Tuesday, August 6, 2013

On health; pt. ii (aka: the one in which I cry)

[[part i]]

I spent one particularly miserable vacation in Colorado two years ago.

the view from my sick bed
I call it a "vacation," because that's what it was supposed to be, but it really ended up being nothing close. I was intending to have my first experience skiing with a few friends and acquaintances, but wound up getting sick the morning we left. I didn't think too much of it--I hadn't slept well and have always been prone to motion sickness. I figured eating something and time would help, and I'd be fine. (In retrospect, the pretzel I grabbed in the airport probably didn't help. But that was how I operated: I felt sick, I grabbed a starch.) I ended up spending the entire week in bed, generally feeling too weak to move (altitude sickness probably didn't help, though I drank an inordinate amount of water) and forcing down peanut butter crackers and slices of ham through my nauseous lack-of-appetite. 

Between returning home and leaving for my second semester of school, I saw my gastroenterologist (for those of you not down this road: the fancy term for "stomach doctor"). I lamented my trip and she turned to me and said, "I really think you might be gluten intolerant, or have Celiac disease. I think that might be what's been causing all your problems." (okay, so the quote may be inexact, but I kind of have this moment seared onto my brain.) I fought this. It didn't make any sense, and I didn't want it to. If my overly acidic stomach was the problem, I grabbed a starch (often bread or pasta) to help absorb the excess. That helped, I argued. I took a few pills at the end of the day for control. That was it. And since testing wouldn't be covered by insurance (creating a few hundred dollar bill for potentially negative results), she more or less let it slide. I should try eliminating gluten from my diet for two weeks, she said. That would be as good as a diagnosis. I was going back to school the next day, living in a dorm and eating off a meal plan that left me no control as to how my food was prepared. It wouldn't happen.

A year later, my doctor ordered ALCAT testing. With insurance coverage and a few vials of my blood, they searched for things that had been inadvertently poisoning me my entire life. I wasn't hopeful that these tests would lead to any clear results. When I called back in a few weeks time, scheduling an appointment to go over my results, the nurses told me to stay away from a few things in the mean time: oranges, pomegranate, cayenne pepper, sesame seeds. Nothing else that seemed too common. And I sighed. This wasn't the answer. I rarely ate those things. That was that.

When the doctor handed me my testing results in paper form, it painted a different and overwhelming picture. Columns upon columns of things I couldn't eat or should somehow try to limit sorted into jarring red and orange columns. And, at the very bottom corner of the page, so inconspicuous I didn't see until it was pointed out, a severe intolerance to gluten.

And I cried.

My doctor apologized. That wasn't what she intended to do. This was good news!, she assured me. We could start to move forward.

It didn't feel like it. It felt like a crushing step backwards. And I cried some more.

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