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The Promise of Radiant Health

19 Jul

This morning I went to get blood work done, where I always get it done, in the same place as my GI’s office.  I had not been there since the Great Ambien Incident of 2011, where I was prescribed ambien by mistake and crashed (well, rolled slowly) into a cement parking garage pillar (it then took me 2 more days to figure out I was acutally ON Ambien, no thanks to any of my doctors and without any assistance from the offending pharmacist.)  If you missed that charming story, you can get a recap of it below from when I retold it at CPCC’s Word of Mouth event during our Sensoria Festival this past Spring.  It’s actually kind of funny (now), and I’m not a bad storyteller.  Go ahead!  It’s only 8 minutes!  I guarantee you’ll laugh at least once.  Come on, look at that dumb face I’m making!

So yeah–weird to pass that parking pillar and remember that hazy day when I was so freaked out that I had some kind of brain tumor, only to find out my damn pharmacist switched my drugs with Ambien.  And no, I’m not still bitter. Continue reading

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An Open Letter to My Colon

2 Sep

Dear Bob,

 

I don’t know what you want from me.  I really don’t.  I’m trying here, really trying, and you don’t seem to appreciate all that I’m doing for you.  Do you know how frustrating that is?  I’m like a good husband trying to surprise his bitchy wife with gifts who’s too snobbish to accept them because they’re just not good enough.  You need to work with me.  You need to heal your ulcers, stop making my hair fall out, and you need to absorb your nutrients and your fluids and deliver them to the rest of my body.  You’re not DOING YOUR JOB.  You have, like, two jobs, and you’re failing miserably at both of them.  I give you lots of water, fruit, veggies, and whole grains, and this is how you repay me?  I think you’re being a little ungrateful and unappreciative.

 

I’ve seen doctors, nutritionists, specialists, naturopaths, and acupuncturists, and you don’t seem to care.  What more can I give you?  I’m spending a fortune out of pocket for you.  Let’s run down the passel of folks I’ve taken you to in the last 3 months, shall we?  You’ve seen the nutritionist (two, actually) at an expensive yoga center, JUST so he could tell me what you should eat and what supplements you need.  I’ve taken you to see Dr. Brimgardner, my pulmonologist, because you’re sneaking around with my lungs BEHIND MY BACK to share your inflammation with them.  Hey, colon Bob?  KNOCK IT OFF.  They have much better things to do with their time (like helping me breathe) than hang around your bad influence to get my chest all inflamed and achy.  Stop it.  I’ve met with my GI, Dr. Yavorski, and his PA, Ms. Levy, to do blood work for you and they keep threatening me with chemo-like drugs because you won’t respond to the other less invasive Western meds I’ve been on for years (which might give you cancer down the road, by the way, don’t you love side effects?)–IS THAT WHAT YOU WANT?  Is it?  Because I don’t think it is.  Which is precisely why I went to see the Naturopath, Dr. Wrigley, to go the more natural route.  He told me it might be a thyroid condition, and gave me nasty-tasting natural supplements to build you back up and an extremely limited menu of food choices so as not to aggravate you.  So I’m now off of, let’s see here: alcohol, wheat, corn, potatoes, sugar, tomatoes, peanuts, caffeine and dairy.  Do you know what it’s like to be single and socialize on that kind of diet?  It’s near impossible.  I miss my FOOD, but I would give it up (temporarily, at least) if it made a difference.  But so far, you don’t care.  I could eat McDonald’s for all you’d care, and you’d behave the same way.  I miss wine.  I miss seeing my friends while DRINKING wine.  I miss cheese.  I miss the entire French food trifecta of wine, cheese, and bread.  And then there’s my Chinese acupuncturist, who is baffled by you, ESPECIALLY since you seemed to respond to those needles when i first saw him back in February.  We were so pleased!  What happened?  Are you angry with him?  Because now you refuse to respond to the treatments, and the worse you get, the more he pokes me with those things and massages the hell out of my shoulder and back muscles, which you’ve made all tight and crampy.  And that’s not as fun when I’m sick.  I even took you to see my yoga teacher, who taught me about yoga nidra and meditation.  Ok, that’s probably something you’re asking for more of–I need to schedule that into my daily routine.  Score one for you.

