught Me About Endo and Gaslighting
Not long ago, I slipped in the shower, landed on my ribs on the metal handle of the bathtub, broke three ribs, and punctured a lung. Two of my ribs were split completely in two, with one pretty misaligned, and while my lung puncture was not significant enough to threaten my life (thankfully) or require intervention, the impact on my body was huge.
Learning to trust my instincts
As a health coach, I like to think that I am pretty good at advocating for myself, and yet, I allowed myself to be gaslit. I even gaslit myself.
I couldn’t help seeing parallels between this experience and the experience of so many of us with endo. I was shocked that I needed such a reminder to speak up for myself and to trust my instincts, and yet, I found myself with a pretty serious injury, convincing myself that I was just being paranoid.
I share this story to share my lesson. How far could this have gone? How bad would my injury have to be before others (and myself) take it seriously?
When I fell, my physical reaction was instant and extreme. I screamed and screamed and could not stop. I knew that this was bad. I fainted twice and went into shock – both things that happened when I had a car accident many years ago and broke my spine, but something that didn’t happen when I broke my ribs (yes, I break a lot) a few years back.
Despite the signs my body was giving me, the NHS holds conservative guidelines on ribs unless you’re showing signs of a lung puncture or a chest infection, as typically they won’t x-ray for broken ribs and can’t cast them either. Even my boyfriend’s reactions, who is my biggest health advocate, convinced me that there probably wasn’t anything more going on than shock and fractured ribs, possibly even just bruised ribs.
When we looked at the symptoms of lung punctures, I reasoned with myself. Okay, yes, I couldn’t breathe properly, but I had a rib injury – what did I expect? It wasn’t like I was gasping for air.
Within 24 hours, I started developing constant nausea and upper abdominal distention, as well as shoulder pain. Every time I grew concerned, we dismissed it with other causes.
And yet, I had this strong sense that something was not right. That this was so much more than just a few fractured ribs.
Eventually, even though I felt like a drama queen, I got myself into a GP. He was also perplexed by my symptoms – yes, they did indicate a lung puncture, but in his words, “You would know about it by now.” Just to be sure, he sent me off to the emergency room anyway.
Once there, I noticed how quickly the doctors looked at the X-ray and thought that I must have only bruised my ribs because they barely gave it a second glance. So much so that I was shocked when they confirmed I had, in fact, broken two ribs. When I questioned the shoulder pain, they said it all looked normal.
I remember leaving feeling confused. It didn’t feel like just two broken ribs. It felt like more – and what was the shoulder pain and stomach pain about? Why was my chest and upper abdomen so bloated?
Again, I dismissed it. They saw the x-ray; they must be right.
When we got back, we used the link provided to check out the X-ray. The misaligned rib was not difficult to find - the image actually caused me to faint yet again – and seeing it allowed me to gaslight myself further. That must be why I was struggling to breathe. That must be why the pain was so bad, and the shock was so great; it was a nasty break. But still, a voice in my head said, “It feels like more.”
A few days later, still struggling with the symptoms, I sent the pictures to a doctor friend who deals with lung injuries (unbeknown to me at the time!). He came back instantly, letting me know there were, in fact, three broken ribs and a lunch puncture, and there was air around my shoulder. He reassured me I was safe and that the puncture was not dangerous but that I needed to head back for another X-ray and to monitor its progress.
Advocating for your health
I returned to the doctor, and he quickly identified the three broken ribs and a lung puncture and even pointed out where my lung was slightly pushed inwards from the pressure of the puncture and the escaped air. The exact spot where I had been feeling a strange, painful sensation that felt like a water balloon was shoved between my ribs and my lung that I yet again dismissed.
The takeaway from this? It’s a simple message but an important one. You know your body. You know when something isn’t right. Keep pushing for the answers you deserve, and above all – believe in yourself, even when others don’t.
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