It was the type of medical exam that literally could change your life – and, fortunately, without you having a debilitating or life-threatening illness. Still, the results were already a wake-up call, warning me that I had been pushing my body to its limits.
“You may be diabetic but we have to run more tests to be sure,” says Dr. Kathrina Gatchalian-Bundalian, the attending physician of The Medical City’s Center for Wellness and Aesthetics. “You are not getting quality sleep, and you have been diagnosed with sleep apnea. And you just might have adrenaline gland fatigue; you have been running on adrenaline for some time and you have to slow down.”
Dr. Bundalian’s voice was gentle, and her demeanor was nothing less than compassionate. During my executive check-up, she was the first stop and she was also the last. Dr. Bundalian walked me through the pre-medical-exam screening that went through almost every aspect of my medical profile. Then, after I had gone through several tests that measured the health of various parts of my physique like my eyes, heart, and breasts (among others), she was the one who aptly enough discussed its findings.
The Medical City’s executive check-up is far different from the usual ones that we hyperactive professionals go through because it was designed to be individualized. There is no one-test-fits-all pattern. During my very first day, I had to fill up a few detailed forms that asked me to outline my medical history including the number of operations I had and my family’s experience with illnesses like diabetes. Then, along with Dr. Bundalian’s gentle prodding, the same questionnaires would go into my lifestyle habits, from my sleeping hours, diet, lack of exercise, to even stress-related work.
“It’s not just a matter of looking at the symptoms or diagnosing a specific illness,” Dr. Bundalian explains the rationale behind the thorough executive check-up. “We want to get the bottom of it. That’s why we look at the patient as a whole. Why she experiences constant headaches or chronic fatigue, and the factors in her lifestyle that contribute to this. Our executive check-up is also designed for follow-ups. Often, a lifestyle change is necessary to bring about an improvement in health. That needs continuing encouragement, support, and guidance which the Center provides.”
That kind of eagerness to be of service and genuine concern for your well-being was very palpable the night I checked in The Medical City. An overnight stay was required because the doctors had to take several blood tests during the check-up; urine and fecal samples were also needed. More than that, you do need to take time away from work and the other things that could trigger the stress that you wanted to avoid in the first place.
The Medical City facilities did go a long way in making you feel at home. In a sense, it was like staying in a hotel. The comfortable bedroom with its own bath comes equipped with its own TV set and Wi-Fi. The meals that were served from sundown to noon time were healthy – no fats, plenty of fish and veggies, fruits substituted for desserts – but they were delicious and filling.
The executive check-up per se was made up of a series of tests that evaluated the condition of certain parts of your body. A nurse was always assigned to you to take you through the various rooms to bring you to each stage of the exam, ready to address your concern or help you out. In cases where the machine was not yet ready or there were a lot of patients lining up for the same exam, she would escort you back to your room where you can relax while waiting.
The state-of-the-art facilities of The Medical City made the whole thing efficient – and a breeze. That you knew you were in the hands of capable and cheerful staff, from the doctors to the nurses, alleviated any of your apprehensions. The X-ray exam took only a few minutes. The eye screening yielded its results immediately – no major eye condition and no need to wear glasses even though I’ll be reaching my golden year by next year.
The usual exams that make almost every woman cower was made bearable by the physicians who guided you through each step, metaphorically holding your hand. The mammogram applied the expected pressure when it examined my breasts, but the expected pain was minimal. The embarrassment and discomfort of the groan-eliciting pap smear was removed by the mixture of sensitivity and women’s insider humor exhibited by the staff.
Two exams stood out on my mind. The first was the stress test which had you running on a treadmill for about 15 minutes, with electrical devices strapped to your chest, measuring your heart rate and heart beat. The attending nurse would advise you to slow down or speed up should the number on the screen indicating your heart rate drop or increase to what would be considered an unsafe level. I finished my sprint in 15 minutes without breaking a sweat, to my happy surprise.
