Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"that's my story and I'm sticking to it"

I haven't felt this good in years!  That is no exaggeration.  I went gluten-free almost five years ago which helped with several health issues that I have dealt with for a very long time; since I was 33 to be exact.  I am now 50.  For 13 years I went from doctor to doctor (13 of them in 9 different fields) for a range of symptoms from joint and muscle pain to numbness.  My father was an orthopaedic surgeon and he sent me to physicians who he felt were the finest in their fields.  I was diagnosed with degenerative disc disease, fibromyalgia, migraines, Epstein-Barr, vitamin deficiencies, a goiter, bi-lateral ulna neuropathy, methyltetrahydrofolate and a spastic colon. I was told that I had a spur on my spine, low blood flow to the brain and that my adrenal glands were not functioning properly. To the doctors 's credit, many of these conditions were confirmed through blood tests, nerve studies, x-rays, MRIs, cat scans, dye tests, EMGS, ECGs, biopsies, ultrasounds and even a radioactive test. Each diagnosis often led to further testing, physical therapy and a variety of drug treatments.

Everyone had an "answer" to my problems; not just the doctors, but well-meaning friends. "If I were you, I'd to go Mayo-surely they can help you."  "Don't eat sugar"  "Preservatives are probably your problem" "You are not getting enough sleep" "You are not getting enough protein"  "You should try large amounts of guaifenesin".  Because I wasn't getting much relief from my meds and therapies, I did give in to their bits of advice, but had no success.

Countless hours and funds were spent on professionals who truly tried to help me.  Each specialist treated me for my problems which fell under their area of expertise, but overall, I was just not getting better.  It wasn't until after my appointment with doctor #13 for numbness that was, no longer just in my fingers and toes, but had moved into my elbows and groin area,  that the puzzle began to come together.  Because my symptoms were so widespread, he said, "I wonder if your problems could be systemic".  This was the first time that doctor had suggested that my problems might be related to each other.  I knew that if you had an autoimmune issue, that often you might exhibit other autoimmune symptoms, so I just accepted the fact that that was just how things were.  I pretty much came to terms with the idea that I might have to deal with this the rest of my life. Trust me, there were many many days over the years, where I was a bit "depressed".  This last doctor wanted to do an MRI of my neck.  Depending upon the results of this test, he said that we might need to do surgery.  He said that it would be invasive and would involve moving my ulna nerve.  He said  that he really did not want to have to do it unless it was absolutely necessary.  

 A huge turning point~

My brother, who is also a physician and very concerned about my ongoing problems, asked me if I thought that my problems might have anything to do with my diet.  I have always been very defensive of my diet, so I quickly remarked, "Absolutely not!"  I remember it like it was yesterday. We were having lunch at a Chinese restaurant and I was sipping away on egg drop soup.  As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I began to connect his comment together with the neurologist's idea about my problems being "systemic".  At that point, I wasn't even sure what the term "systemic" meant other than that all my problems could be somehow linked with each other.   Maybe my brother was right.  Maybe it did have something to do with my diet.   I began to think about people who have Crohn's Disease.  They can eat a "healthy" diet all day long, but because their bodies are not absorbing the  proper nutrients, they can become very ill.  It was like a light bulb went off in my head. I remember thinking about the saying we said as kids, "You are what you eat".  I left our lunch date with a glimmer of hope.  I didn't say anything to my husband at that point because he had watched me "chase so many shadows" when it came a new "treatment plan" and I didn't want him to "rain on my possible parade".  I began searching on the internet for health problems that stemmed from the "gut".  I quickly came upon information about Celiac Disease, which is an illness where the person affected must adhere to a gluten-free diet.  Because I was able to relate to so many of the markers identifying this disease, I spent hours in the library researching more in depth about this illness.  After reading a few books on the subject, I decided to "throw" the idea at my husband.  I told him that I felt that I might could benefit from removing gluten from my diet. He said to give it a try; what did I have to loose.  He also told me not to "get my hopes up".  

I put a call into my neurologist and told him that I was not going to have the MRI, but was going to try going gluten-free to see if that would help any of my symptoms.  He was very supportive.  I never had to go back to him, praise God, because 24 hours after going gluten-free, I began seeing positive results. My colon issues were the first to clear up and my numbness was a close second.  

Ecstatic does not begin to express how excited I was.  I could not wait to share the news with my gastrointerologist.  He poo-pooed (pardon the pun) at the idea that I might have Celiac, but basically said that he would humor me by testing me.  I tested negative for the disease, which was no surprise, I had already taken the gluten out of my diet.  He told me that the only true test was a biopsy of the colon.  I was already feeling so much better that I was not willing to add gluten back to my diet so that I could pay my $1,000.00 deductible to be "put under" for a biopsy.  I told him, "No thanks".  I knew that gluten was my problem, whether I tested positive for Celiac Disease or not. I am clearly gluten intolerant.  

Fast forward~

In the weeks and months after going gluten-free, it was amazing to see symptom after symptom begin to improve.  The deficiencies (iron, potassium and B12) dissipated and my numbers returned to normal.  For 9 years or so I had been giving myself a B12 shot three times a week.  I was delighted not to have to do that any more!  The shots were prescribed to help with my ongoing numbness.  I had had numbness in my left arm everyday for 10 years.  With B12 levels in check, I regained full feeling.  My muscle and joint pain dropped drastically.  I began "getting  my life back".  

Strict adherence to a gluten-free diet was the key that unlocked the door for improved health for me.  This includes being GF in my health and beauty products as well.  Any exposure to gluten will set off a series of symptoms and it takes a long time for these flare-ups to fully "run their course".  It is always frustrating when this happens, but then I remind myself of where I used to be and I get a quick "attitude check". 


In addition to living a gluten-free lifestyle, I am always looking for ways in which I can improve my health.  One of the "self-help" ideas suggested to me about 6 years ago was to take  apple cider vinegar daily.  I abandoned the regiment after 3 days because I could not "stomach" it.  Six weeks ago after experiencing some pain in my heel, which I thought might be a heel spur, I decided to give it another try.  The information that I read about apple cider vinegar said that it was reported to have helped with everything from acne and arthritis to gout and gastro problems.  The enzymes in the vinegar are supposed to help balance blood sugar and lower cholesterol.  I have learned since my posting of Jogging Juice that, in order to reap health benefits from ACV, you must use ACV that is raw-unfiltered and has "the mother" in it.  Bragg's brand is the brand I prefer.  I don't seem to have as much discomfort in my heel and I appear to have more energy.  It certainly is an inexpensive harmless regiment.  For all I know, it may also be balancing my "insides" and that's okay with me.

Despite the chronic pain that endured for so many years, I always tried to keep a positive attitude.   My husband remained patient with me and was instrumental in my journey. He was, and continues to be, my greatest encourager.

I believe, even back when my health issues first began,  that God had a plan for me.  I was not sure if that involved healing this side of heaven, but knowing that my life was in His hands kept me going; that, and the fact that I had a wonderfully supportive husband and family.

I truly believe that God allowed me to suffer as long as I did so that I could help others.  Because I have "been there", "done that"  and "got the t-shirt", I can  empathize with others who are going through similar situations.  I have had countless folks call me and say that "so and so" said that they should call me and that I might be able to share with them some words of encouragement. I love talking to these people and sharing my journey.  No, I am not adoctor and cannot give medical advice, but I can tell them about the healing that God has allowed in my life.  Maybe, just maybe, I can give a glimmer of hope to someone who is hurting.  No one needs to suffer alone or unnecessarily.