Growing up, life was lived with so many ailments it was weird to NOT be sick. We had really bad spells where the whole house, except Dad usually, was so sick everyone was either throwing up, feeling like it or passing the days to weeks blowing noses, coughing, trying not to swallow because it hurt so bad, and squinting to see the tiny black and white screen of mom’s ancient 3 channel dial TV. Other times we had crazy, yet severe symptoms like clusters of large, swollen lymph nodes and skin eruptions, one of those times leaving scars on my forehead that I have to this day. At 12, I was bitten by a sickly kitten a week before it died and I simultaneously got very sick. The ER diagnosed mononucleosis and pushed the series of rabies vaccines. Yup, those were my good ole’ days.
I remember learning in health class that your immune system matures as you grow and is more able to fight off infections so you get sick less. HA. Sometimes I wondered if I was born with one. My mother’s remedy when we felt a sore throat or headache coming on was “Take a Tylenol!”, so we were loaded with acetaminophen and ibuprofen. By the time I was a teen, I was practically addicted to ibuprofen. Every month I was taking 1 – 200 mg pill every hour and a half to get through my cycles. The prescription dosage, at least 3-4 days every month, finally destroyed my stomach at 26 and brought on perpetual nasal polyps and daily nose bleeds for years. Every other day my sisters, mom and I had headaches. Pop a pill, that always helps. My brother started with that shortly before I left and he also suddenly had horrible seasonal allergies that caused swollen, red eyelids, runny nose, etc. My youngest brother had perpetual year-round drainage, total blockage of his left sinus since birth, allergies to everything under the sun, colds all the time, and learning difficulties. We thought it was all normal, everyone has to deal with this stuff. Now I realize how eerily NOT normal it all was.
Your body has a threshold. It can take so much infection, so many toxins, so much abuse before it breaks down. Like that old straw that broke the camels back? That’s all it takes for your body to decide it can’t take anymore. You can have symptoms for a long time and still function, not well, but function nonetheless. In 2010, I found out what it means to meet your threshold.
So the worst begins
October 27, 2010 I came down with what I believed was food poisoning. I was in the middle of a very life-altering, traumatizing time in my life and suddenly I couldn’t even try to fight off anything. (There are studies to prove that emotional/physical stress weakens your immune system). I could hardly move, add throwing up and diarrhea. Thankfully I got out of the situation and slowly, with a lot of support from a brand new set of people who loved me because my now husband loved me, the psychological effects became less severe. My physical problems were just beginning though. I recovered from the food poisoning only to start having ‘sinus infections’ – constant stuffiness & sneezing, headaches, colds. Every day I would wake up thinking, maybe it’ll be better today. But it never was. Christmastime brought the newest symptoms of chest pains, breathlessness and palpitations. I remember being in my hubby’s parents basement after their family Christmas party and feeling like I was going to die. My heart was going crazy, it felt like it waited minutes between beats. Ryan held me and convinced me to let him tell his parents. We waited it out that night, finally deciding it was probably just an anxiety symptom of being so out of my element. After that night, it became just another symptom that I lived with.
Winter finally turned into spring and hope for reprieve due to improving weather was gone with the onset of “seasonal allergies”. I had never had them before in my life, yet the symptoms fit the bill and I became a Claritin junkie. Every 24 hours on the hour. Promptly it stopped helping. I moved on to Allegra D 12 hr. That seemed to work better and I took them as needed. Soon I needed them daily. After not even a week of taking one 12 hr pill every day, I felt horrible. Like there was something very wrong. My sinuses were clearer but felt incredibly strange. I can’t even explain it. I remember standing in line at the checkout counter in Wegmans with Ryan and taking his arm to steady myself. After months and months of the same thing, it was then that it dawned on me that I wasn’t getting better. I wasn’t healing no matter what I did and that scared me to the core. In all my years working in the medical field, I had never seen someone get better from symptoms like these. When they started down that road, there was no turning back.
