After an unexpected illness left me sick & helpless for nearly two months, I am finally sharing What Being Sick Taught Me About Being Healthy and how my experience has led to my wholehearted belief in the power of integrative & functional medicine.
Originally Published May 17th, 2017.
Picture Perfect Health
At 26 years old, I was the healthiest I’d ever been in my whole life.
I was energetic, I was healthy, I was full of love enthusiasm for life. As a registered dietitian nutritionist, my entire life revolved around the picture of ‘health’ that I held in my mind, and the career I was building around that concept.
But life has a really fantastic way of throwing us curve balls, especially when they are least expected and most unwanted.
I never dreamed that over the next few months I would develop a chronic illness, require multiple doctor visits & hospitalizations, and be unable to care for myself or my son for weeks.
All without any concrete explanation from my medical team on how this happened to me in the first place.
After battling with multiple unexpected illnesses in a two month time frame, I am proud to say that I can stand on the other side of this, feeling better than I have in a long time.
But that does not mean I escaped this ordeal without my fair share of battle scars.
I am not yet ready to go into full details about my care, and I don’t know how to say this most appropriately, but I feel as if there has been a great deal of negligence, carelessness, and overall oversight that happened with my care.
While I believe that most doctors and health care practitioners are generally well intended, I learned first hand the major flaws that consume our traditional Western medical system.
How the Hell Did I Get Sick?
They hindsight is 20/20, and the older I get, the more I know this to be true.
I had some serious business and life goals planned in April and May. I’m not talking about some little plans here, I had every single day of the next two months of my life planned out to a
But life had other plans for me, which I think made this experience especially difficult to deal with as it unfolded.
Monday, March 20th was just like any other day.
That night I tried to stay awake until my husband got home from work, which is what I usually try to do when I don’t have to go to work the next day. He works long hours at his restaurant and gets home around midnight, sometimes I try and stay awake and get some work done, but this time I just could not stay awake.
When he got home he gently woke me up as I was sleeping on the couch, and I remember telling him I must be getting my period because I felt terrible.
The next day I woke up and had a planned lunch date with a colleague. Just as I was about to get into the shower to get ready to go when I looked at my husband and said “I don’t feel good” – something completely unusual for me. I could tell something was wrong, but I didn’t know what.
The next two days passed and I had what I thought was flu, complete with the usual symptoms: nausea, vomiting, fever, chills and body aches. I’ve never had the flu before, and I got my flu shot this year as mandated by the hospital, but this was classic flu… or so I thought.
Two days without eating or drinking, as anyone would when they are sick and vomiting. Two days and I thought I would start to turn the corner, the flu can’t last forever, right?
Until I woke up the next day and my stomach looked like this.
My heart sank and I immediately called my OBGYN, I already knew what it was.
A year ago in May of 2016, I had this weird freak accident happen. To make a long story short, shaving my bikini area almost killed me.
From what I was told from the medical team that cared for me in the hospital, I had an ingrown hair from shaving that had gotten infected with MRSA (a causality of working in a hospital).
Because I did now know this at the time, I had been intimate with my husband, which caused the infection to get inside my body and eventually turn into Pelvic Inflammatory Disease.
At the time, the doctors were stumped and hesitant to call my condition Pelvic Inflammatory Disease as it did not fit the traditional clinical picture, but there was no other explanation for what was happening to my body. My IUD at the time was removed as a precaution, I was started on antibiotics, immediately got better, and never thought about it again.
That is until one year later and I was staring at my painfully bloated stomach, looking as if I was 6 months pregnant.
A lightbulb went off in my mind, I had just had my IUD replaced 6 weeks ago…
To the OBGYN office I went, and immediately my doctor was concerned that I had a flare of Pelvic Inflammatory Disease again. I spent two hours in that tiny, cold, OBGYN office, reliving every detail of my last few weeks, looking for a cause of what led to this. It was ultimately determined that my body just straight up did not like the IUD.
A explanation I will still never be happy with.
