“Based on your history of symptoms and inconclusive test results, I’ve done everything within my power of expertise that I can manage. I’m sorry, but at this point I’m not really sure how to help you.”
“Well, thanks for shamelessly taking my money to fund that vacation home by the lake. I hope you choke on a marshmallow around your next camp fire.” That’s what I wanted to say. I don’t remember what I actually said, probably because I was too numb to form words.
After suffering with various (and by various I mean everything-under-the-sun) gastrointestinal symptoms since childhood that had revved up in intensity considerably over the last three years, I was just supposed to deal with debilitating stomach pain of unknown origin? I was only 23 years old! I was supposed to be energetic and have vitality and endurance but instead I was calling out of work, cancelling plans with friends and family at the last minute, and missing out on events. When that stomach pain took hold, there was no doing anything besides curling up in bed with a bathroom nearby and waiting for it to pass, which took anywhere from six to twelve hours. The only way to describe the excruciating discomfort would be to compare it to trying to digest a molten-hot, rock-hard piece of metal. My stomach would contract painfully around that “rock” and it would accomplish nothing apart from leaving me feeling like I had just pushed myself through an intense ab workout. Shouldn’t I at least have had a six-pack by now?
“I’m not really sure how to help you.”… Yes, that’s exactly what anyone with chronic, mysterious symptoms wants to hear from their doctor. And not just a primary practitioner, mind you, but a specialist that you waited three months to see because that was the earliest opening that he could manage. And then, after four new (useless) medications, three pointless visits, and countless tests, my gastroenterologist threw his hands up with a courtesy “idk” tossed casually into the gaping abyss that was my constant, debilitating stomach pain. No advice on how to proceed, no suggestions of where I should go next. Just a parting gift of a written prescription for a refill on yet another antacid that didn’t work and an hour out of my life, job, and gas money that I would never get back, all so I could be told that I basically had no choice other than to exist with my symptoms as best I could.
Defeated and hopeless, I wasn’t sure what my next step should be, but I knew it wasn’t simply accepting my fate. Enough was enough. I was sick and tired of feeling sick and tired with no valid answers. Over the next couple of years I researched my symptoms and discussed them with anyone who would listen. I modified my diet, which really was pretty healthy to begin with, by excluding gluten. This helped but my symptoms never completely abated. That’s when my research led me to a local naturopathic doctor, or the “voodoo doctor”, as my now-husband likes to refer to her (affectionately, of course). With a diet overhaul, exclusions of gluten, dairy and sugar (among others) and the inclusion of probiotics and digestive enzymes, my health and quality of life began to improve dramatically in just a matter of weeks. Certain foods were difficult to give up but I was feeling so much better that I didn’t even care. It was such a small price to pay after the pain and discomfort that had defined every aspect of my being for years.
I’ve been ridiculed by some and applauded by others for seeking alternative treatment. To the naysayers I would admit that I do not blame you. I never would have looked into an alternative form of treatment had I not been pushed to my absolute limit. Ultimately, I’m so glad I did because it has been the one and only type of solution that has given me any sort of relief. Not only that, I feel so much healthier all around. I used to struggle to make it through the day without a nap. I was exhausted all the time, yet I had trouble sleeping. Now my sleep and wake cycles practically regulate themselves with predictable accuracy and restfulness. I had constant headaches and migraines and I fell ill with no less than five colds over the course of a year. These days, headaches are few and far between and I can’t remember the last time I caught a cold.
Through it all I’ve learned that doctors are not the know-all, end-all, be-all to any given disease or condition. I’ve learned to listen to my body and my gut instinct (pun intended, because that’s how I roll) and to be my own advocate. If I don’t advocate for my health, who will? Certainly not the gastroenterologists who gave up on me. That’s not to say that doctors aren’t helpful—just that the ones I went to for my particular symptoms just did not make the cut.
Never stop searching for answers concerning your health and happiness. There’s always room and time for growth. Ask questions, be willing to learn and step outside your basis of knowledge and comfort zone to get the help you deserve. Your well being is well worth it!
Jaclyn Wydra resides in a small New Hampshire town where she works as a veterinary assistant. Living on a dirt road in the country provides a serene retreat for quiet reflection and time with her husband and their beloved four-legged fur-child, Florence. Varied interests include horseback riding, ariel fitness, ballroom dancing, outdoor activities and of course, writing.