Over the past 5 years I have been on an involuntary journey that has taken me from healthy, carefree physician to sickly patient, intimidated by the world. Through a combination of luck, excessive education, enough money to buy all organic and a texting relationship with my personal physician, I have been able to find the road back to health. A very long 2 years after I figured out my problem, I still struggle to find all of my triggers. I can now string together several healthy days, even weeks at a time before being exposed to another trigger. It has been very challenging; mentally, emotionally and physically. There are many people out there like me, who struggle alone to find their own health. There are others who don’t even know they are like me. The me of the past, my first 35 years when I believed I was normal. My symptoms were mild and pervasive. They were seemingly random, difficult to treat and easy to ignore.
My problem is either Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) or environmental toxicity, depending on how you look at things. Some might say that I have IBS which is triggered by food toxins (i.e. artificial colors). Others might say that the IBS is actually a byproduct of chronic toxicity by those same environmental toxins. From my perspective,I don’t care what you call it. All I know is if I am not vigilant I will be sick for up to 2 weeks (and on one occasion 6 weeks). What do I mean by vigilant? I mean I have gotten sick from the sweet residue of frosting on my daughter’s face. And what do I mean by sick? It is a roller coaster of symptoms. I never get sick that day – the timing is what contributed to the difficulty in diagnosing and tracking symptoms. If it is something particularly toxic, I will get sick the next morning. If a mild trigger, it can take 2-3 days. I am confident about 2 days, by 3, who knows?! I will typically awaken around 03:30 soaked in my own sweat. I will stumble to the bathroom where I will continue to sweat profusely while defecating, sometimes vomiting simultaneously. At its worst, these episodes would last up to 7 hours. On these days, any sudden or rapid movements would send me stumbling back to the bathroom. I would be consumed by a mental fog. It wasn’t good for the remainder of my day, but those mornings it was my saving grace. Being alert, hyperaware and super bored while feeling those horrible feelings is not helpful! Mostly I would think about the questions I would ask a patient in this situation, specifically, “How many bowel movements do you have a day?” Then I would try and figure out my answer. Where does one stop and the next begin…profound thoughts of a sickly physician…
By June of 2019, I was blocking off my mornings to be sick. Luckily, my parents had moved in to help with the kids, because I was useless until around 10 am every day. I still don’t know what the deal with the morning symptoms is, but I hear it is common. I was still powering through at work as an ICU physician, and taking an online fellowship in Integrative Care Medicine. Clearly, I had not yet learned to take care of myself. It was in pursuit of that fellowship that I travelled to La Jolla, CA for a conference. There was a riveting lecture on GI illness and delayed symptoms after ingestion of the trigger food. There were several conditions that I had not heard of. While I did complete my residency in Internal Medicine, I had been practicing Critical Care Medicine ever since. This was out of my usual scope of practice. I listened with an attentive ear, starting to make some loose correlations.
The day after returning from La Jolla, I awoke with the unrelenting need to vomit. I spent the day wretching every 15 minutes, eventually into a bucket after I became too weak to make it to my en suite bathroom. My magical 10 AM came and went without a break in symptoms. By evening, when my mother pleaded to take me to the ER, it sounded kind of appealing. That’s when I knew how sick I was! On the way, I started to loose chunks of time. The very familiar 20 min drive was a mere 5 minutes, and I don’t recall a lot after that. I am not sure if my VIP status was flaunted or they rushed me back due to my wavering consciousness. I just remembered seeing the shadowy outline of a trusted physician-friend in the doorway and I was comforted enough to be a little less conscious. I remember them discussing my concerning breathing pattern as I slipped away.
After some Ativan to break the cyclic vomiting and 36 hours of observation, hydration and electrolytes, I was discharged. Finally putting 2 and 2 together, I texted my good friend and personal physician…”Do you think food sensitivities can be this bad?”. Her answer…”Yes”. It felt very definitive. She was right.
I have found many triggers, mostly artificial stuff like preservatives and artificial colors. However, I also get sick from “natural flavors” and “organic flavors”, suggesting I also have a problem with the processing. If you want a window into my life, read every label for a day. Don’t eat anything if it has “flavors”, artificial colors, or “spices”. That will give you only a small window, the truth is I only have about 35 “safe” foods. But the IBS is not the only thing that went away. I am also free from migraines, the joint pains that I was starting to believe were rheumatic and the intense anxiety and depression that I believed were postpartum…all gone!
If you are still reading, then this blog is probably relevant to you or someone you know. I would like to invite you to join me on my quest for health and wellness. I will tell you more about how I got here, and some tips to apply it to your own life. I will give you some safe and healthy recipes to work with. I will review products and services that have helped (or surprisingly hurt) along the way. I will also cover some of the extensive medical conditions that can be caused by environmental toxins, specifically the ones that are allowed in our food. Because I don’t believe that I am an outlier, I am not special or unique. I am just much worse than average. Something was knocked out-of-whack (legit medical term) while I was pregnant. I am the Average American amplified. These toxins are causing or contributing to everything from daily headaches to arthritis to insomnia to fibromyalgia to obesity to cognitive problems. They are causing a large proportion of the symptoms that we attribute to “normal aging”, especially if they are causing a slow decline. Think about the symptom that bothers you the most, can it be causing that?