My IUD was in place for 6 weeks and I was absolutely fine for those six weeks. I think that I will still always rack my brain about what could have happened to start this cascade of events, but I don’t think that I will ever get the answer I am looking for.
While I was in the office, my doctor went through all the different scenarios and possibilities that could have triggered this when she asked me about my diet. I was immediately defensive and stated “no one who comes into this office will ever eat more kale or turmeric than me, my diet is NOT the problem“. My doctor, who I did not know at the time specialized in Integrative and Functional Medicine, pressed on and suggested that I follow an anti-inflammatory diet. I was more irritated (actually infuriated) about this suggestion than I was at being sick.
I was given a mega dose of antibiotics: a shot of ceftriaxone (in my ass cheek no less!), doxycycline and metronidazole with prophylactic diflucan with the presumption that I would likely develop a yeast infection due to this incredible dose of antibiotics. I was sent home to ‘heal’.
That damn 20/20 hindsight. As I look back on this, I realize so many things that I would have asked, said or done differently if I was not so sick and able to think more clearly.
For the next week I was so sick I could not get out of bed, I could not take care of my son, and I was certainly not getting better. I called my OBGYN office to be seen immediately and was told that I would not be able to get an appointment for a few days, and that my best option would be to go see my PCP.
Desperate, I showed up to my PCP’s office the next day, frantic and scrambling as I knew I was just getting sicker and sicker. Unfortunately they told me there was nothing they could do, and to go back to the OBs office and demand to be seen, or else go to the emergency department. Exactly what I wanted to hear when I was sicker than I’ve ever been in my life.
By this time I was pissed, and this was my first lesson I learned about becoming your own best advocate. I called the OB’s office again and demanded that I be seen by the office ASAP, and after a few choice words, I was given an appointment the next day.
The next day I was seen and my new IUD was removed. I tortured myself and asked myself over and over again, why was it not removed in the first place? Why did I not stand up for myself and demand that it was removed when I knew that is what needed to be done? I was sent for an emergency ultrasound and ultimately left the office with another round of antibiotics, and another suggestion to follow an anti-inflammatory diet, which ticked me off even more.
A week later I was seen in the office for yet another follow up. I was feeling, perhaps 25% better, but I was telling my doctor that I was experiencing extreme fatigue and that I have never experienced anything like this before, sleeping 16-20 hours a day. She ordered another round of tests to be done and read me the results of my ultrasound from the previous week.
The ultrasound reveled that the Pelvic Inflammatory Disease had caused extensive damage to my reproductive system and that I had a condition called hydrosalpinx, a problem with my left fallopian tube, and that I had developed two small ovarian cysts.
I was told in a dry and insensitive manner from a careless doctor that my chances of conceiving another child have been cut in half.
I left the office with many mixed emotions. Obviously upset about the possible future of my family, but a bit relieved that perhaps I had found my answer to these problems and that I could get back on to my normal life.
But that was wishful thinking.
A week later I was not getting any better and my stomach continued to grow larger and larger. It was ultimately decided that I should go to the emergency department to be evaluated for further causes of my pain and discomfort.
I spent the entire day in the emergency department getting test after test done. I went for a CT scan and had another emergency ultrasound. It was found that the little 2cm ovarian cyst had grown into a 7cm hemorrhagic cyst in the matter of a few days, and that it was bleeding into my abdomen.
Surgery was discussed, but there was a chance that it may correct itself, so the team wanted to wait another week to see if it continued to grow.
I was sent home again, exhausted and depressed.
The following day I woke up to such excruciating pain that I took myself directly back to the emergency department. But this time the pain was different. The pain was in my intestines and I was quickly running to the bathroom every 10 minutes. I was evaluated in the emergency department again and seen by the gastroenterologist.
As with any ‘consultation’ they weren’t quite sure exactly what was wrong and threw a long list of possibilities at me. Reactions to the medications I was taking? Pressure on my intestines from the cyst? Auto-immune or stress induced Chron’s disease, colitis, or celiac disease?