 

I’m wondering if you’re depressed.  Or angry.  As of three weeks ago, this seemed to come out of nowhere.  Are you going through an emotionally rough time?  Because I know when I’m unhappy, you’re unhappy.  But I’ve been relatively happy!  I broke up with my boyfriend four months ago because you told me to (well, you and your cousin my Heart colluded to make that decision, but my Brain also agreed).  I’ve remained single (and spurned any attempts to start dating) so as not to rock the boat.  I’m trying to avoid too much stress at home and at work, and for once I’m really enjoying my job and seeing that it’s making a difference.  I had a great summer, going to a yoga retreat and then a productive work conference.  I saw my college girlfriends up in Vermont.  I’ve taken you to the lake.  I’ve gotten you some sun.  I take you to yoga every week.  I’ve given you every supplement known to man: fish oil, omega 3-6-9 oils, l-glutamine, peppermint oil, vitamin d, some weird Chinese medicine from Dr. Li for “spleen damp”, probiotics, aloe vera juice, and a multi-vitamin.  You don’t seem to care about any of it.

 

And you keep making me CRY.  Lately it seems every time I see a doctor, I cry.  You’re discouraging me.  I’m a happy person!  I mean, I’m an anxious person too (you’ve met my mother, you know where I get it from), but I’m generally happy.  I need you to give me some hope here.

 

The only thing–THE ONLY THING–that is good about your ulcerated condition is the fact that I’m squeezing into jeans I haven’t worn in 3 years because I keep losing weight.  But since you won’t let me EAT much of anything or drink alcohol, you won’t let me go out on dates, so no one of the opposite sex gets to appreciate me at my reduced weight.  So thanks for that, buddy.

 

Listen, I UNDERSTAND that you’re upset.  I understand that you’re rebelling because at the moment you look like an ugly, holey, crime scene-stained denuded carpet–no happy villi to absorb nutrients, no healthy mucosal layer to keep things moving along smoothly.  No colon wants to look like an ugly 70s crap-stained threadbare carpet.  I know you dream of being a lovely, long-haired expensive white shag Pottery Barn carpet.  And I’m trying to get you there.  BUT YOU WON’T LET ME.  Please meet me halfway here.

 

Bob, I don’t want to be mad at you.  That’s neither productive nor helpful.  We’ve been together a long time, and you’ve been acting up, on and off, since college.  We’ve been through a lot together, and I’ve learned to accept your embarrassing traits and behaviors and requirements (and my friends and boyfriends have too).   But I’m getting to the end of my rope here.  I’m exhausting all my options.  You’re like a miserable sibling who acts out because they’re unhappy, but all they want is some love.  I’m trying to love you, Bob.  You’re family.  You don’t want me to cut you out completely, do you?  Because I can, although I don’t know that will fix the problem.  It’d be my luck that you would share your problems with your sister Small Intestine on your way out the door and SHE is one I can’t ever get rid of.  I just need you to heal yourself.  As Jerry Maguire might say (how’s THAT for a dated reference?): Help Me.  Help You.  Help me help you, Bob.

