I thought it was just heartburn...
Friday, June 28, 2013
About 18 months ago I started having pain in my chest, especially at night. I told my doctor about it and she said, “Oh it is probably acid reflux but here is a referral to a gastroenterologist, go and make sure it isn’t anything more serious.” I walked out of there thinking, “I don’t need no stinking gastroenterologist, I’ll just change what I eat.” I thought I was being so smart.
For the next year, I was very careful about what I ate and every time I’d experience what I thought was heart burn, I would cross another thing off my list of foods I could eat. My list of non-heartburn causing foods was getting shorter and shorter. But, hey, I was losing weight and everyone was impressed with my self-control. Then a friend of mine told me about this cleanse/diet she was on that helped her lose weight. I won’t tell you the name of the diet; let's just call it the “Cat Splash Diet.” Super super low in fat and very restrictive. All those fruits, vegetables and brown rice, I figured it had to be good for me and maybe it would cure my heartburn for good. Right? I went on it and low and behold I lost even more weight. Throughout this whole time, I kept getting “heartburn” and thought it was strange that the over the counter heartburn meds did not alleviate it.
Fast forward two months, after eating a salad with two drops of low fat dressing for dinner at a local restaurant, the pain came back. As the evening progressed, the pain increased. Within a couple of hours I was on the bathroom floor, unable to keep anything down. No crackers, no water, nothing. My husband and kids were getting scared and begged me to let them take me to the hospital. I managed to call the nearest urgent care center and after describing my symptoms (in between moaning with pain) they said, “Go directly to the emergency room, you may be having a heart attack.” Coincidentally, a few weeks before, a good friend of mine had just had a heart attack that he thought was “just heart burn” so I knew that really happens. I crawled into the car and my family took me to the nearest hospital. I was delirious with pain at this point and scared enough to make sure my husband knew where all of our important documents were in case I didn’t make it back home.
After a horrible couple of hours in the ER, the doctor reluctantly agreed to admit me (he thought it was food poisoning and would go away if I’d just calm down!). The next day in the hospital, they discovered it was my gall bladder and it was bad. When they went it to take it out, the surgeon said it was one of the worst gall bladders he’d seen in his 20 years of doing the operation. Gangrenous was the term he used. That means completely dead. He took pictures of it and my children proudly showed their classmates during show and tell the next day. After a day of recovery, I was released.
It has taken about a month but I finally feel back to normal. I lost about 10 pounds during the whole experience – but don’t be jealous, it was 10 pounds the hard way, directly into the cute little blue plastic bags specifically designed for patients to puke into. While laying there in the hospital recovering, I used the hospital’s free wifi to discover that gall stones are very common for women. 25% of all women get gall stones by age 60 –American Indian women like me and Hispanic women have even higher rates. There is a tribe in the Southwest that has an 80% rate of gall stones. No one ever told me this. I was also surprised to hear that many women I’d known for a long time admitted, “That happened to me a few years ago.” Not only had they had gall bladder problems, they did the same exact thing I did which was decide not to seek medical care despite bouts of excruciating pain for over a year. I think this is typical for many of us. If our children have a slight pain/fever for an hour, we schedule a doctor’s visit but if we are doubled over in pain, we think we can stick it out until it goes away and plan to mention it at our next annual exam.
Today I am in better health and appreciate the strong things about my body. I track what I eat to make sure I’m getting enough..enough protein, enough water, and yes, enough fat. I am doing more biking than jogging and am about ready to begin strength training again. I wrote this because I want to remind people that exercising and eating healthy are not just about fitting into the skinny clothes in the closet or getting rid of that double chin before the next high school reunion – it is about taking care of this body that is our home for close to a century. My grandma lived until 95 and, knock on wood, I’ll be around that long so I’d better do what I can to keep everything working smoothly.