Wednesday, October 26, 2011

I Think I'm Going to Throw Up

For those who may not know, this is
a picture symbol.
Picture symbols are regularly used to
help individuals with autism communicate their feelings.
This one is self-explanatory.
A couple years ago, I got sick.  I mean, really, really sick.  Cancel a trip to Paris sick.  Stop drinking wine and eating red meat sick. Give up the coffee, chocolate and caffeine sick. Sick as the sickest dog.

I’d had trouble with my digestive system for awhile. But this. This was different.

Lay in bed, run to the bathroom.  Rinse.  Repeat.  Two long weeks until I was finally able to move to the couch on the first floor.  Lost twelve pounds.  (Best diet results ever. Don’t recommend it though.)

At one point, I was on three or four different medications to try to control my various symptoms.

I don’t think I left the house for a month except to visit my general practitioner and a gastroenterologist.

Casting about for help, I called my brother –in-law; he’s a neurologist. I was having what I thought were possible neurological symptoms as well.  (And let me tell you, it is pretty awkward to describe your GI symptoms to your brother-in-law.  I mean, yuck.)

I lamented that the doctors I had consulted thought my illness was due to the fact that I was crazy.  (I have a kid with autism after all, it must drive me crazy.)

“You may be crazy, Alisa, that’s true,” he assured me with a smile in his voice, “and you can be sick at the same time. The challenge is to figure out what’s what.”

Thanks, Pete.  Appreciate that. Everyone’s a comedian.

Over the years, I have stopped telling new doctors that I have a child with autism. At least, I don’t bring it up on the first or second visit.

“Any stress in your life?” they inevitably asked.  

“Me? Nope.  No stress, no way. Well, the stress of being a stay-at-home and/or working mom,” I would titter, depending on what I was doing at the time.

Because I knew that if they heard I had a child with autism, stress and anxiety became the de factor answer for anything, really.  Forget the existence of germs, bacteria, viruses, parasites, mold spores, air pollution, organ failure, cancer, cardiac arrest, and allergies, whatever I had at the time was caused by stress and anxiety. And, of course, the old standby for all women...depression.

Heart palpitations?  Stress.

Fatigue and breathlessness? Stress.

Diarrhea and nausea? Stress. Anxiety.

Constipation and intestinal pain? Stress.

Muscle aches and joint pain? Depressed.
(Oh, there’s a new one. Hadn’t heard THAT one before.)

Insomnia?  Stress. Depression.  Side effect of the medication for stress and depression.

Sleeping too much?  Stress.  And depression.

Hair loss?  Stress.

Vaginal yeast infection? Stress.

Athlete’s foot?  Stress.

Hangnail?  Anxiety.

Zit on my ass?  Stress. Depression.

It got to be ridiculous.  Here was a common exchange with some of the doctors that I consulted for my mystery illness.

“You seem depressed,” they would say.

“I’m sick. As a dog. “ I would counter, clenching my stomach and trying not to roll my eyes.

“No, it’s just, you look really down, tired,” they’d continue.

“I can barely leave the house (there’s no toilet in my car, you know), I have no energy, and I’m not sleeping at night,” I’d reply.

“Ok, so you’re depressed.”  Me: “NO! I am SICK,” I would forcefully say.

Finally, I wound up in the office of an elderly neurologist who did a thorough exam.  I described my symptoms, my history, and yes, I told him I had a child with autism. 

And he believed me.  He understood that I probably had Irritable Bowel Syndrome and that I had tremendous stress in my life.  But he also understood that this was different. 

He thought it was most likely a virus, and would just take time to improve.  It took me a good six or eight months to feel truly well again.  I gave up gluten, a lot of milk products, and have consumed copious amounts of beneficial bacteria. 

Thankfully, I feel well enough to drink red wine again, and enjoy coffee! They’re mommy’s little helpers, after all.  And maybe one day, I’ll get to Paris.

Or at least be able to eat a chocolate croissant.

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