 

I’m sorry it seems like I’m scolding you, but i feel like you don’t understand how serious this is.  I can’t be bleeding and out of remission indefinitely.  I need to get better.  I’m giving you a few more months before I take more drastic action (which might be those nasty drugs I warned you about), but I don’t want to give you enough rope to hang yourself with.  We can do this.  To say something nice, I appreciate that you aren’t worse off, and that I look (and feel) as healthy as I do.  I can get out of bed in the morning and make it to work and get through an 8-hour day without collapsing, and others in my condition can’t say the same.  I thank you for that.  I’m lucky I have a mother who knows what I’m going through, and friends who can empathize even if they can’t really relate (they could eat a steady diet of beer, jalapeno poppers and pepperoni pizza and barely make a dent in their GI tract…I know you’re jealous).  So we’ll keep working on it, and I promise to give you more exercise, more yoga, more prayer, more meditation, and to stay on course with my naturopath.  I want to BELIEVE, Bob.  I want to believe all this natural stuff isn’t just snake oil and that it will help you to heal yourself.  Because, honestly, I think you’ve forgotten how to do that and you’re just acting out.  Let’s work together on this.  We need each other.  I still love you.

 

Many loving thoughts and prayers from your owner,

 

Erin

The power of touch (and a few small needles)

15 Apr

Sometime last fall I started feeling, well, crappy. I couldn’t quite figure out what my problem was, but the GI condition I’ve had for over 10 years started to rear its ugly head after being in remission for 4 years. I was taking all my medication, doing my weekly yoga, eating regularly, getting enough sleep–for the life of me I couldn’t pinpoint what the problem was. Then in October, after feeling like I was sliding down a rapidly declining slope, there was The Incident. The Incident happened when I bought some chicken, made the very poor decision to leave it, raw, in the fridge for about 5 days until I could decide what to do with it, then cooked it up, thinking (we all know how wrongly) that it would be fine. It was not fine. Bob was so pissed off about The Incident and The Chicken that he immediately staged a coup and I woke up hours later in a cold sweat. It was…not good. For weeks after I couldn’t seem to get back on track, and then the final blow to poor Bob came when my GI doc wanted to do a procedure in December to check out Bob, “just to see how your system is doing.” Let me tell you something–if my GI tract wasn’t pissed off by bad chicken and Lord knows what, then the process of flushing out the good bacteria in my gut with nasty tasting salt water (the prep) and then assaulting it with a scope for the procedure (my heavens!), it was hella angry now. My friend Amanda would agree that this was NOT in alignment with Ayurvedic principles of “Do No Harm.”

So starting the new year, I just got sicker and sicker and nothing seemed to help, even the short round of steroids I went on (and steroids are like the least desirable option. They’re that bad). I went to my GI who helpfully told me I could go on powerful biologic medication–scary–or I could consider taking out my colon. Again…no thanks. I wasn’t the sickest I’ve ever been, but I wasn’t feeling well and past indicators said nothing positive about my future.

So I decided–I’d had enough. I wasn’t going to do either of those options, and there HAD to be something else. As my doc and I were going over the math problem that is my daily pill haul (HIM: ok, you’re on 4800mg of blah blah, and you take that three times a day, plus the 100mg of yadda yadda that you take once a day, and we could up that to 125mg based on your body mass TWO times a day for one month and then… ME: [blank stare] HIM: Sound good?), I happened to mention to him that I do yoga, and I might consider acupuncture or something similar before I sacrificed Bob to surgery. A thoughtful look crossed his face and he said, “Wait a minute…we had a guy in here from China who has an acupuncture practice through Carolinas Integrative Health [affiliated with a big hospital in Charlotte]. He was visiting here last week to drum up some new business. Here’s his pamphlet.” So I studied it, and he said while he knew next to nothing about Eastern medicine (of course he didn’t–bless my doc, but he lives and dies by the DSM-IV manual, drugs, and surgery), if it worked he’d give up his practice and move to China.

The next week I called up Southpark Acupuncture, made an appointment, and off I went.

I met with Dr. Li, a middle-aged Chinese man with an MD in TCM, Traditional Chinese Medicine, from some Chinese university I can neither spell nor pronounce. He’s been practicing here for 7 years, and his English comes in short bursts with a somewhat heavy accent. I told him my symptoms and he showed me a small figure with all the body’s meridians traveling across it–there are so many! Most of my problems are in the spleen/stomach area, which go from the foot up to the head. He told me about another young woman with similar problems who felt better after 8-10 weeks of sessions. I thought sure, whatever. I doubt I’ll be that lucky, but give me what you’ve got. I wasn’t skeptical, per se, but i didn’t think this was going to be the magic bullet. But what did I have to lose?

