For two years after that hellish appendectomy, I was completely fine, other than my twenty-five pound weight gain. Maybe it had something to do with all of the sugary Moscow Mules and dinners out, but my sneaking suspicion is that it had to do with my body growing more and more inflamed.
But otherwise, things simmered down. I took a probiotic every day, but that was my only supplement. Things pretty uneventful, at least as far as my gastrointestinal life. If you asked me about my relationship, my job, or my plans for the future at the time, you would get an earful of DRAMA.
In January 2018, I got “food poisoning.” I was visiting my then boyfriend and we feasted for days. I’m not sure what exactly did the damage. I had rounds of sugary cocktails. “Keep em’ comin bartender!” We shared a plate of ceviche and pork dumplings one night and rolls of sushi the next. Then there was the night where we gorged on raw oysters, and of course chips and guac. If I didn’t get “food poisoning” (you’ll see why I keep using quotes later) from one of these dishes, I would simultaneously feel my mouth water and experience nausea from the description of this smorgasbord.
The next day, I had diarrhea every hour. I’d never gotten food poisoning, but I figured it would go away in 24 hours. Hey, I’ve had C. diff for a total of eleven days back in the day. I can handle anything!
Unfortunately, this diarrhea day coincided with a breakup and an emotional conversation with my sister. I remember walking along West Cliff Drive in Santa Cruz staring at the gorgeous sunset, crying. I watched a surfer catch an enormous wave before it crashed onto shore. The dazzling pink and plum-colored clouds swirled around the pods of surfers as the bright orange sun slowly nestled down behind the horizon line. Seagulls squawked, the yellow and purple flowers danced in the wind, and tears slid down my cheek as I thought about all the people that I had hurt that day.
Suddenly, I had the urge to poop again. I ran back to the Airbnb praying that I would make it. Thank god, I did. I went to sleep, thinking that this would all be over tomorrow. It didn’t go away the next day, or the next day, or the next. I went to the doctor (Yes!) and they took blood and urine samples. I ended up having to call my ex to help me walk to the bathroom because I was feeling so faint. I felt light-headed, dizzy, and nauseous. I realized that I needed to go home. I booked an expensive flight for the next day.
Thankfully, my ex drove me to the San Francisco airport. We had to stop once at a random gas station because I was exploding with diarrhea. When we got to the airport, I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye or to thank my ex because again, I had to relieve myself. The car stopped and I booked it to the bathroom as soon as possible, not looking back. The flight was awful. I used the bathroom six times. People stared, but I didn’t care. I quietly moaned the whole way. My Mom and Matt met me in Cincinnati with hugs.
We went straight to the emergency room. When I finally saw the doctor he said, “It’s only been six days! You’re fine. You’ll recover soon.” They tested one of my stools for parasites, but found nothing. I could tell by the way he talked to me that he thought I was a hysterical woman who went to the emergency room all of the time.
Not at all, buddy. Not. Even. Close. I felt judged and misunderstood by this guy. I felt like a kid again when an adult would tell you that you were in fact, wrong. No, actually, you don’t know anything. Nope, not even about yourself, your own body. I know it feels like you’re going to die, but you’re fine. I’m right. You’re wrong. End of story.
For a brief moment, a dark fantasy came into my head. I imagined that something was very wrong with me. That way, I could shove it in this medical worker’s face. “Hah! See I told you, you ignorant scumbag. There is something wrong with me!” I quickly and shamefully pushed this wicked and sickening thought out of my head. What the hell is wrong with me? I want to be healthy. I want this to end. I wanted this to end so badly. I sent a silent prayer into the universe, “Please make this pain go away. Please, please…”
My stomach was in knots and making all sorts of weird sounds. It sounded like a dying herd of goats. It felt like someone was wringing out my intestines like a towel. OUCH! I could barely tolerate this pain. It wasn’t as bad as my ruptured appendix “leaking for days,” but it reached a point that was concerningly close to that level a few times an hour.
