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Megan and Elana

Friends

What is your greatest health concern right now, for yourself or somebody close?

 

Elana: My biggest health concern is that my parents are older. They were 40 when they adopted me, and now they’re 70. I’m young, trying to start my life, and my parents have been in and out of the hospital. Not with COVID-related things, but they could catch COVID so easily. Unfortunately, I don’t think they’re strong enough to make it out of something like that. So I’m trying to keep them safe health-wise and help out while also trying to do my own thing. It’s a tough situation, especially when it’s not just you you have to worry about. It’s everyone around you.

 

Megan: I feel the same because I am surrounded by a lot of older people who have health issues and I’m concerned about them. I have an uncle who got COVID, and it almost took him out. It was one of those things where I saw how dangerous it can really get, especially for people with preexisting health conditions. So I’m watching out for everybody else around me. To be honest, I almost don’t worry about myself. I went over to help take care of my uncle, and I wore a mask and everything, but I felt like he needed it more than I did.

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Experiences surrounding being adopted

Elana: Being adopted comes with a lot of unknown health concerns. Within the last two or three years, I’ve caught the most bizarre things you can catch. And I’ve had chronic conditions I didn’t even know about. For example, I tried to start donating plasma, and they rejected me because I have a blood disorder. I didn’t know about for my entire life. They didn’t check for it in the adoption process, so I’ve been living with it all this time. I was so tired of medical professionals telling me I didn’t know my own body. And, it’s true. I don’t. I obviously lived with something for almost 24 years and didn’t realize

it. How insane to know that there are things that did come up and that are going to continue to come up. I just have to live my life, which is cool, but also scary. At least all this new information answered a lot of questions. Like, in high school, my weight fluctuated a lot. Now that makes sense. Or, I would sleep all the time. There are things I’m piecing together. Finding all this out happened during the shutdown, so I navigated that, got treatment, and was able to get through it. And I don’t have it any more, so that’s good. But I learned how physically there are things I might not even know about myself.

Growing up, I’ve had the same doctor to this day, and I still have nurses ask me, "What’s your family history?" I’m like, "I don’t know. It’s already in the paperwork. My doctor noted it. Pay attention to that stuff." I don’t want to say it’s traumatizing seeking healthcare, because that’s a big word. But I don’t want to go to the doctor and have to explain my entire life every single time. Also, being an adult and saying, "I don’t know that about myself," makes me feel insufficient sometimes.

 

I actually worked in healthcare in the ER for a little bit at the start of COVID. I ended up leaving because it was around the same time I started getting treatment for my blood disorder. At that point, I thought, "I’m not risking this." It sucked, but there are a lot of things I’ve been learning, and it was cool to be in the field for a little while COVID was going on. But trying to navigate the whole part where I’m adopted, I had healthcare professional friends who were advocating for me and saying, "It’s okay that you don’t know this stuff." Luckily, I found a lot of balance in their support.

If there’s one time you realized you needed to pay more attention when it comes to your own physical or mental health, what would that be?

Megan: I had to come to terms with some of my injuries that accumulated over the years. I tore both shoulders multiple times, tore my ankle this past year, and tore my knees. I’ve had concussions, been in the middle of dog fights, whatever — you name it. I got the scars to prove it all. And I had to accept the fact that, accompanied with those injuries and school and work, I was running myself into the ground. I genuinely wasn’t taking care of myself. I was just constantly on the go because I felt like everyone else around needed me. Even if they didn’t ask, I felt obligated to try to help them, but I almost drowned trying to do that. So I had to break myself off from everything I was doing and accept that I have to take time for myself. After basic training for the Army, I had a stroke, and that was when I decided to take time off of school. I knew if I didn’t give myself a break, I was literally gonna kill myself.

Describing the experience of having a stroke

Megan: I was 20 years old, and I’d gotten injured during a soccer game. I was having trouble walking, and my back was in constant pain. I dealt with back pain before just from playing sports for so long. My trainer gave me two options. He was like, "You’re either going to go to the doctor to get checked out or I can send you to a chiropractor." I’ve never been one to sit out of a game. So I was like, "I’m going to the chiropractor, because the chiropractor is not going to tell me I can’t play, the doctor is." So I went, and it was going well for a few weeks. Then he popped my neck, and like five days later

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when I was driving, my vertebral artery busted and it caused a stroke.

 

I kept driving, but it was only for like two minutes. I had to get to practice! I hadn’t realized what was happening, but looking back, it was the weirdest thing. A few days before, I had gotten a super sharp pain in my neck. Any time I moved, it was excruciating. But it had gone away, so I didn’t think anything of it. I didn’t know then, but it was actually my artery collapsing in on itself. On the day I was driving, I’d gotten lightheaded about 30 minutes before. But I thought, "I came from softball practice and now I’m going to soccer practice. I just need some water." So I drank some as I was driving, and then out of nowhere I felt like I was floating. My body felt weightless. That’s when I realized I couldn’t feel my left side. I told myself, "I just have to get to practice. I’m right down the street. Then I can deal with whatever’s going on."