So after the initial consult, he took me into the exam room (no nurse) with a medical bed. He had me stick out my tongue and checked the color. He put his hand on my back to feel my breathing; apparently my inhales weren’t deep enough for his taste (I’ve determined I’m a shallow breather by nature–this displeases me). He checked my pulse and looked at me: “You have weak life force!” This wasn’t good. As I had been under a lot of physical and emotional stress for some time, I was more fragile than I thought. I don’t like thinking I have a weak life force. He stared at me, not unkindly, but I was sure he was judging my weak life force, and I immediately started to cry. Not loud, wailing sobs, but more like a leaking of tears. This wasn’t good either. He went to get some tissues (apparently he doesn’t have many criers), and when I calmed down he had me change into a exam robe that opened in the front and lie down. When he came back in, he said “You skinny!” This was not a positive statement. So let’s recap: I was in the midst of a flare-up from some bad damn chicken, my drugs stopped working, I don’t breathe properly, I’m hypersensitive, and now I don’t have enough meat on my bones. What a way to start the session!

But then something marvelous happened. He started to place his hands on different parts of my body and places that I didn’t even know were sore or tender revealed themselves at his touch. And when he found tender spots, he brought out his teeny tiny acupuncture needles (about the diameter of a hair, in plastic sterile packaging) and tapped them into place: tap tap. If he hit the nerve just right, a stroke of heat would travel down my leg. It was amazing. He tapped them into my foot, shin, knee, belly, hand, breast bone, and in my forehead. I looked down and there was a veritable maze of needles sticking out of me. And then he left me there for 10 minutes, probably hoping I would calm down and stop crying. Because that’s what I was doing…lots of crying. Not because it hurt, but because I just needed an outlet for my emotional and physical problems. He was like an acupuncturist and silent therapist all in one.

The rush of energy was incredibly relaxing. I took deep breaths and let those tiny needles work their magic. I could feel heat and sensation running down my legs and in my belly. When he came back he took out the needles, and then turned me over to do an acupressure massage on my back. I never knew I had so many knots in my back! Still more crying. But he would know exactly where to touch the sensitive spots to massage them out–it was really remarkable, and something that can only take years of practice. And then I turned back over and he kneaded my face and head, and pulled on my head as if he was pulling on a doll to pop its head clean off. With pressure, this is surprisingly effective for alignment.

He sent me home as relaxed as I had ever been with some more tissues and a tea I had to boil and drink for 4 days (made out of sunflowers and dried orange peel and I have no idea what else) with a return visit to see him 4 days later. You’ll be glad to know, I did not cry once. But it wasn’t until after the 2nd visit that I actually started to feel better, and the ulcers in my colon started healing themselves. Most of the symptoms of my illness–which I won’t go into here–went away. I didn’t really change my diet, and even my pledge to give up alchol didn’t last all that long. The only consistent thing I’ve done weekly is acupuncture. Now what does THAT say?

I’ve seen him now 7 times, and I’ve grown quite fond of Dr. Li. In fact, I’m a little worried about what happens when I won’t see him every Thursday at 4pm! Every week is a little different–different locations for the needles, different ways of massage depending on how I feel and what places are tender. But always, ALWAYS I leave feeling incredibly relaxed. It’s something I wish I’d tried sooner. There’s something so comforting about a calm, professional massage, and say what you want about chi, or energy, but I think most of us are a lot more stagnant from stress than we think we are. I have no doubt that the problems in my gut are aggravated by the problems in my life, and the health of one is dependent on the health of the other. Most people are never touched as much as we need, and this helps bridge that gap.