Lost about all of it and desperately wanting a cure, I found a primary care doctor who immediately started me on numerous different allergy nasal sprays. He remarked often about the “textbook drainage” in the back of my throat, as my doctor in Ohio often had. He suggested I try organic milk as a lot of people who have food allergies find it manifesting as seasonal allergies. (This is important to remember later on in the story!) I did try it ($6+ a gallon) yet no difference. Nothing helped. Then I started getting sick, like colds and flus, worse every time. Even through the summer! I was on antibiotics more and more. The day the love of my life asked me to marry him, April 30th 2011, I felt horrible. I wasn’t ‘sick’ but my body certainly wasn’t healthy. My blood sugar would go in crazy ups and downs. No matter how much I slept, I had no energy. I could hardly move. My head felt funny, I felt like crying all the time. Other times I didn’t feel anything at all, just darkness.
My primary dug into my past a little and decided to put me on an antidepressant – cymbalta. Thankfully I took it on an off day from work. That drug turned my mind into something I can’t describe well with words, but suddenly it became very clear why they put suicide warning labels on that stuff. I felt like I was carrying around a car or something equally as heavy, my stomach did weird flips, my body ached like the flu. My perception was crazy, it was like being in a movie, almost an out of body experience. It all scared me so much I begged not to be by myself, so Ryan or his mom stayed around. I called the office, they convinced me to try it for a while before giving up. “You just have to get used to it.” I made it 3-4 days before saying never, ever, ever again. So he tried several other things. Finally one that didn’t make me worse. It evened out my moods alright, but I could hardly feel anything. I didn’t go as low, but I didn’t ever go high either. Life was barely so-so. There wasn’t anything too bad, but there wasn’t anything good either. I had to force myself to laugh or smile because I never felt like doing it, really. I was looking at life from the inside of a sealed glass box, which put me right back to where I was before I left Ohio. Only this time I was imprisoned by what I put in my body.
Starting a new life with an old sickness
So many memories of my first years in New York are tainted with how I felt physically. Christmas and Thanksgivings, Easter, the day I bought my first car, the sunny, gorgeous April day when my husband proposed and I was sun-sick, having blood sugar spikes and severe fatigue.
The week before our wedding, I got really sick. Antibiotics were, again, prescribed so that I would be all better for our big day. Ryan and I were supposed to sing a duet of the song “I See the Light” from the movie Tangled (which is so our song), and my doctor was convinced I would be able to.
Except, as always for me, the antibiotics didn’t work.
Waking up on September 24, 2011, my wedding day, I was WORSE. I can remember the room, the bed, the feeling of disappointment, the tears that wouldn’t stop coming because after a lifetime of being sick, I wanted so bad for this one day to be healthy. The entire left side of my face felt like there was a bag of cotton balls stuffed in it. Yet it was draining. My head pounded. My voice was totally gone. My fiancée called to encourage me and I cried harder. This was not at all how I dreamed my wedding day would be. My girlfriend came over to do my hair, hugged and prayed with me, and ultimately God redeemed the day, but this was only the beginning of the story.
I was told only to use Afrin nasal spray if I desperately needed it, considering it is incredibly addicting, and then no more than two sprays. That morning driving to the church with my father-in-law to be, my dress and other wedding day essentials in the back, I used three.
It did absolutely nothing. It was the kind of congestion that makes it totally impossible to blow your nose and entirely impossible to even feel it drain. I went through way more than 1 box of Kleenex that day.
My father-in-law walked me down the aisle. If he hadn’t there was no way I would’ve been able to walk myself. I was hyper-ventilating being there, being a walk away from becoming this incredible man’s wife, being sick and so congested I couldn’t catch up with the air I needed from hyper-ventilating. It was bad. But we look back on it now and laugh. On the walk down the aisle, he whispered something to the effect of “If you don’t stop shaking we’re not going to make it”, which made me laugh and calm down a bit. If you look at pictures, you can see how white his thumb is from me squeezing it so hard. Thank God for in-laws. 😉
I squeaked my way through our vows, and our Pastor did an amazing service. Our ceremony was the best part of our wedding, hands down. I wonder just how many people saw the tissue-pile pass between my father-in-law and almost-husband at the altar. They were pretty smooth. I think just about everyone carried tissues for me that day. A huge thank you to everyone who did. 😉
At the reception, when the food was served and we went through the line, I sat down and suddenly got very hot and dizzy. I felt like throwing up. I don’t remember telling anyone, but I must’ve looked pretty bad because someone whisked me out of the room and to the parking lot where there was a chair waiting for me. People were waving paper plates to cool me. They took my jacket off and someone got a cold wet napkin to put on my neck. One of our nurse friends from church came out and asked me if my dress was too tight. Ha.
