Tuesday, August 21, 2012
Diagnosis, Denial and Reality Check by Guest Blogger Stephanie Torres
The last four years have been a roller coaster to say the least. A ride that not only took me through a tunnel of terrible pain and suffering (physically and mentally) but one that forced me to acknowledge the importance of acceptance, self-care and support. I amy no longer live as freely as I did before but I’ve learned to make the best with what I’ve been given. Here is a brief version of my journey with GP.
I was diagnosed with gastroparesis in 2008. I had suffered with digestive issues on and off from the age of 19, shortly after undergoing laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis and ovarian cysts. At the age of 28, after years of pain and discomfort, a gastric emptying test confirmed mild GP.
The doctors prescribed me Reglan, which, over a period of 3 months did not help and instead caused severe depression. I decided to pursue help through a naturopathic doctor who took me off the medicine and replaced it with thyroid medication, high quality vitamins and gluten-free diet (tested positive for gluten intolerance). The following 6 months I felt amazing, filled with energy and finally pain free. However, in the spring of 2009, I slowly started feeling the pain and fullness returning. I specifically recall one day when the intense spasms in my stomach began. They were visible enough on the surface that anyone might have guessed a baby was kicking inside.
My GI doctor suggested I take Domperidone, a motility drug available only outside the states. After the mental torture I experienced with Reglan, I was scared to death to try another and refused to try it out. Instead, I survived on smoothies and broth until my weight quickly dropped 20 pounds, landing me in the hospital after passing out in the grocery store. Three days of fluids, MRI’s, blood draws, and scopes, again diagnosed with gastroparesis, only much worse this time. With my life on the line I decided to take a chance and try the Domperidone. I was then sent to a specialist in Seattle to repeat the gastric emptying test and advised to double dose of medication and if condition worsens to consider the gastric neuro-stimulator.
During the next few weeks I was extremely blessed to have support through friends and family. I actually stayed with friends during this period who had time to take care of me, cooking for me and helping me create nourishing meal plans that would help me gain my weight and strength back. Many changes occurred over the next 6 months including moving into a new home, working part-time, counseling with my husband to help us learn to deal with this condition together, and lots of acupuncture! I regained my weight while continuing the medication and finally began to feel like myself again.
A Passion Ignites But is Short-Lived
For many years I have been passionate about nutrition, healing and acupuncture. After what I had gone through with the illness I felt a new spark light up in me. Life is too short for regrets and I decided to pursue my dream of attending acupuncture school. In the summer of 2010 I completed all my prerequisites and with the encouragement of family and friends I applied and got accepted to the program at Bastyr University.
The flip side to all the excitement - the school is located 1.5 hours away from home and my husband, Trevor. We decided our marriage and commitment to each other is strong enough to sacrifice a few years of being apart weekdays. I looked forward for the chance to fully submerge myself in what I love most, education and healing.
The first quarter I lived in the dorms on campus and immediately loved the classes, made good friends, creating what seemed to be a satisfying yet totally separate life Monday through Friday. On the weekends I drove home and did my best to be present and attentive to "normal life." The intense studies, traveling back and forth as well as the time apart became stressful but I felt my love for school would balance out.
By winter quarter, however, my stomach symptoms began to worsen and spring break was spent back with doctors and repeated tests. My GI, Dr. K, highly recommended a procedure using botox to relax the pyloris to allow more food to bypass into the small intestine. If it works then it could provide relief anywhere from 2-4 months. The mere thought of this toxin being injected in my already broken stomach seemed insane! How could I possibly go through with something so unnatural when I've dedicated my life to natural medicine and what would people think of me? I still believed acupuncture and herbs were going to make this all go away so I turned down the treatment and returned to school. My worried husband insisted I come back home and put off school but being a perfectionist and quite stubborn I was committed to completing the quarter and doing it well.
Over the previous months I went in for acupuncture treatments 1-2 times/week. I always left feeling better, less nauseous and able to eat more but only for a couple days. At this point even the doctors at school were insisting I make an appointment at the digestive center at UW (University of Washington), nationally known for their medical center. I made an appointment for the first available time in July.
The last 2 weeks of school, prepping for and taking finals, were absolute torture. I wasn't eating much and so busy I didn't realize how dangerously low my weight was becoming. After the last final (and many sleepless nights), while everyone was making plans to go out and celebrate , I packed my car, drove home in tears and collapsed the moment I entered the house. Whatever mental adrenaline that held me together before dissolved and I had never felt more exhausted and fatigued in my life. I hit rock bottom with my weigh in at 94 pounds (I'm 5'8) and was told if I didn't gain any weight within the week I would be admitted to the hospital. Problem was I felt so sick and tired I could barely swallow. Through concern and persistence from family and friends I called Dr. K and agreed to give the botox a try. He came in that Saturday morning to get it done ASAP and soon after I returned home to a much needed weekend of sleep.
Unfortunately, the treatment did not make much of a difference and what it did only lasted a couple of weeks. This is when it hit me...I was not going to be returning to school in the fall and my whole world fell apart. It was time to accept the illness and do everything in my power to make myself and my health a priority.
Check back on Sunday, Aug. 26 to find out what drastic measures had to be taken, a new kind of education and how to empower yourself by educating your loved ones.