When I was 3 months pregnant with my second son, I woke up one morning with a colicky pain in my belly. The symptoms were like nothing I had ever experienced before so I called my primary care doctor’s office immediately. The nurse told me it sounded like I may be experiencing the start of the flu and to take it easy that day. Hours went by and the symptoms just didn’t feel right to me. I called my obstetrician and she told me to come right into the office.
I arrived at the doctor’s office and shortly after, fainted. My obstetrician suggested that I should be admitted for observation. Because I was pregnant, normal imaging testing—x-rays and CAT scans were not a safe option to help the doctor’s get a better understanding of what was happening inside my body. The pain became unbearable. I was admitted to a surgical floor, as the initial thought was that perhaps I was experiencing an appendicitis attack. The doctors were periodically monitoring my white blood cell count to evaluate for the presence of infection. My white blood cell counts levels were not rising, so they presumed it was not an infection. Because my requests for pain medication were dismissed, I struggled to get comfortable. The metric of my illness seemed to be based solely on my white blood cell count. I felt unheard. This resonates with me as a health care practitioner working with patients with functional gut disorders, as they too often feel unheard.
I was given minimal pain medications and I progressively became more physically ill. The note in my charts said, “she was curled into the fetal position in pain.” It was awful and scary. For 24 hours, I lay in observation mode; the pain only worsening. My obstetrician arrived the next morning, took one look at me and told the surgeons to take me in for exploratory surgery.
I headed to surgery. Perhaps it was my appendix? After a spinal, the surgeons explored. I was awake, but sedated. When they opened me up, I heard gasps. The head surgeon said to me that things looked a little more complicated than she anticipated. She said nothing else. The next thing I knew, I had a mask over my mouth and I was asleep.
I woke up to the news that I had a strangulated bowel, 6 feet of my small intestine was virtually dead, gangrenous and needed to be removed. And even though I was already a registered dietitian, this is when my journey into digestive health truly began.
While I recovered in my hospital room that I shared with an older woman that had just had a hysterectomy I apologized to her for having to deal with me. The recovery was tough from this surgery. I was very emotional as I was very worried about my unborn baby. My roommate said to me, “Don’t you apologize. Your strength through all of this has made me more brave.” We can all gain strength from each other.
Each day, I would call down to the obstetrics floor for a nurse to come up with a Doppler to check my baby’s heartbeat. And everyday I heard my son’s heart beating, I cried. Cries of joy, of course, cries of victory for both of us. But tears just the same.
Ten years after my surgery, I reflected on how far I had come. I had another baby boy, now a family of 5. I ran a marathon. I started my business. But, then, a new symptom arose. My belly would blow up like a balloon every day. I could tell it was 4 pm without looking at the clock. Because everyday at 4, I was swollen. Three CAT scans equated to misdiagnoses. You have a hernia. Messages like, “ Your CAT scan looks terrible, but you look great’. Well, I wasn’t great. I became the Google Queen. I investigated day and night looking for answers. When I put, “no ileo-cecal valve, elevated folate, bloating” into my search, a new diagnosis appeared: Small Intestinal Bacterial Overgrowth (SIBO). I asked for a round of antibiotics, and my symptoms vanished. It is important to advocate for yourself! You truly know yourself best. You know when things are different and when you are not feeling like you!
The next major stepping stone was learning about the low FODMAP diet. When I read the science about this nutritional approach, it was like a light bulb flickered YES, this all makes sense! This is why these random foods bother me. And my life took another turn for the better. Today, I follow an extremely loose relaxed form of the low FODMAP diet. I know where my “line in the sand” is nutritionally.
My kids are adults now, 25, 22, and 19. We added a crazy chocolate lab to the mix. My digestive symptoms come and go, but are so manageable that I travel regularly and live a full life. Sharing my story at times has made me feel vulnerable, but I am glad I found the courage to share my story. As a patient myself and a healthcare provider, I feel I can offer a unique perspective. I understand what my clients are going through and I can help them navigate the medical system effectively. One of the key things I have learned in the area of digestive health is that a positive attitude goes a long way. Focus on the small victories. Be patient as deciphering digestive health problems can take some time. It’s like putting together a big 1000 piece puzzle. It’s frustrating at times, and sometimes you think you’ll never figure it out but the hard work and determination lead to such excitement when you finish! Follow your instincts and find a trusted group of health professionals that can guide you.
For Your Digestive Peace of Mind,