When Food is Not Your Friend April 22, 2017

I felt pretty good on Thursday. Despite spending the day before guzzling barium and watching it trickle through my digestive track via x-ray, I woke up to a beautiful morning and the prospect of 7 a.m. yoga.  I was a little wobbly – haven’t been eating much of substance lately due to whatever ails me and my yoga teacher had to catch me once or twice –but I left feeling grateful and peaceful.  I looked forward to giving an exam that morning that I felt my students were ready for, and then packing up to go to Florida on Friday to see the dentist so I could finally be done with these horrid plastic retainers.

My stomach started to hurt around noon but I chalked it up to hunger.  Jerry brought me a salad to my office and I got about half of it down.  Within the hour I was sweating, my stomach squeezing in a spasm of hurt. I tried to hold a conversation with an unhappy colleague and I can’t remember a word of it, all my attention focused on the dull, burning pain radiating from my core.  I told Jerry I had to go home and he went to get the car. When I got in I told him to take me to the ER.

Since I am in the midst of tests to figure out what the HELL this is about, we switched course and went to the walk-in clinic at the practice where both my internist and gastroenterologist work. Neither were available so I saw the walk-in doctor.  By now I was crying and my breath was coming in gasps and whimpers.  The pillow was covered with mascara smears and I was huddled under a blanket like a rolly polly.  Of course, the poor doctor couldn’t do anything.  I got a shot of some heavy duty narcotics and he recommended I stop waiting for the next test (an EGD where they stick a tube with a camera down your throat and look at your upper guts) to be scheduled by the schedulers and walk down the hall to the endoscopy clinic to schedule it myself.

So we did. I must have looked pretty bad because they got me on the books for 7 a.m. the next day.  Florida was not happening.

I don’t remember much more of Thursday. The Dilaudid took my pain from a 9 to a 5 and it hovered there for a while until I couldn’t count and didn’t care.  I went to bed. Jerry woke me at 10 so I could eat an egg so we could test my digestion the next morning, and then I went back to sleep.

At the clinic early on Friday they gave me more drugs– amnesiacs and pain killers.  And guess what – dinner was still in my stomach where it had no business being. I can’t remember much of my conversation with my doctor but I know this confirms for him a diagnosis he had been on the brink of making for some time — gastroparesis.  Basically that’s a condition where your stomach muscles are partly paralyzed and don’t move the food through you as they should.

Basically, it is going to mean lifestyle and dietary changes.  Small meals throughout the day – no raw vegetables or seeds or grains or popcorn.  Low fiber, low fat.  Food pureed in the blender.  Baby food, in other words.  And that’s no guarantee you don’t end up sick and in pain, it just lessens the chances.  Somewhat.

I am still not convinced of the diagnosis – it’s not denial but the Dilaudid I got on Thursday could have produced the slow digestion they saw on Friday.  I think they may need to repeat the test or go to the gold standard where they watch you via X-ray digest a radioactive egg.

But I am so, so damn sad. I have struggled for a long time to understand the cosmic humor that makes a food person like me continually run into problems digesting food – from colon cancer at 38, to the ensuing intestinal blockages from adhesions, to Celiac, now to this.  I have been a war with my guts or they with me, for nearly thirty years.

I know I am depressed right now because powerful drugs are still in my system and I don’t do drugs well.  And I know that if this is the turn my food story takes then this is the path I will follow. It will still take me on new adventures.  I can taste, even if I can’t indulge.  But today I feel discouraged and out of control.  Hungry and scared to eat.

There are lessons to be learned here, but I am too tired and weak to figure them out today.

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