We left the emergency room and booked an appointment with my PCP (the same one who gave me those c. diff meds!) She told me that I most likely had a parasite. At that point, I was discovering long and white threads in my stools so it made complete sense. She said that a server probably didn’t wash his or her hands after using the bathroom. I had most likely ingested the fecal matter that landed on the food. It didn’t matter that no one else got food poisoning from the food. Since I swallowed the fecal matter, I got sick. If that doesn’t make you throw up in your mouth, nothing will. So, I took the parasite antibiotics. I took a few rounds of it each day for four long and agonizing days.
At the end of this course of antibiotics I felt a whole new level of pain. Let’s say the pain I felt before was like getting stepped on by a horse that weighs half a ton. All you want is for that horse to MOVE! Get off my god**** foot! But it won’t. This post-parasite-antibiotic pain was like getting hit by a bus. I actually screamed in pain at the top of my lungs. I rolled back to my PCP (my mom pushed me in a wheelchair because I couldn’t walk.)
Welp, it’s not a parasite. Who knew what the hell it was. Sorry, thanks for coming. See ya later! Best of luck!
We went to a GI specialist. He told me that I had a 99% chance of having Chron’s or colitis based on my severely inflamed colon. To be sure, we scheduled a colonoscopy and endoscopy for one month down the line. (You have to be off of probiotics and such for a few weeks before.)
So, how did I cope that month? I read like ten books and watched hours and hours…and hours of Netflix. My mom would climb the steps to the attic to give me food, a few asparagus, a hardboiled egg, and soup. Thanks for carrying soup up two flights of stairs, Mom. Yikes! Matt (my mom’s boyfriend) made sure I was drinking two giant jugs of sugar-free electrolyte juice to keep me from fainting.
I stayed up at night googling worst case scenarios. I began following people on Instagram with ostomy bags or who had Lyme’s Disease. I cried, imagining how I would hula hoop with an ostomy bag. “What if this never goes away? What if this is my life now?” My heart thumped loudly beneath my tightened chest. I felt so alone in the world. Friends and family called, hoping for good news. “You’re better by now, right?” NO! I wanted to yell. I know you want this to be over, but it’s not effing over with. I’m in agony. True agony.
I had the colonoscopy and endoscopy. To the doctor’s surprise, he found nothing wrong. Apparently, the inflammation in my colon was gone. It had returned to normal levels. He told me that if I wasn’t better in six months to come back. He gave me some sort of anti-cramping med and said I had post-traumatic IBS.
He basically told my mom and I to beat it, insinuating that I wasn’t that bad. Get over it, move on, don’t be such a cry baby. Haven’t you heard? Life is painful and unfair. He expressed ZERO empathy and was a total you know what. For the next year, I felt so much anger toward him that I would scream his sorry name in my car whenever I drove somewhere as loud as I could. I couldn’t fathom why he would behave in such a nasty way toward me. Did his mom not teach him any manners? Did he see so many patients each day that he became apathetic as a coping skill to get by?
I had never felt such anger in my life. I imagined trashing his name in my memoir and ruining his career. I listened to angry music with dark lyrics. I shouted at him in my car for weeks, months, a year. Now, the only thing I wish now is that this idiot would stop treating people. You may be good with illness, but you suck with people.
Though I was filled with outrage, vitriol, and anxiety, but I also felt an overwhelming gratitude for my mom and Matt. They showed their love and support every day. I am thankful for our close relationships and the bond we developed during this time. Thank you for making me smile.
Thank you for reading Part 1 of my “food poisoning” blog post. Stay tuned for Part 2!
If you’ve experienced this type of pain, confusion, and disrespect, I am truly sorry for you. From the bottom of my heart, I’m sorry.
Life is full of pain and suffering, but it’s also full of miracles and beauty. It can be hard to find the glimmers of beauty when you’re deep in the bowels of emotional and physical pain.
I see your pain. I see you hurting. You’re not alone.