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Amy's story "The courage to try one more time."

Amy Martinsen is an acclaimed writer who is one of the most memorable clients that I worked with. She is memorable for her loving and untainted spirit, and willingness to better herself despite the fear of the unknown. I love this lady so very much. I am happy to feature her original story written for The Voice Forum Facebook Page in 2016, in her own words as the first topic in my blog. I can't think of another person who deserves this focus. She is super funny so I know you will enjoy this. Check out her books such as "The Secret Obituary Writer" and "Changing Worlds."


by Amy Martinsen

Chapter 1

I slumped into a chair in the waiting area of the pharmacy at Walgreen. I chose my favorite chair, next to the endcap, so I can rest my head against it. Phil the manager of the pharmacy smiled at me and told me my stuff will be ready in just a few minutes. I closed my eyes and willed myself to control my breathing: I’m wheezing with my mouth open in between wall-rattling coughs and people are staring—but I can’t help it. Phil is watching me closely and after a few minutes brings me a bottle of cold water and pats my hand, then goes back behind the counter. I know I’m as white as a ghost and my lips are purple because my fingernail beds are purple, too. Lack of oxygen can do that. Even on my good days I do a version of this at least twice as I make my way through a grocery store. Shopping is always a death march for me.

More people are looking at me and I pray Phil will hurry. Little do they know that Phil sees a version of this Amy every two months or so. That’s how often I have Bronchitis. I just finished a session with my so called famous pulmonologist. I went to him a few years ago, on the recommendation of a good friend because he’s “the best in the field, particularly with diagnosing.” He took one look at me and proclaimed I have asthma and chronic bronchitis and will just keep getting bronchitis “because that’s how my body is.” He prescribed me all kinds of inhalers and medications to help me, but nothing seems to save me from what I’m going through right now . . . except his default remedy for everything: losing weight.

I hate going to this doctor because each appointment inevitably turns into him pointing his finger at me, raising his voice and telling me I have to lose weight. He even made me watch the computer screen as he typed in “obese” in all caps next to my name in my digital file. I am five foot, eight inches and weigh 180 pounds and last I checked no circus has come looking for me. How in the hell am I supposed to lose weight when I can’t push a grocery cart down two aisles without stopping for air, and live on a steady diet of steroids?

Phil brings me my rather large bag of stuff: inhalers, breathing machine meds, oral steroids, antibiotics and cough medicine. I thank him and then stand up, feeling dizzy and panicky because I have to walk out to my car which is across the store and half the length of the parking lot. Will I have enough air to do this? This question is repeated on a loop in my mind all the time. I look at my bag of drugs and try to trust in them—Thanksgiving is only a week away and we have over sixty people coming to our home expecting a huge dinner and a happy, energetic hostess. My best hope is that these meds will work long enough to get me past this event. But I know I’ll be back here in a month or so, slumped against the endcap, waiting for Phil to give me another bag of false hope.

This goes on for fifteen years.

Then my “you’re fat” pulmonologist retired. I was nervous about meeting his replacement but, as usual, so sick I didn’t care. Would it be another older man telling me I’m fat? I couldn’t have been more surprised when the new pulmonologist Dr. R walked in. She was young, so young she could have been one of my daughters. I just sat there staring at her as she began asking me questions about how I felt. Then I did something I NEVER do. I started crying—weeping, really. I just kept telling her over and over that I can’t go on this way. I truly believed in my heart I wouldn’t live much longer at the rate I was going. She was kind and understanding and listened . . . and never once said I was fat. [I actually shared this information about her predecessor - she wasn’t happy]

After I pulled it together she made me a promise: that she would do everything she could to fix me. I was so sick and so hopeless I didn’t believe her. I was just happy to have a doctor who would listen and understand. She did so much more than that, though. She and another doctor in their group went through all my files – even from my family doctor – going back ten years. When I met with her again she said the numbers didn’t add up, they didn’t follow the pattern of a person with asthma and chronic bronchitis. She and the other doctor were challenging these diagnoses and felt there was something wrong with my larynx. Would I be willing to go to MC for some tests?

To this day I’m ashamed to say I felt no hope with this announcement. I knew it was a big deal to challenge another doctor’s diagnoses, especially one as renowned as my previous doctor, so I appreciated this effort. But I still felt I wouldn’t receive a different outcome from MC. Sadly I put off this test for three months.

It was early fall and I was really sick, again, and back in to see Dr. R. She had an emergency and I ended up with Dr. L —the other doctor who had done the thorough search of my records. She actually brought up my records on her computer to show me, explaining how my numbers [breathing tests, etc.] don’t add up and that she strongly felt I had something wrong with my larynx. She asked me if I had been to MC for tests and I shook my head, crying. I’ll never forget what happened next. She made me look her in the eye and asked, “Will you find the strength to try one more time?” I promised her I would, went home and made the appointment. For the rest of my life I’ll be grateful for that decision and for these kind, brave women who helped me make it.

It was early December when I got into Mayo and was still a little sick and not feeling super great. And I wasn’t very hopeful either. I knew this first visit was going to be another meet-and-greet where I’d do nothing but fill out forms and answer questions to a doctor’s back while he typed into a computer. I told my husband to not bother coming…it would be a waste of time for him. Once I was checked in, they showed me to a room filled with all kinds of machines. In my bitter, hopeless state of mind I thought Great! They stick me in some kind of broom closet. I don’t even get a regular patient room.

Then a whole line-up of doctors and pathologists walked in. Dr. DL had me sit in a chair in the middle of the machines and began to explain all the tests they were going to do. I was shocked! I couldn’t believe they were going to actually do something today. What happened to the traditional meet-and-greet and all the forms and me answering questions to the back of a doctor? When I asked Dr. DL this, he said “We do things a bit differently here at the MC.” I soon found out this was an enormous understatement.

They started doing all sorts of weird tests, the weirdest being a small camera they ran up my nose and down my throat. This felt like torture and I had tears and snot everywhere, just trying to keep breathing and doing all the things they wanted me to. Behind me was a large screen, showing all the good stuff they were seeing with that little camera that was making me gag. All I could see were the doctors writing stuff on their clip boards and hearing them ooh and aah at whatever they were seeing in my throat. They seemed to be happy about something and when I asked what was going on, Dr. DL leaned over, patted my knee and asked, “Are you ready to be a whole lot better?”

The tears came in earnest then. After I had all cameras out of me and was sufficiently wiped up, he explained that not only do I have muscle tension dysphonia and vocal cord dysfunction, but I have the most perfect case he’d ever seen! I had no idea what he was talking about but knew at that point I had something completely different than asthma and chronic bronchitis. He turned me over to my beloved CK, who would become my voice pathologist and dear friend, and said with her help he could promise me complete recovery. Then he asked me again, “Are you ready to be better?” I answered him with a firm “Yes!”

Thus began a wonderful and challenging journey of recovery.

To be continued......

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