This post is about my intestines. I share this not to gross anyone out, but to cast light on some failures in our US diagnostic system. And, well, because I’m a traveler and that’s what we do. So if you can take it, or share frustration with our own health services in the US, then read on.
For a couple years now I’ve been struggling with some form of digestive trouble. It came on quite suddenly while I was traveling in France a couple years ago. My bowel movements stopped. Entirely. For two weeks. I started experiencing a searing pain in the right arch of my foot that would come on with absolutely no warning and would paralyze me with pain. Though it would only last ten seconds at most, the pain was so intense I would often break into a sweat. It started randomly, and at long intervals, maybe once a day, then sped up, hitting more than half a dozen zings during our flight home. I was in agony.
Once home, the doctors ordered a stool sample to rule out parasites, then moved on to more frightening examinations and ultrasounds of my ovaries, my cervix and my entire abdomen. Nothing. I was sent to a podiatrist for the foot pain (no, not gout, or plantar fasciitis, or anything else anyone could identify). I became increasingly convinced that my foot pain had nothing to do with my feet, but moreso with my internal organs. More blood tests, more radiology. I was told I was simply getting older. I should drink more water, eat more yoghurt, buy some supportive, expensive tennis shoes, deal with it. Definitely not satisfying. Lessening my sugar intake helped my foot pain immensely. Still, I embraced suggestions: I ate more yoghurt, drank olive oil, chugged magnesium, ate apples by the pound, drank water and moved daily. Over the years, we stopped short of a colonoscopy, mostly because at the time, and just before leaving the country, I had to undergo unrelated surgery, and didn’t have it in me to add on a scope of my nether regions, as important as it surely is to reading my general health.
Over time, my foot pain mysteriously disappeared with only occasional flare-ups, and I had become almost accustomed to the other intestinal challenges. So I was pretty upset when, after several weeks in Mexico – and perhaps fed by the twice-daily ice cream binges –, my foot pain came back, with a vengeance. I needed to find someone who could look at my foot pain as being integral to the rest of my body, and not solely about my foot. I called on a doctor most often recommended in this Mexican town and told him my tale. He had no answers but said he too would start at the beginning: with a stool sample, three in fact, because “one sample is never enough. Any doctor who only performs one doesn’t understand parasites. Or stool samples.” Hmmm.
Well, you can guess what happens next, right? We were equally surprised when tests showed I had a rare parasite, one so rare that he had never treated this, and had no medication for it. It was so rare in humans, in fact, that treatment is to be reported to the CDC, one site informed me! The little fella may have been with me for years, and MAY be causing some of my distress. May be? We finally tracked down and ordered the meds from Guadalajara. I consulted with some Santa Fe doctors, one of whom said to go ahead, the other told me to run the other way fast as the side effects included suicidal depression. This doctor told me to keep the parasite, informing me that worms have been used to treat autoimmune diseases, decrease inflammation in the gut and that I should celebrate this infestation. Rejoice! She also insisted the parasite, otherwise known as a Rat Worm, couldn’t possibly have to do with my inability to go to the bathroom. But while researching, I learned that parasites very often cause constipation, which can’t be good for my body no matter how I looked at it. I mulled this decision over for weeks, but finally decided that if there was a chance this could help me in the long run, I couldn’t pass it up. So here goes, dosing on some of the strongest meds I’ve taken in a long, long time. Wish me luck.
As I write this post I am reeling from this powerful medication. I’m left to wonder at the costs of all the tests I have already undergone, and more importantly, at their accuracy. Do I actually know what’s wrong? Could this parasite be the cause of my internal distress? Were the docs and nurses who did previous examinations exhaustive? Or even precise at all? I can’t help but question. If only they had accurately done a stool sample several years ago, would I have suffered so long? Then again, no telling if this medication will treat all of my symptoms, or any of them.
The one message I’m left with is that I was right. Not that I know if this is the true cause of my distress; what I mean is that we so often know when something isn’t right in our bodies. And I definitely knew something wasn’t right, regardless of how many people told me I was just getting older, or wasn’t eating enough yoghurt. I had no idea it was a parasite, but I’ll take that any day over something more serious. And if this worm, which Aiden has affectionately named Fred, has helped me in keeping my, uh, girlish figure, then I thank him. More importantly, I hope that it has not been key in providing me with an incredibly strong immune system, from which I have benefitted for many years. Because by taking this drug, I’ve decided that Fred has been up to more nefarious dealings in my body. I am deciding to eliminate him with toxins I am not entirely comfortable with, all in the name of trying to answer questions about my health that have plagued me for several years now. So, Fred, be gone with you now. It is with much gratitude that I am asking you, telling you, and then letting you go.