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The Beginning…

January 12, 2012

September 2009.  Oklahoma City.  In the midst of the Swine Flu, Bird Flu, West Nile Virus, Ebola…..one of those scares…who can keep up?  I’m driving and begin to experience flu-like symptoms.  Hm.  My son has just told me he’s feeling the same way.  I stay the night in my hotel and hardly sleep.  Neck pain…terrible…achy, feverish.  I get up the next morning and head home.  I was recently divorced and re-married and didn’t have a regular doctor, just a clinic I went to.  So when I hit town I go.

Flu swab negative.  But flu-like symptoms get you an antibiotic and admonishments to call if things get worse.  They do.  I return to said clinic the next day and, not being able to identify anything they grasp and decide I have an aneurysm in my aorta.  Ambulance ride to Parkland where one medic looks across me at the other with a deadpan look and asks “they tell you what this is?”.  To which he solemnly nods.  Deadpan means dead man, I guess.

They roll me into the emergency room where they have mobilized for Iwo Jima.  The doctor lifts my shirt to do his ultrasound to see just how close to death I am.  Amidst mumbling about this organ and that as he navigates the blurs on the monitor, he remarks “and tiny, little aorta”.  Within minutes the army has retreated and I’m alone.  My loving wife arrives a few minutes later and the staff at one of the busiest trauma centers in the country promptly forgets about us.

Evening rolls around and a doctor passes by us in the packed ER and does a double take like a McDonald’s manager that notices a lone Big Mac that’s been under the heat lamp too long.  Soon I receive a diagnosis of urinary tract infection, another prescription for antibiotics and I’m on my way home.

A couple days later my bowels completely shut down and I begin to experience intense abdominal pain, feeling like I’m about to explode.  We head to the local ER where I am first introduced to Dilaudid, beginning a torrid affair with said pain reliever that would last several months.  I loved it….

Anyway, a few hours and a diagnosis of pneumonia later, we talk them into admitting me.  Enter Dr. Mahan.  The first person to take any level of interest in my plight.  In addition to my outward symptoms my white cell count is through the roof.  She brings in a GI doctor and the consensus is clear.  Lymphoma.

Emergency surgery to extract lymph nodes and explore my bowels.  Biopsy is negative, but they resect a section of diseased bowel that they send to pathology.  I go home.  Pathology comes back negative.  Meaning nothing.  As in, “we have no idea”.

Every day I run a fever that begins in the afternoon, produces sweats all night, and goes away in the morning.  For weeks.  I’m seeing an infectious disease doctor and telling him every plant, animal and mineral I’ve come in contact with.  I’m seeing an oncologist.  I’m in and out of the hospital a couple more times.  They send my tissue to the Mayo clinic, which comes back with a list of “possibles” they begin testing for.  I end up back in the hospital on the day I’m scheduled for a bone marrow biopsy when my GI doctor informs me of a hit.  Celiac Sprue.

But that can’t be.  I haven’t had a day of digestive problems in my life.  Why, I could eat a jalapeno and pepperoni pizza at midnight and sleep like a baby.  Further, it doesn’t explain any of these symptoms.

Whatever.  We have a diagnosis.  We meet with a very warm, friendly and empathetic nutritionist who doesn’t know gluten from glucose.  We head home and stop to get sushi…I mean that’s gotta be safe right? we ponder as we dip our tuna in soy sauce that, unbeknownst to us, has wheat listed as it’s first ingredient.

We (pronounced “my wife”) begin to learn about gluten and how to avoid it, when, a few days later, I begin to throw up.  Ya gotta love new symptoms, they keep things interesting.  A call to the GI on Friday leads to a liquid diet over the weekend (which we think includes grits) and the ER again by Monday.

I have a “stricture”.  My small intestine has closed itself down, allowing no food to pass, and resulting in things, as plumbers like to say, “backing up”.  Now it’s off to see a celiac specialist in Dallas who gives me steroids to help the stricture and proclaims I’ll be eating Thanksgiving dinner in two weeks.  Which I was.  Woooohoooo!  I mean, it hurt like hell, but it made it through.  I’m on my way!

Then, a couple days later came the visit to the Japanese steakhouse and the rounds of vomiting trying to rid myself of the scallops that were going nowhere.

On new year’s eve eve, I had surgery to remove the stricture.  By February I was back to work, albeit with a couple tubes still in my stomach that nobody knew about.  And, after that, just as I told my wife God had told me it would be, I was fine.

Gluten-free now ever since, I am healthy.  However, as the title says, that was only the beginning…

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