A Mysterious Illness & 14 Months of Pain, Blood and Poo

Monday, November 9, 2009

Photo by Sarah Pflug from Burst

Welcome to Crohn’s Week! My intention this week is to raise awareness of Crohn’s and IBD by sharing my story and the stories of others. I’m going to preface this post by saying that some of what I’ll be discussing will be graphic. I think part of the reason IBD falls under the radar is because people don’t want to talk about poo. We do it all the time, yet no one wants to talk about it, and that’s part of the reason my symptoms went on so long before I spoke up. So here we go, poo and all.

I was a fairly healthy person growing up. I had chronic earaches between ages 4-6, had the Chicken Pox when I was 10 (and proceeded to spread them to my entire class and family) and had a concussion when I was 13 (fainted in gym class). Beyond the typical colds, occasional flu and rounds of antibiotics there was never anything really wrong with me growing up. I began taking the birth control pill around age 17, but other than that had taken no regular medication.

As I’ve previously discussed, in 2006 I decided that I wanted to lose weight. I got to goal in February 2007 and became a Lifetime member in April 2007. I felt great. I was happy with my weight and was absolutely making better choices and taking care of my body. In June 2007 I performed in a recital with my singing group, Ashnaba. It had been a long day and I developed a migraine-like headache by the end. Joey and I walked home and I went to bed early so that I would be ready for work the next morning.

When I woke up the next morning, my headache was gone but I was not feeling well. I began to have diarrhea and called in sick to work. There had been a lot of people in my office the previous week for district meetings and there were quite a few people at the recital. I thought perhaps I had picked something up from someone or had eaten something that didn’t agree with me. I tried to leave the house to go to Shoppers Drug Mart for some juice, but the diarrhea was so bad I was unable to get out the door.

The diarrhea continued throughout the day and was accompanied by horrific stomach cramps. I was doubled over in pain and spent a lot of time in the washroom. By this point there was nothing left in my system because I was unable to keep food down. When I tried to eat I either had more diarrhea or vomited. By the following day, nothing had changed so I stayed home from work again. Joey was calling me every couple of hours to make sure everything was okay. He called me late in the afternoon to see if I wanted him to pick anything up on his way home. I asked him to pick up a thermometer because I felt like I was running a fever.

Joey brought home the thermometer and when we took my temperature we realized it was 104 degrees. I hadn’t had a fever since I was a child and both Joey and I were pretty freaked out. We weren’t sure what to do and at this point still had no idea what was causing my illness. We called the Telehealth nurse to determine our next course of action. The Telehealth nurse said that if it reached 105 we needed to go to the hospital, but until then we were to wait for it to break.

It was so scary. Joey was so calm that whole evening, but later confided that he was incredibly scared. Adults don’t just run fevers of 104!! My fever broke about an hour later and I fell asleep for most of the night. I woke up on Wednesday to more diarrhea, stomach pains and vomiting.

By this time the lethargy had started to kick in. My body was so tired and I hadn’t been able to keep anything but popsicles and gatorade in (and even those were exiting my body fairly fast) Joey took me to the walk-in clinic because I didn’t have a family doctor at the time. While I waited for my turn, I was lying on the floor of the clinic crying because I was in so much pain. It felt like we were waiting forever!! When a doctor finally saw us, I described my symptoms of the last few days to which he didn’t really have an answer. He told me to take some Pepto-Bismal, drink lots of fluids and sent me down to the lab to give a sample of my stool.

The stomach cramps and vomiting finally stopped the following weekend, but I continued to have diarrhea for 3 weeks. I kept taking the Pepto-Bismal, but stopped after a pharmacist told me that there was no point considering my diarrhea had gone on so long. I started eating again and started to get my energy back. After not eating for a week and another 2 weeks of diarrhea, I lost at least another 10 lbs. This was a little scary since I had just gotten to my goal weight, but gained a bit of it back once I started eating properly again.

Over the next year I would have a variety of day-to-day problems. Looking back on everything now I can see a pattern and also see that they were connected to my original illness, but like I said at the beginning: nobody wants to talk about poo. I suffered from terrible stomach cramps on the toilet and off, blood in my stools and urgency when I had to go to the washroom. I was also tired quite often and felt faint or dizzy a few times a week. For 14 months I let everything go on in the background. Everything was great in my life, I had started a new job, had become a Weight Watchers Leader, was performing in shows a couple times a year and was in a great relationship. I was 23 or 24 and therefore healthy, right?

In August 2008 I went in for my yearly physical. We went through the normal stuff and at the end the Dr. asked if I had any questions. I said yes, and proceeded to spill my guts about the pain, blood, urgency, tiredness and horrific tendencies of the last 14 months. He inquired a little more and examined my bum. He commented that there was a fissure/skin tag, which may have been causing the bleeding. We talked a bit about my mysterious illness from the previous summer at which point he realized the wrong test had been done with my stool sample, so nothing was found. He prescribed some antibiotics and ordered me down to the lab for some blood work.

Two weeks of antibiotics did nothing for me and the blood work revealed that I was anemic. With the symptoms I had described, the fissure and now the anemia, the Crohn’s and Colitis warning bells were popping up. He prescribed daily iron supplements and B12 for the anemia and set up an appointment for me to see a gastroenterologist. The doctor assured me that there was a chance it might be Colitis, but said it was probably nothing and seeing the gastro was just an extra precaution.