 

I pulled in and stumbled out of the car. I was starting to feel off balance and couldn’t stabilize myself. So I walked in and tried to ask somebody to take me to a bathroom because I thought I was gonna throw up. I thought I was communicating just fine, but my friend said I was slurring, nothing I was saying made any sense, and I was profusely sweating. I didn’t want to go to the ER. I refused to let anyone call an ambulance. But by the time they had gotten 911 there to look at me, the blood clot had dislodged, and all my visual stroke symptoms were gone. Everything still felt off though. I didn’t feel like my head was normal. Still, I was like, "Can I just go back to practice?" The paramedics were like, "Absolutely not. You need to go to the ER. And if you won’t, you’re at least going to urgent care." Urgent care forced us to the ER, and that’s where I found out I did have a stroke. I had to go through occupational speech and all that therapy. 

Fully recovering enough to get back to playing sports took about seven or eight months. But it took me longer than that to get back to the skill level I was at because I had taken so much time off. I still struggle with migraines and headaches, but that’s probably a little bit more of a mixture of the stroke and the number of concussions I’ve had.

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Who do you take care of, and who takes care of you?

Elana: Usually, parents are supposed to take care of their kids, but with the whole adoption thing, our relationship is flipped and has been my entire life. I don’t mean anything bad by it. My parents are my best friends. I love them with my entire heart. But if anybody takes care of anybody, I think I take care of them, and I always have since I was a little girl. In terms of who takes care of me, it’s my partner. She’s one of the only people in my life who knows everything about me. I’m not a very open person. It sounds like I am, ’cause we’re talking about it, but in

terms of friendships, I don’t open up to people. It’s not because I don’t want to. I just don’t know how — unless you’re sitting here asking me questions about it. I guess my partner’s always been the person to ask the right questions in all areas of my life.

 

It’s a lot to take care of older parents, being as young as I am, especially being in grad school. On the other hand, it’s nice to have somebody who I can rely on too. And more recently, Meg’s been helping out too. I’ve started to realize my friends are actually here for me. COVID is weird in the sense that it’s brought so many things to light and allowed me to reflect and figure stuff out. I didn’t realize she and I have been in each other’s lives for such a long time — since high school, and that’s five or six years ago.

 

With the pandemic, it’s like, "Why have I never thought about reaching out to my loved ones until COVID?" I’m like that, though. If I don’t see people consistently or I’m not hyper-focused on my relationship with somebody, I’m not the one to reach out. But I don’t want to ever be put in a position where I wasn’t the one who reached out or I wasn’t the one who opened up for my own sake. Nobody knew my story. And that kinda sucks.

Who is that person you can always call?

Megan: When I was growing up, my grandma was diagnosed with lung cancer. All throughout high school and the beginning years of college, I would take care of her. Every single morning, I got out of class, and I’d bring her a doughnut and cream soda. That was her thing.

 

But in all honesty, I take better care of my friends than I think I do almost anybody. Because I’ve been at a point in my life where I felt like I didn’t have anybody taking care of me, and I had to take care of myself. That’s what made me learn to take care of others. Now that I’ve grown up, I

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will always be that person my friends can call at 3 AM, and it’s not a problem.

 

Elana: The highest priority for Megan is her friendships. There have been so many life-altering events she’s been a part of. Even if we, for some reason, haven’t talked in months, she’s the one person I go to.

Who takes care of you?

Megan: A lot of people come to me to fix something or take care of something or for advice. I don’t feel like a very wise person, but I usually have a good perspective and am able to look at things from different points of view. My family takes care of me, but the main person who really takes care of me is my girlfriend. She’s gotten me through extreme low points in my life. I met her through the Army, and she brought me out of a dark spot afterwards. I was struggling with injuries, trying to get back to who I am as a person, and she was the one who never left my side, telling me, "It’s okay. I’m going to be here."

 

I got into a dog fight a little while ago. My dog, Jackson, is a 90-pound German Shepherd. My uncle’s dog, Oscar, is a 70-pound Boxer. Oscar follows me around and sleeps in my bed when I’m at my uncle’s. Jackson’s the same way with my uncle when he’s at my house. Well, I’ve been staying with my uncle recently, and I brought my dog over to introduce them. I didn’t realize Oscar had been left outside. So I went to take my dog out, just to walk him so he could go potty. The moment I opened the back door and they saw each other, it was on. I was home alone and realized, "I have no other choice but to get them apart or else they’re going to kill each other." I couldn’t let that happen. I love both of them so much. So I used all the adrenaline I had and tore them apart. In the end, I was the only one left bleeding. I mean, they had a few little nips, but I took the brunt of it. So I did what I was told to never do during a dog fight and grabbed the inside of both of their mouths with both hands and just held them as I pulled them apart.

 

When that all happened, my girlfriend happened to be coming into town the day after for my birthday, and for two weeks, she did nothing but take care of me. I couldn’t really walk or move my hands, and she showered me, she made sure I took my medication on time — everything. I genuinely don’t know what I would have done without her.

Megan and Elana

Friends

Storytelling and photos by:

Humans of St. Louis / Ava Mandoli