They simply offered me more pain medication (narcotics!!) and sent me home with instructions to follow up with my GI doctor in two days.
I complied with the appointments and the medications, but those days were the most painful, difficult days of my life. Not knowing what was wrong with me, I could barley make it from my bed to the bathroom on time. I spent hours in the bathroom, crying and vomiting in pain, unable to eat or drink anything.
Eight days passed like this before the doctors finally ran the right test to find out that I had developed c diff colitis, a painful infection brought on by the wide spectrum antibiotics I was originally placed on. A simple test that should have been ran when I was seen in the hospital. The doctor who called me with the news certainly got a surprise, because when I found out that this was the diagnosis, I lost my mind. In a few choice words I let the doctor know how disgusting it was that I had to suffer in pain for 8 days while they got their shit together to figure out what was wrong.
His answer? Don’t worry, we can fix this with more antibiotics.
You’ll have to wait for part two of this story, as this is how my interest in Integrative & Functional Medicine started. The thought of taking one more antibiotic was enough to completely crush my spirit, especially because this is what caused my problems in the first place. I immediately returned to my functional medicine doctor and we were able to formulate a plan that was more thoughtful and tailored to my situation.
While I am not ready to go into details yet, this is where I discovered the power of Integrative & Functional Medicine for myself. While each one of us will undoubtedly have a unique experience, I am no longer a blind believer in Western Medicine and wholeheartedly believe that functional medicine is the answer to most all of our problems, and that we will see this come into the spotlight more in the next few years.
RELATED: What was the first thing I was able to eat when I got home from the hospital? Check out this Golden Milk Quinoa Porridge Bowl!
What Being Sick Taught Me About Being Healthy
- It is incredibly easy to take our health for granted if we have never been sick before. Those two months spent in bed were agonizing, but I can say I learned a lot about myself and have developed a much greater form of compassion and empathy for those who battle with chronic illness.
- NO ONE cares about your health more than you. No doctor or nurse or family member or friend will ever care about your health the way you do, which leads me to point #3.
- You MUST be your own biggest advocate. When it comes to health care, the squeaky wheel always gets the oil. Doctors don’t always do everything right, hell they don’t even listen to what your saying half the time, which is why it is absolutely critical for you to pay attention, ask questions, and demand answers.
- Doctors don’t know shit. Yeah I said it. My opinion of doctors has been so severely tainted by this experience. Sure there are great doctors out there. But just like there are good people out there in this world, there are bad ones too. Don’t blindly trust the letters behind someones name, that does NOT mean they know what is best for you.
- Always believe in the power of prayer. I am not a religious person in any sense, but during this difficult time, I had so so many people out there praying for me, sending well wishes and thoughts and kind messages, and I think that is what makes this world go round. There is power in positivity, which brings me to point #6.
- A positive attitude means everything. I shared a lot of my frustrations and experiences on Instagram when I was sick, and so many people told me how inspiring my positive attitude was. I certainly wasn’t trying to be inspirational, but remaining positive was the only thing I could do to not fall into the negative.
- Our minds have great power. I am a big believer in the possibilities of mindfulness in all aspects of our lives, and I believe that this thought helped me to stay positive and to stay in control of my emotions when I had nothing else left to control.
- It is our greatest duty in life to protect our health. After seeing how quickly my health was stolen from me, for no apparent reason, I am much more protective of my health now. It has changed the way I eat, drink, sleep, spend my time. I have changed the way I think about health and nutrition, and I have changed the products I use on my body and bring into my home. As much as I don’t want to say it, we do live in a toxic and dangerous world, and nothing will protect us more than our keen sense of intuition and self care.
I hope this personal story helps you in some aspect of your life. If you are struggling with a disease or illness, please always seek the appropriate treatment, but also do so with two eyes open. We have choices in our health care system these days, use your options wisely and always, always, always be your own best advocate.
Do you have a similar story to share? Let me know in the comments below!