It was around this time that I started to feel upset and angry. I remember going back to my office that morning after the appointment and my boss nearly sent me home because I was so ticked off and on the verge of tears. I didn’t want anything to be wrong with me and I certainly did not want to have a Disease.

Check back tomorrow to read about my first visit with the gastro and the tests that followed.


Anne said...

What a great post. I cannot wait to read back tommorow. I am suffering some ailments currently myself and have been suffering for over a year. Diarrhea began the journey but now I find myself with more constipation and discomfort issues. I suffer no blood in the stool though either, so I have never considered chrons or the like since they do not appear to coincide with the typical diarrhea and blood-like symptoms. Whoa, I guess I am being a bit vivid hey ? Well, really poo is poo, right ? We may as well say it and get over the embarrassing qualities given to it. I cannot wait to hear more about your story. Also, what do you feel helped you achieved the best health (going gluten and dairy free, going vegetarian, or going vegan?).

LizNoVeggieGirl said...

Wow, does this all sound at least a little familiar - you know I have dealt with all of this and know EXACTLY what those fears were like, what the experiences/pains were like... looking forward to reading more of your journey.

GF Gidget said...

I was on the edge of my seat reading your story. It is so touching, honest, and hits close to home. And don't worry about me being "poo" sensitive. I am all too familiar with "poo-poo problems"! hahaha

Lauren said...

Our stories are very similar. I kept my bleeding a secret for awhile as well. The horror of having a disease..ugh! Thanks for sharing, it's so nice to read that I am not alone in this. You are amazing for sharing your story! HUGS!

Gena said...

Such a moving post, Ashley! I'm glad you're being open about what you suffered and look forward to reading more.

The Modern Chimera said...

Thank you so much for writing this, Ashley.

Unknown said...

Thanks for sharing your story. It is so hard when we go through something that takes a while for any doctors to tell us what is wrong.

Meg's Gut said...

I can definitely relate with this.
I think the most frustrating part of it all is to not know what you are dealing with.
Can't wait to read on!

LauraA said...

Wow, reading this I fully understand what a scary time that must have been for you. I'm so glad you spoke up at your doctor's (despite the embarrassment of poo talk!) and got started on the path to getting better! Looking forward to reading the rest!

Geenie said...

THis is of great interest to me. Is diarrhea and blood in stools must-have symptoms? Or can dirty stool and occasional constipation also be culprits?

Alex said...

Knowing about this experience makes me even more amazed at who you are today: Rosy cheeked, smiling, energetic, and telling her story from a place of experience and healing. I'm also looking forward to hearing the rest of the story, and how you GOT BETTER!

Anonymous said...

This is spooky familair to me. About a year ago I had a week of sickness, diarrhea, nausea, lying in bed all the time, etc. I lost a terrible amount of weight and was quite tiny to begin with. I thought I had a virus. Since then I have experienced a host of different issues, no blood, namely a sporadic diarrhea alternated with uncomfortable constipation. The nausea has passed.Doctors all have same advice: gain weight (they believe my extreme fatigue and symptoms) are the result of low weight, my iron is also low but I take supplements. Vitamin B12 is good though. Nutritionists have thought my issue is poor digestion and that protein should be reduced to a more natural level and that food-combining principles should be followed. The worst symptom of all beside the unstable bowels are the utter fatigue (I have had to leave work for a while but am now financially forced to go back, and my body is muscularly achy and sore) and also very bad is sidestitching that is prevalent in my left lower rib. Very intense. I am sorry to write all this here , I hope that is okay. Your introduction to this however has fascinated and scared me. On the one hand, my symptoms differ greatly, but some similarities abound. Maybe the doctors are wrong and it is not simply to gain weight and to believe it is IBS.
But how are these diseases treated? Does it differ from person to person or is there a common theme to all living with such an impactful disease? One thing for certain is that I have no belief in pharmaceutical medications and dislike the idea of treating anything with medications (although I believe it should be personal choice for all). I am eager to learn your story and am curious if the course and remedy is similar to all with this.

Ashley Gibson said...

Thanks for all the comments and love everyone!! So happy that sharing my little story is helpful and interesting for people!

Anne - I'm going to talk some more about my treatments in Wednesday's post so stay tuned. I believe a lot of things have contributed to my healing, and for me, diet has absolutely been a big part of that.

Geenie - I am by no means a medical professional and can speak of no one's symptoms but my own. If you are concerned about things that your body is doing, SPEAK UP. Talk to your dr, naturopath, gastroenterologist - anyone who will listen and get thing sorted out. I'm telling my story not only to spread awareness, but to help others find the courage to recognize that something needs to change if their bodies are behaving badly.

Anonymous - I think it's important to find a practictioner who works for you. Have you tried seeing a naturopath? What I've learned about IBD (and will talk more about on Thursday) is that everyone who has this disease is different, although many of us have taken similar paths to achieve healing. I hope you find healing.

Pure2Raw Twins said...

Thank you for sharing your story. And agree that no one wants to talk about poo. We suffer from the opposite, constipation, and it is not fun. There is too much I could say in a comment.

We look forward in hearing more of your story.

Brian said...

Hi Just wondering if u have also tried the probiotics and acidopholus i think its spelt capsules? I had problems like urs but with no real diagnosis hammered down. I had worked in West Africa and with that they gave me the strongest anibiotics they could. That worked for a while but the eruptions started again. The probiotic yougurt and capsuales have worked to stop and regulate my bowel. Hope this helps u. Brian in Alberta

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