I am told that I had my first crisis when I was about three years old and my description of the pain at that tender age was, “my hand is breaking”. Having a crisis; what does that even mean? Once again, I am not going to explain it medically, I can only tell you what that means to me.
A crisis is a painful episode that occurs when your sickle-shaped red blood cells stick together and block the blood vessels. This makes it difficult for blood and oxygen to get to tissues, causing severe pain. This can happen in your back, knees, legs, arms, chest or even your stomach. For me, I have even felt it in my hips. However, for the most part, it is either in my arms or in my legs.
These episodes are VERY painful and can last anywhere from a few hours to a few weeks. Sigh! The frequency of a crisis varies with each individual. Some people can have it every month and others a few times a year. In my situation, I usually get a crisis, a few times a year. In the past, I have gotten away with going through a year without a major crisis; that is, one that did not require me to be hospitalized.
A crisis can happen at any time, and can be triggered by different situations. It could be from changes in temperature such as moving from a warm temperature to a cold temperature without bundling up. It could also be an infection, or being in high altitudes for too long (that’s why I cannot be an air hostess), or it could simply be due to dehydration or overworking yourself (stress). Honestly, the many unusual causes just surprise me. I could be fine one day and in excrutiating pain the following day. Unfortunately, I am yet to master when I will be getting a crisis.
It is very difficult to describe the pain! Some have described it to be almost, if not more painful than labour. I read about a sickle cell patient who had broken an arm but was so calm about it, showing no sign of pain. He was asked why he was so calm, he replied that it was not as painful as a crisis. I can’t relate to that because I have never had a broken arm, neither have I been in labour, but for me, it’s like someone is intentionally hitting you with a hammer at your joints, non-stop . This is the best way I can describe it. The pain begins slowly and then it intensifies. On a scale of 1 – 10 (1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest), by the time I get to level 10, I am in tears, wailing like a baby and have to get to the hospital IMMEDIATELY. Actually, by level 10 I should already be at the hospital so let’s say by level 6, then I know it’s time to go. Sometimes when I feel the pain is bearable, like level 3, I stay at home and take some pain killers but sometimes, that just does not work. That pain is not a joke…chai!!!
So, let me tell you about one of my ‘memorable’ crisis. I was in my first year at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology (KNUST). It was the day after the unfortunate incident of the roof of one of the residence walkways collapsing on a couple of girls and eventually taking the life of one of them. That was a very sad day for the university, and the next day was an even sadder day for me. My crisis started Saturday morning. I had woken up with plans to go to church – it was Sabbath, then BAM, I felt the pain. I told myself, “No! This is not happening, it’s in my head,” but this pain said, “nope, it is not in your head, it is me, here to torture you.” I laid in bed quietly, i didn’t tell any of my roommates what was happening to me. I just called my very good friend-turned-sister, Jennifer. Within minutes, she was there with Sam (another good friend, turned-Jennifer’s-husband) and they took me to the hospital. The timing of the crisis was off because we were in our exam week and I had two upcoming papers. What was I going to do? I also did not want to be a bother to my friends because, they also had to prepare for their exams.
On my way to the hospital, I knew that this pain was not going away on that day. I was definitely going to spend a few nights there. On our way to the hospital, the pain got worse, and that’s when the tears began to flow. So many things were running through my mind. When would I get better? When will this pain stop? I don’t want to make my friends come to this hospital when they have to prepare for their exams. How will I even write my exams myself? Does that mean I will miss my exam and have to repeat the semester? I want my mummy and daddy – but they are a good four hour drive (without traffic) away from me. What will I do?
Well, I got better and I am writing this now, but if you want to know more about what happened and how I got better, watch out for my next post next week. All I will say though is, God is good!