A warning, though–there’s really no place for modesty with an acupuncturist. He sticks needles in all kinds of places, including near my tailbone, and sometimes if I’m REALLY lucky he’ll attach these electrodes to the needles themselves that start out with a slow tap — tap — tap, and then he’ll turn them up to a taptaptaptaptaptap until I tell him “Alright! I’m good!” Those are some good times. But I don’t care if he’s doing voodoo medicine…I’m a fan.

I called my GI to tell him the good news, and his nurse was as interested as he was in what it was all about. He was skeptical, but supportive. But it really doesn’t matter–what matters is that it works (or at least I think it does, and so what’s the difference??) The Wall Street Journal had a really interesting article about it that my brother gave to me which discusses how technology can show just how effective acupuncture can be:
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704841304575137872667749264.html?KEYWORDS=acupuncture

I’m all for it–just get doc from China. They know what they’re doing! If you’ve thought about doing acupuncture but are a little scared, go ahead and take the plunge. I think you’ll find it’s worth it. And really, what have you got to lose?

I’m Taking Steps for CCFA!

2 Apr

About 10 years ago, I was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis. UC is pretty much the least sexy disease you can have–you get ulcers in your large intestine. Hot, right? My mom has it, and I thought I’d get away with not having it, but…’twas not to be. UC and its little sister Crohn’s Disease (which affects the small intestine) are in the IBD family–Inflammatory Bowel Disease. With a name like that, you can see why I don’t talk about this much (and then, only to close friends…lucky them!)

People confuse IBD with IBS, which is less serious–IBS is a condition that comes and goes. I’ll have IBD for the rest of my life. For years I managed it with the same drugs my mom used, and I’d have periods where I’d have flare-ups (usually caused by stress and by things I ate or drank) and just feel…awful. I was in active disease for what seemed like years, never feeling like my system was under my control. There were things I couldn’t eat or drink, and any kind of serious stress including relationships, or work, or school, just kicked me out of remission. I thought about it all the time, and I worried about things that most people don’t have to even think about–like where’s the closest restroom? And how will I feel if I eat that popcorn? (short answer: like crap.) The drugs weren’t working, and annual colonoscopies proved I wasn’t getting better. It was something I worried about constantly.

Then about 3 years ago, my life changed. Right before my close friend Dena got married, I came down with the stomach flu, which was going around Charlotte. Most people might feel terrible for a few days, drink some gatorade, and then they’re done with it. But not me! Oh no, for about a week I was incapacitated. I was so weak and dehydrated I could barely move–I would just lay on the bathroom floor. Finally, my parents took me to the ER, they hooked me up to an awesome IV, and for 4 days I recovered in the hospital. It was the best thing that ever happened to me. The high dose of steroids (which are HARDCORE, you can’t be on those things for too long without serious side effects) kicked my UC back into remission, my doctor put me on some drugs that worked, and I went off to recuperate in south Florida to do my bridesmaid duties (and I lost about 10 pounds from not eating anything for a week–man, those were good times. But I looked great!) 3 years later, I’m still in remission.

So why I am telling you about my misbehaving colon and its merry antics? Because on May 9th I’m going to take part in the CCFA (Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation) Take Steps walk in Freedom Park. I’ve pledged to raise $300, which is just a drop in the bucket, but for my first walk I thought I’d start small. I really want to do something to thank the researchers for creating drugs that finally worked for me. I want to thank my doctors and nurses for taking care of my body. CCFA helped all of that: they’re a non-profit, volunteer-driven charity that gives one of the highest percentages of its funding towards research. My mom and I have been members for years, and I’m so glad they do what they do. http://www.ccfa.org/about/?LMI=0

My life is normal. I can eat and drink what I want. Stress doesn’t bring me to my knees. I’m so grateful, and I want to show my thanks to CCFA. If you want to support me on my Take Steps walk, and you have a few dollars to donate by May 9th, I would be so appreciative! And to all my wonderful friends…thank you for your continued support!