Recently I learned that I had an iron deficiency so severe that my doctor said she was astounded I was conscious.
It was serendipitous that I met a woman who is studying iron levels in women as part of her PhD studies. She asked me if I would take part. It was easy. I would need to answer questions and give a blood sample. I said yes. The results were a shocker.
Iron is essential for blood production. It’s in the red blood cells of your blood called haemoglobin. Haemoglobin carries oxygen in your blood from the lungs to the tissues. Iron deficiency can lead to anaemia. A normal range of ferritin (F), which is the level of iron stores in your body, is 15-165. Mine was 1.
My acquaintance called me on Sunday afternoon and said I should see a doctor as soon as possible. She emailed me the test results and told me to have steak for dinner.
The next morning, my GP took one look at the test results and sent me to Mercy Hospital for Women. They saw me right away.
The likely cause of my iron deficiency is menorrhagia. Twenty-six years of heavy and prolonged menstrual bleeding has depleted my iron stores. The hospital doctor said that if her F dropped to 1, she would get dizzy, pass out, and need a blood transfusion. I’ve been experiencing this so long that it had become my normal. It’s fascinating how the body adapts, but it’s not normal, and we needed to fix it.
A second blood test confirmed the original results. On Friday, I was back in the hospital for an iron infusion. Replenishing my iron levels is one step. Keeping them up is another and that requires controlling my menstrual bleeding. For a while, I’ll be taking iron supplements as well as pills with Tranexamic acid. This is for the treatment or prevention of excessive blood loss during surgery. I’ll also switch from oral contraception to the IUS (it’s like the IUD) and that should curb my bleeding over time.
Medicare covers all these doctor visits and procedures. I have to pay for the prescriptions. They are inexpensive because they are government subsidised.
As an American, it’s mind-boggling. When I lived in the US, I was uninsured for years despite being a full-time employee. For years, I complained to my various doctors about my heavy period. They all told me I was within the normal range, albeit at the heavier end. Not one of them tested my iron.
In June 2013, I had the medical assessment required for visa applications. Did the results show I had a severe iron deficiency? I don’t know. At the time, Medibank mailed the results in a sealed envelope and prohibited you from opening it. You had to forward it to Immigration along with the rest of your visa paperwork.
Last week, I called Medibank and requested a copy of my medical report. The process is now computerised, but they didn’t keep hard records back then. “Back then” as if it were a decade ago instead of last year. So, I’m out of luck. It bothers me still that I wasn’t informed of a potentially life threatening problem.
For me, the story ends well. I’m going back back to the hospital soon to have the IUS inserted. I’ll also have a hysteroscopy to make sure everything is okay in there. The doctors and nurses tell me I will feel like a new person in a few weeks when my iron levels are normal.