How My Intuition Saved My Life

It was my first emergency room visit just weeks after a double mastectomy direct-to-implant, when I realized that my intuition would be the very thing that saved my life. Angry that I was even in this position to begin with, I was especially irritated by the fact that I had to repeat myself eight times for the eight interns that visited, and all asked the stock questions.

I am an anomaly. I do not fall in line with the classic statistics or symptoms as a patient.  Sitting in front of these strangers proved that point over and over. “No, I don’t get fevers when I’m sick or have an infection…ever,” I repeated. Still pretty fresh from surgery with nerve damage, I had very little feeling in my chest, especially at the incision site which now resembled more of a transition to becoming a zombie than a woman trying to save herself from the effects of a BRCA1 mutation. Because of that, pain was a non-issue.

After sitting in the ER for four hours, retelling my case to eight interns, and never receiving the consult with a plastic surgeon I requested, I had the gut feeling I was in for a long haul. My plastic surgeon was out of town at a conference, and it turns out, he was at the same conference as the plastic surgeon from this hospital. There was no qualified provider left as my back-up in case of emergency…the very emergency I was living. So, I was discharged with the wrong antibiotic because no tests were run, no cultures were taken, and no blood was drawn. And heck, I didn’t have a fever, so there was that. That visit would set the tone for what was about to unravel over the next several months.

A week passed and my surgeon was still MIA, so I visited my PCP concerned that I was literally coming apart at the seams. Again, not seeming too concerned, because after all, I had no fever, nausea or vomiting, the PA decided to swab some samples after my continued prompting, even though she really was not concerned. Four days later, my intuition proved right – I had an infection. Even more so, the antibiotic from the ER was not the right one to fight it because it was discovered that I had Pseudomonas, an antibiotic-resistant bacterium that I contracted from unsterile conditions in the hospital. It literally said that in my chart.

Imagine if my PA had not done the necessary swab? That kind of bacteria is the very kind that kills people. I followed the protocol religiously, and yet, the appearance of my breast was not improving. Rather than call my surgeon who was now back in town, my husband was adamant that we show up when his office opened first-thing in the morning, and demand to be seen. So, we did just that. My husband drove us 1.5 hours and we were first in line. Even after explaining what had transpired the weeks prior, my surgeon brushed me off, asking how I could be confident something was wrong. “Look for yourself.” And he did, with mouth wide open. No words, he feverishly took multiple samples and promptly inserted me in his surgical schedule the next day for implant removal, debriding of the wound, and new implants. My intuition had served me well once again.

The surgery went well, and my highly-regarded, award-winning surgeon did not feel I needed to be placed on antibiotics since I just finished a round for my Pseudomonas diagnosis. So, I was sent on my merry way. Again, the story replayed itself. My surgeon was out of town, no back-up provider to contact, and my incision was now becoming a hole in the side of my breast. No fever. No nausea. No vomiting. But I knew things weren’t right when I looked in that hole and saw black material. Multiple calls to the office nurse who then made multiple unanswered calls to surgeon. Calls to new plastic surgeons in the health system, calendars cleared, and another emergency surgery was in store for me. Turned out the Pseudomonas had never cleared the first time and was setting up camp in my chest cavity.

My health journey did not end after that implant removal and replacement. Today, after seven total surgeries on my chest, I am left with deformed and scarred breast tissue. Open wounds unhealed after implant removals left my new surgeon no choice but to close my chest with whatever was left. What began as an informed and highly researched decision to have BRCA1 surgery to help beat my odds of dying from cancer, nearly killed me because of poor care. It was my intuition and advocating for my health and my life that saved me.

So many women are raised to listen, be “good” and follow directions. Somewhere along the lines, many of these very women lose their voice. For some, that can be in their relationships, in their jobs, or in their journey to health and wellness. I am thankful that I was raised differently. Coming from a line of women with auto-immune diseases, and a long lineage of cancer survivors and those who have lost their battle with cancer, I learned very quickly that I must advocate for myself, or no one will. I took note early on that as women, we have the gift of intuition. We are connected to our bodies in a unique and sometimes mysterious way, that provides an insight unexplained by science and medicine.

I did all the right things before my BRCA1 surgery. I researched. I spoke with several physicians and surgeons. I consulted genetics counselors and leaned on friends who had undergone the same surgery. I chose and trusted a highly credentialed and highly regarded surgeon. In the end, none of that mattered. Not one ounce of that pre-surgery work is what saved my life. My voice, my trust in myself and my intuition saved my life. My need to be heard was far more vital to my well-being than my need to be seen as a compliant or “good” patient.

The greatest lesson learned from this continued journey to health? Women must serve as their own advocate. We must speak up for ourselves and not be easily disregarded by providers who think their credentials mean they are free from error. We must continue to be our biggest proponent, unwilling to be silenced when we know in our gut that something is wrong. We must remember that intuition is our greatest superpower.

About the author

Amy Neuman Proffitt is a proud wife, mother and stepmother to six, marketing professional, blogger, motivational speaker and BRCA1 previvor. She continues to share her knowledge and experience of her health journey to help other women feel empowered to own their health and wellness and become the best version of themselves. Amy created The HERo, a community of confident and empowered females who are their own HERo. This community continues to grow through in-person events and training for women of all ages, and online through social media platforms.