The last exam happened in the Sleep Clinic, which was recommended by Dr. Bundalian. It was prompted by my stories during the pre-scrreening that I had been suffering what seemed to be vertigo lately. Most telling of all, I never had a hard time falling asleep during the daytime. It didn’t matter if I was riding an airconditioner-less open truck up the hills of Ilocos Norte or closing my eyes during lunch break in the office. Regardless of the noise around me or the physical discomfort of my surroundings, I would fall asleep.
That revelation had caught Dr. Bundalian’s attention. “You may lack adequate sleep; that’s why your body catches up when it can,” she told me.
THE SLEEP CLINIC
So off to the Sleep Clinic I went to. Similar to the stress test, they strapped on several wires to your nose, chest, eyes, and the upper part of your body to monitor the various stages of sleep that your body goes to when you retire, and how each stage affected your heart rate. The Sleep Clinic was actually a very comfortable bedroom; with its cool air and cushy cushions, I dropped off to sleep just a few minutes after the nurse shut off the lights.
Still, I’d awaken a few times during what seemed to be the most restful night of my life that year. The nurse who was monitoring me that night would appear by my bedside and lull me back to sleep again. As it turned out, I woke up about a dozen times. It was not a good omen – I was positively diagnosed with sleep apnea, which was an obstruction in breathing that prevented the regular flow of oxygen to my brain and hence disrupted my sleeping.
Sleep apnea can cause chronic fatigue. Some people who have it wake up tired despite a 12-hour rest. If unchecked, the condition can lead to other health complications.
To counter it in my case, Dr. Bundalian recommended making the necessary effort to sleep the regular six hours non-stop. Drinking tea and switching off electronic devices hours before bedtime could help. So might sleeping sideways in bed.
Those recommendations were easy enough. The ones concerning my sugar levels and hyperactive adrenal glands were actually painful in an emotional sense.
My maternal grandfather, late father, and two older brothers had been diagnosed with diabetes. Indications in the exam showed that I could very well be pre-diabetic if I were not already. Blame it on a lifetime guzzling my favorite soda and sweetened desserts when I had to do lots of overtime work to finish projects.
My diet had to change, and there was no two ways about it. “No more processed sugar, that means you give up your sodas and even the bottled juices,” Dr. Bundalian was gentle but firm. “If you need a sweet fix, eat fruits. You can take sugar but it has to be either the muscovado or estivia kind. Limit your carbohydrates. Cut down on fats, and eat brown rice, instead of white.”
A full breakfast was also non-negotiable. “It has to have quality protein and small amounts of carbohydrates,” Dr. Bundalian said. Taking multi-vitamins would also compensate for the lack of nutrients in my body.
The same diet would address my other condition which is adrenal gland fatigue. As I’ve always been hyper, ever since I could remember, juggling multiple projects, chasing after deadlines and results, sacrificing food and sleep when I have to. And my adrenaline boosters were my Coca-cola and, once-in-a-while, an energy drink, an ice cream, or another sweetener.
Those days are over. “Because of your adrenal gland fatigue, your cortisol is always up,” explained Dr. Bundalian. “”This messes with your sugar levels. You eat too much sweets and drink too much soda. You are pushing your adrenal glands too much – and they will get tired.”
At its simplest form, adrenal gland fatigue can make you feel listless, tired, and bored. At its worst, you feel so overwhelmed and so weak that you can barely make it out of bed that day. The condition also has a negative impact on your heart and cardiovascular system. It was certainly not something I would want to greet me in another medical exam years down the line. Neither is diabetes.
Dr. Bundalian wrote me a program that radically altered my diet. To this date, honestly, I have a hard time complying with it. There are days I still grab a can of Coke or sneak a bite of cake. But still an inner mechanism keeps me in place. The conditions are not inevitable, and in a sense, my health is still in my hands. I have the tools, the results, the information – all it takes is a day- to day decision to use them and stand by my decision.
The Medical City
Ortigas Avenue, Pasig City, Metro Manila
Tel. nos. (632) 988-1000, (632) 988-7000.