MARCH 24 marked World Tuberculosis (TB) Day, an opportunity for us all to acknowledge and take action on an infectious disease that is responsible for 1.3 million deaths annually. Fortunately for those of us who live in Canada, incidence of TB is low, with approximately 1,500 new cases reported every year.
“The best defence is a first-class control and prevention program. Luckily, in Canada, we are very fortunate to have one of the finest,” says Scott McDonald, CEO of the BC Lung Association. “But we mustn’t become complacent. Even Healthy Canadians fall ill with TB.”
Proof positive is Manav Gill, a 37-year-old TB survivor raised in Vancouver who today works for the BC Centre for Disease Control as a Public Health Manager helping prevent and treat TB! To help raise awareness of the disease, Manav is sharing her personal brush with the disease:
I am 37 years old and I am a TB Survivor. Yes, I use the word survivor as this is how I feel after having experienced my journey as a patient with tuberculosis. I would like to share my story with all of you. So a little about me.
I was born and raised in Vancouver. I am of South Asian descent, with a little Indonesian blood and have travelled to many foreign countries during my life, but I know for a fact that I tested negative for a TB skin test in 2001 before I started nursing school. So what happened?
With regard to my health, until I got sick with TB, I have always been very healthy. I never had the flu and only suffered from a cold three or four times in my life. In fact, I’ve always been energetic and athletic. Then in 2011, it all changed.
It began in March when I was admitted to Emergency in Vancouver as I was having difficulty breathing. They did blood work, a physical assessment, and chest x-rays, and discharged me after a couple of hours because everything appeared normal.
Then in May, I was admitted again while vacationing. I literally couldn’t breathe, had pain in my chest, and difficulty climbing even a flight of stairs.This time I was diagnosed with viral pneumonia and fluid in my left lung. I was not given antibiotics as the pneumonia was not bacterial and was told that the fluid would resolve itself as my body would absorb it. Well, needless to say, the things did not resolve, instead I developed more fluid in my lungs and in June I had to have the fluid in my lungs drained.
In August, I was referred to a respirologist as I was not getting any better and a bronchoscopy was performed. For those of you that don’t know, a bronchoscopy is a procedure that allows the doctor to look inside your lungs’ airways and take samples if needed. I was then referred to the Vancouver TB clinic in September as the respirologist really believed that I may have TB, but not in the lungs, in my lymph nodes.
I would like to state that from March to September, I lost about 40 pounds, had no appetite, night sweats almost every night, no energy to do anything, and breathing difficulties. These are all classic TB symptoms.
Hence, on September 4, I was put on TB meds as I tested positive to the skin test. Those 9 months were the most challenging time in my life. Having to take 9 pills, work full-time, take care of 2 children, go for weekly blood tests (as my liver enzymes did not do too well on these medications), bi-weekly doctor appointments, and attend grad school at the same time is something I want to forget.
Yes, TB is curable. But people forget that it is such a debilitating infection that affects not only the patient, but every facet of our lives for a very long time. In the end, I would like to add that I was never confirmed having TB even though another bronchoscopy was performed for a tissue sample, but I improved drastically by being on TB medication.
Since, I couldn’t get enough of TB in my personal life; I have made it a part of my professional life and hope to STOP TB as a Public Health Manager at the BC Centre for Disease Control.
As harrowing as my experience was, I am actually lucky. For many living in parts of the world where TB is more prevalent, less access accress to treatment and care exists. Stories of those who suffer from TB in many places around the world don’t end as well as mine.
(Posted by Katrina van Bylandt)