No, it wasn’t. Though it would’ve been nice in the moment to have been able to loosen it. :p
I recovered to a point, ate maybe two bites and made it through the reception and to the ‘Love-bug’ we borrowed from good friends. First stop on our honeymoon? Tops pharmacy to get sinus medicine. Lots of it. We bought at least 4 different kinds. Spoiler alert: none of them helped either.
I spent our entire honeymoon miserable, exhausted, congested, hacking up yellow stuff in the bathroom every morning. How attractive right? My husband was put to the test right at the beginning. He didn’t have a chance before for the whole “in sickness and in health” vows were tried on him. He did have lots of practice with my illnesses and general unhealthiness up to that point though. He’s more of a blessing to me than I can even say. 🙂
Frustrating the medical field
Moving into married life… I went back to work the day after we got home. I never fully recovered from that bout, only got back to the point where I could uncomfortably function. I was exhausted all the time, had constant sinus issues, headaches, poor balance, and the palpitations. I had to mentally and physically force myself to move quick enough to do my job. Sometimes it didn’t work and after rooming a patient I would go sit at my desk and collapse. One of my superiors caught me once and thought I was sleeping. I wasn’t, I was just so out-of-it I could hardly keep going.
Three weeks after our honeymoon, after a rough night of little sleep, I awoke to room-spinning, going to pass out, dizzy. It was a brand new symptom and it scared me, but I could not miss work. (Add to the nightmare – it was Monday). I stumbled through the day, terrified at how hard it was to breathe, my mind in a dark fog, alarms going off inside that something was very wrong. I told myself it was the sleep – I had to get more the next night, and it would go away. Went home, went to bed, slept 10+ hours, and it wasn’t. It was worse. Walking a patient down the hall brought images of passing out in front of them. Looking between them and the computer screen to enter medical info brought the same. I had an eerie calm about the idea of passing out, I just knew I didn’t want to in front of anyone and scare them.
I emailed my superior and Peg, my HR Director. Peg came and found me, had me schedule an appt with my primary for the next morning and wrote me off till he contacted them. My doctor got me in to see an ENT and wrote me off for the rest of the week. We did numerous tests, not one giving us answers as to what was going on. Ultimately, I was off work on disability for 3.5 months. I saw an ENT, neurologist, cardiologist, physical therapist and my primary, doing different tests with each of them. Everything came back ‘within range’. Yet I still had the severe dizziness, and all the other constant symptoms. Walking was hard, I had to do it slowly and with assistance. Focusing on anything was even harder. My eyes would move weirdly away from what I tried to look at.
I finally had part of an answer when I saw a Physical Therapist who diagnosed me with possible viral or bacterial neuritis. He theorized that back when I was so sick over our wedding, I got a secondary infection in my ears that destroyed nerve endings there causing the dizziness and faintness. I did weeks of therapy to retrain my brain not to see things as dizzy. It helped some, but still to this day I have effects from it.
So January of 2012 I went back to work, after all this time still not feeling well. 2 weeks into it my husband determined that 1) he liked me as his housewife and 2) I needed to quit. My job wouldn’t work with me wanting to go part-time, but I see now it was just another way of God allowing me to be at home and start my housewife journey. 🙂
I spent the next 6 months sick off and on, never feeling good, always wanting to stay at home and afraid to do anything strenuous or be around people because of my physical condition. I alienated some of my new family because I never wanted to go out, go shopping, do anything. I was frustrated and afraid that everyone thought I was making it up, that I was just using my past to hide from people. Even my hubby started questioning whether I really needed to stay in. It was a very hard time in my life because I needed people to believe me and understand, yet I didn’t even understand.
It was around then that we heard about a naturopathic doctor from friends at church. They’d seen lives transformed and heard glowing testimonies of healing when the medical field had written them off. We thought about it for a while, discussed it and finally decided I had nothing to lose.
Learning to have hope again
Going to the consultation, I refused to go without Ryan. If this was going to be some kind of crazy witchcraft or something he’d be my knight-in-shining-armor and get us out of there. Quickly. I was sure. So we filled out lots of symptom questions, many of which were repeats depending on the area of the body it was covering. Email, home phone, address, blah, blah, handed the paperwork in & sat down with Ryan. About fifteen seconds later the secretary comes rushing around the corner and sits down excitedly next to me. “I just wanted to let you know I’m a Christian too!” (she had noticed my email address) “And I want to assure you, in case you’re not sure, this testing is real, It’s scientific and it’s proven. It’s not some crazy witchcraft or something.”
