On this auspicious day, I want to talk about sickle cell anaemia. Now I know that there are 2 types of people reading this, the curious and the affected so while I’ll try to make this an interesting enough read for the curious, I’m definitely going to leave the affected with several tips also.
Basically, sickle cell anaemia happens when someone inherits the abnormal S hemoglobin from both of their parents. In other words, where the normal red blood cell looks like a capsule you take to get better or a round fried ball of unhealthy goodness, the sickled blood cell looks like a nail clipping.
As it is an anemia, a condition where there is not enough blood to carry oxygen round your body, people who’ve inherited this disease often find themselves experiencing symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, and an inability to breathe.
When I was in secondary school, a sickle was defined as a tool used in farming for harvesting grain crops. And when I first heard about sickle cell anemia, I thought that something used in providing food could not be so bad. I shake my head at my 8 year old self.
The defining feature of this disease is basically that your body works against you. The sickled blood cell blocks the passageway to the organs it is meant to provide blood to. When one blood cell blocks the passageway, no other blood cell can enter. So they split apart and cause a lot of pain to the affected person. The affected person may find that their kidney, liver, brain and major body organ functionality is decreased. The affected person may also find themselves experiencing joint pain, leg cramps and multifarious infections among other things. That’s the most simplistic definition I can give to a sickle cell crisis.
Now that we’ve gotten a basic definition of what sickle cell anemia is and what a sickle cell crisis entails, let’s talk about living with it and managing it.
The key to managing sickle cell anaemia is to note that prevention is ALWAYS better than cure. Recognize your triggers for what they are, triggers which if not properly managed can lead to a sickle cell crisis lasting for a couple of hours to a lot of years.
A common trigger for females afflicted with sickle cell anemia is their menstruation. Do I need to define what menstruation is? Okay. Menstruation is your body’s way of reassuring you that you’re not about to embark on a 9 month journey. At least not yet. No cute kids in your 9 month future. Try again next month.
Still, menstruation involves shedding of blood from your uterine walls and can be slightly to curled- in- the- foetal- position-on- the- floor- painful. When a sickle cell affected female starts her menstrual cycle, she is shedding blood at an alarming rate. The rate of blood shed in women with sickle cell anaemia and women without it is like comparing Game of Thrones to How I Met Your Mother. Now, remember that an anaemia is when there is NOT ENOUGH blood in your body, so losing the blood you do have is definitely a trigger. In both sexes, too much exercise and stress are other known triggers.
Now that we’ve identified some triggers, let’s talk about managing them. First of all, HYDRATE. Drink water. Drink plenty of water. When you wake up, drink water, after you pee, drink water, make games out of drinking water. Have different colored water bottles. I know someone who never climbs up a staircase without a bottle of water in his hand. I know yet another person who has different colored water bottles, orange for the office, yellow for her car and white for home. Whatever it takes, ingest H2O at any and at all costs. Drinking water should be a lifestyle. Not only does it help to keep your blood circulating, it gives you clear skin, flushes out toxins from your body and mutes the effects of alcohol in your bloodstream.
Which brings me to my second point, limit your alcohol intake. And don’t smoke. Please. Narcotics are especially bad for anyone with sickle cell anaemia. So limit intake to the barest minimum or just quit as fast as you can before lung or liver function is compromised.
Exercise is good, it bolsters your health but be very careful not to exercise to the point where you’re gasping for air or become really tired. And when you’re exercising, HYDRATE!
Recognize that stress is the enemy. Manage your stress levels. You can work very effectively without stressing or worrying yourself. And since worry is stressful, STOP WORRYING!
Wash your hands before you eat. With soap and water. Wash under your nails, wash again if you don’t feel like all the dirt is gone. This is a lesson I learned in 2014 during the Ebola crisis. Regular hand washing prevents infection. Infection prevention is a very very very good thing. How many times did I emphasize the very?
Speaking of infection prevention, vegetables and fruit have to be part of your daily diet. Eat your vegetables. They are actually really delicious. Eat them with fries, eat them as salad, grow your own vegetables and be test subject zero for yourself, whatever you have to do to make fruit attractive enough to eat, do it. Take blood tonics and supplements after you come out of a sickness/crisis. They could be the major difference between going back to Egypt or proceeding to the Promised Land.
Okay, last but not least, SMILE and be happy. While you do have problems, the singular best way to counteract your problems is to focus on the things that bring you joy.
Kisses and hugs for the affected. Read up on sickle cell anemia if you want to know more, for the curious. Google is Your Friend. And not in the sarcastic way The Police is Your Friend has come to sound.
Also, please look at Stem Cell donation as a treatment. There is hope yet.
Now, let’s talk about why I wanted to talk about this today.
You all know I had 2 younger brothers right? Well, this lesson was sponsored by Nebolisa Anselm Ayalogu, whose death at the age of 12 from complications arising from sickle cell anaemia that lasted 4 years ensures that I will always remember to talk about this disease to as many people as I can. Know your genotype. Know your genotype and for the love of pancakes, please do not subject any child to living with sickle cell Anaemia.