Sunday, February 21, 2016

Health update: peeling back the layers

I keep putting this off, holding my breath, waiting to see if I am really where I think I am. Which is silly, as the main reason I started posting about my health was to document the process, and information as it was gathered. oh well.

So, a quick recap. 5 years ago, I began experiencing severe abdominal pain, and spasms. A number of tests and procedures later, and I was given a diagnosis of Crohn's. I lived under that for four years. I learned a great deal about Crohn's in that time, as well as a modest amount about various treatments, with their various drawbacks. I also experienced the pain of a change in healthcare policy, which increased the cost of treatment by a few orders of magnitude.

I was still experiencing some symptoms, but sporadically, and not as intense. My life was certainly not what it once was. My wife mentioned a few weeks ago how hard it was to see me wasting away.

Then last march, the abdominal pain and spasms returned with a vengeance. I went to a third Gastroenterology specialist, and switched to a new Family Dr. A number of tests later, and it was concluded that either the Crohn's had gone into remission, or more likely, I had never had Crohn's.

Many more fruitless tests later, and my new Dr. decided to call it IBS instead, then after trying a few unsuccessful, direct treatments for IBS, we did a little out of the Box thinking.

Many years before all this, I had been diagnosed with a mild social anxiety disorder. Where it was mild, and where I was not eager to go the pharmaceutical route with its various side effects, I utilized Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as treatment.At that point, It seemed to be working well, and I thought I had the problem licked.

My Dr. and I decided to include that in the list of possibles, And as it was one of the easier, less expensive ones to explore, she prescribed an anti-anxiety medication. For me to try for a few months.

The first two weeks were horrible! Horrific nausea, a drastic increase in insomnia - that was already a problem for me... I couldn't function! She switched me to a similar alternative medication, and the The symptoms were... lessened... at least to a level where I could mostly function. After about a month, the nausea had passed, and the insomnia was ... well... better...

The spasms were also fading away. Less and less with each passing week. My wife observed that my temperament was much more even as well. I was more patient, less stressed. So we stuck with it. Within a few months, the spasm were gone. I was still experiencing occasional abdominal pain, but now, with the other problem under control, this problem was predictable, and we were finally able to link it to lactose. (A big think you to the person/s who invented lactose free milk and butter!). Years before, I had experimented with that, but could  make no link, due to the other issue masking it.

So a few lessons learned:

Patience - I'm not going to say positivity, is necessary, though I suspect it helps, but stoicism is crucial. Sometimes it just takes time to find the right person or place to start peeling back the layers.

Persistence - Don't be afraid to talk to more doctors. The other Dr's weren't necessarily bad. They just missed a crucial piece of information, or made the diagnosis based on their experiences. They did the best they could with what they had. Sometimes a different pair of eyes can understand the information in a different light...

Compassion - My problem - as it turns out - was all (mostly) in my head :). But that doesn't make it any less real. There are many people in this world who are dealing with real health issues which you, me, even they likely don't understand. Their pain is real. Be patient with them.

Science - The scientific process is crucial, examine the evidence, and see where it leads. It is so easy in situations like this to latch onto any idea that offers a cure. And there are so many theories, with compelling sounding defenses, and an abundance of anecdotes. Note, lactose is now a problem for me (along with roughly 50% of the human population). But that doesn't mean that I believe Milk (or Grain, or Meat, or ....) is bad for humans. I can point to just as many anecdotes of people who have thrived on diets of most every sort. It just proves that we are all different. I can imagine a day in the future, when they will be able to perform a genetic test and tell each individual which foods they uniquely should avoid, and which foods they specifically should seek out and make a regular part of their diet, and when that will change as they age.

Faith and Fellowship - There are times when personal stoicism and positivity aren't sufficient. There are times when it is more than you can personally bear. I frequently found myself there. And at those times, I relied upon  my Friends, my family, and my Faith in Jesus Christ. I am blessed to be surrounded by wonderful neighbors, and to have many friends around the world who were willing to offer me an ear and a shoulder. I am blessed to have family - also throughout the world who offered both comfort and service in my moments of need. I am fortunate to have had so many people praying on my behalf. Just knowing that gave me hope. And I am fortunate also to have my Savior to turn to. There are many times when I felt like giving up that I would start singing to myself "Fear not, I am with you, oh be ye not dismayed, for I am thy God, and will still give thee aid, I'll strengthen thee help the and cause thee to stand. Upheld by my righteous omnipotent hand."

"In every condition, in sickness and health. In poverty's vale or abounding in wealth. At home or abroad, on the land or the sea. As thy days may demand, so thy succor shall be."

Inevitably as I sang that song, I would feel peace. And I would feel comforted. And I would know that I was being watched over by a loving, caring Father in Heaven. That while pain and sorrow and suffering are sadly a part of this life experience, they are not the end, they are a small part of the grand plan. And even in difficult times, we can experience peace, and joy.

So, now life is slowly returning to something more closely resembling normal. Of course, now I am beginning to experience some effect of growing older, so I am not likely to return to the vigor I had before all this started, but there is now hope again that I might keep one of my long term goals regarding a 5k run at a certain speed after the age of 50 (which my wife was so kind as to smirkily point out was just around the corner. Thanks sweetie).

Onward, ever onward.

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