It’s amazing how God sends messages in human form when you really need them. It also never ceases to amaze me the kind of fellowship you can have with another believer, though they may still be a stranger. She was the foundation of what set my mind at ease about the validity of the testing, but I still wasn’t convinced that anything could actually help me. There was that brand new ray of hope tho.
We did a HRV test then met the doctor. Immediately it was clear that he was a caring man, someone who didn’t just do this for a living, wasn’t inflated by his position, and personable to a fault (ask Shirley about scheduling, ha). And he spoke in human language, not complicated doctor talk like I had grown accustomed to while working for them for years. A second glimmer of hope broke through.
He started the muscle testing and immediately those rays dimmed. My body said there were 5 organs not functioning correctly – pituitary, thyroid, gallbladder, liver and pancreas. Yeah, all pretty important. I was reacting to all kinds of foods – wheat, corn, soy, white sugar, brown sugar, rice, brown rice, etc. My body had a huge build-up of pesticides suppressing my ability to function, digest, fight off infection. My mind was swimming. I don’t even remember walking out of that building, but I do remember the animated talking and digesting Ryan and I did on the way home.
We went over everything we could remember from the appointment while waiting those two weeks. Talking to a nurse friend, we realized – I grew up on well water. That well was downhill, 3-4 yards away from a soybean/corn field that was sprayed several times a year. In my 24 years there, my family had never tested the water, never once filtered the water.
Follow-up visit – Dr sat down with me and was very real. He went over the food diary that I had started keeping and circled things in red. He explained what sugar and wheat and corn is, what its result is on our bodies, why my body was the way it was. He explained what I needed to do to get past it, to get better. He doesn’t treat or suppress symptoms, he finds the root of what is causing them. Finding the root helps him give the body what it needs in order to heal itself. He made it clear he wasn’t God (I so knew that), he couldn’t see the future in some crystal ball, he could only tell what is going on with my body right now and as the program advanced everything would unfold like the layers of an onion.
It made sense. For the first time in my life something a doctor was telling me made sense. It wasn’t a quick-fix, but for something to connect the dots in my head to certain questions, like why my thyroid antibodies were sky high in the thousands but my thyroid profile (bloodwork, ie TSH, T4, T3, etc.) was fine, of why my blood sugar levels were getting crazier and would drop so low and so quickly I couldn’t even talk or react…. the hope was back.
It was scary though, and if it weren’t for my husband there with me, I don’t know that I could’ve said “Yes, I’m going to do this.”. It meant real, radical changes from a lifetime of triple iced cinnamon rolls and kraft macaroni and cheese and Jif low-fat peanut butter. I was at a cross-roads. I had 2 choices – stay sick, like I’ve always been, or do all I could to try to get better. So (literally) for the life of me, we did the latter.
Weekly office visits were so interesting, learning about all the different toxins and levels of toxins that were in my system, which organ my body was working on, what each supplement did and how it did it, how he could tell me if I had a virus or fungus or bacteria. There have been many ups and downs, encouragements and discouragements, but there was always something they could do to help me, even if it was just support and encouragement that “you WILL get better”.
Along the way, I had issues including kidney stones, parasites, grain and food intolerances, yeast/fungus, and we worked on my liver for a long time. After much research myself, we’re also working on gut health and adrenals. If we hadn’t taken this route and finally got my body what it needed to start healing, I totally believe our son would not be here today. We’ve learned so much about nutrition and real food, all because we had to and all through trial and error. Along the way I have refused to give up my love of being in the kitchen. I was told several times to just give in and eat meat and veggies. I do that too, but there’s so much more the kitchen and the world of food has to offer! So I’m chronicling some of those recipe victories, life-happenings and nutritional accomplishments. I’ll be sharing more information about the ‘medicine’ that has changed my life too.
I can’t wait to hear from you who are on this road too, whether farther behind or ahead of me, who are on their way back to health! God has given us so many resources in the world He created for us. We just have to find and use them in the way they were intended. What an exciting journey!