Health,  Life

My Journey to Health, Part II: New Beginnings

Taking more steps forward, my health journey continued!

The Surgery and Move

Following my celiac diagnosis and the end of my collegiate running days, I continued on with the last year of my MBA. From there I was blessed with the opportunity to join Delta Air Lines down in Atlanta. However, not before a surgery on my colon to repair a colorectal prolapse (from prior health complications), which left me with a 4″ scar across my lower abdomen. Anyone who has had surgery probably knows it’s not fun and leaves you never quite the same! After my surgery, they gave instructions to rest (not carry anything over 5 lbs or run) for six weeks. I followed these guidelines well, making sure to not overdo anything and rush back too quickly, risking impaired healing. I was pretty exhausted from the surgery, so that wasn’t too hard 😉 . However, later on I wished I had known more about proper post-surgical care – especially the importance of massaging your scar.

Having the operation the last month of my MBA, I moved down to Atlanta shortly thereafter (May 2011). A special thanks to Dad for helping lift all my stuff over 5 lbs! (basically everything haha). I was ready for a fresh start – with a new city, new job, new friends and new experiences. Unfortunately I also had new health issues to go along.

photo with JingMBA graduation day with my friend Jing

IMG_2801My new home (and favorite park)

The Good with the Bad

Over the next 3 years, there was so much positivity in my life, as I made AMAZING friends, grew my career, traveled when I had time/energy and explored all around Atlanta.

I was so blessed and grateful, that it was hard to know what to make of my health issues, because it could be so much worse. Who am I to complain or struggle?

But I did struggle. A lot. I had ongoing indigestion, constipation, malabsorption, fatigue, amenorrhea, frequent illness, and more. Most people probably wouldn’t know because I appeared highly functional on the outside, as I grew up with a “tough it out” mentality and didn’t want these issues to define my life. However they were always lingering in the background. I was able to get by until bigger problems kept popping up, like the following:

  • Intussusception: It started the first summer with severe pain in my lower left abdomen, the same place I had irritation following the surgery. I thought it was potentially blockage from scar tissue because it hurt every time I ate. A CT scan revealed that it was intussusception– intestinal obstruction that can be very dangerous and is normally found in infants, so I guess I was the exception this time 😉 They couldn’t pinpoint the cause, so they performed another scan where you drink a barium solution that expands in your stomach – and I think this actually released the obstruction because I didn’t have pain afterwards. Since surgery is really the only option to fix it, doctors recommended to wait it out and see if there were future issues.
  • Guttate Psoriasis: Next I got guttate psoriasis, a form of psoriasis (an autoimmune disease like celiac) that is triggered by infection and causes dry red spots all over your skin. For me, it started on the underside of my arms and spread across my entire torso and legs (really pretty!) – which kept me clothed head to toe despite the Hotlanta summer (really hot!). I was given topical steroid creams to treat (not ideal) and it eventually went away after several months.
  • Anaphylactic Attack: At the same time, I had an anaphylactic allergic reaction at the end of a kickboxing class, leaving me covered in hives and about to pass out in the parking lot…thank goodness for friends there! They took care of me and things eventually calmed down. I subsequently got tested and found I was allergic to shellfish (like mother like daughter!) and salmon.
  • ER Visits: Another bout of severe stomach pain came just before Christmas one year. I actually found the following iPhone note I made to keep track of how I was feeling for doctors:
    Thought going to pass out. Blood pressure fell to 70/50. Really dehydrated. Diarrhea. Slept almost 36 hrs straight…all thru Tuesday. Excessive burping from pedialyte, etc. Really weak/tired/shaky. Stomach tender and irritated. Tried to drink. Couldn’t eat much.
    After a week of this, they sent me to the ER and a CT scan showed another case of intussusception. I had to get a colonoscopy for further examination, so when the time came, I started prep the day before, as standard. This normally “cleans you out” by around midnight, prior to the morning procedure. Well, not for me! I drank so many laxatives and literally could not go to the bathroom even once (over 24 hours), so they sent me to the ER again. It finally started kicking in, but by then I had to wait a full 2 days for the next available appointment, which meant only clear liquids (3.5 days total) and another aggressive set of prep during that time. I remember being freezing, wrapped in blankets and barely leaving the couch…my saving grace was Hagar’s new space heater and Harry Potter movies haha.
  • “Mono”: To top it off, my last summer in Atlanta I got the Epstein-Barr virus / mononucleosis, accompanied by high fever, month-long headache and extreme fatigue – trying to work full-time, yet could barely stay awake past noon. I literally did nothing besides go to work, eat and sleep for a couple months.

Rest, rest and more rest, I slowly recouped. That fall I had my sights set on a field sales position with Delta that would put me more-customer facing and better aligned with my skillset and passion (people 🙂 ). Torn between the incredible world-at-your-fingertips NYC and the land of sun, kale and Hollywood, this Minnesota girl chose the health and warmth of LA haha. I was excited to embark on a new adventure, although never quite recovered from the last.

What does it all mean?

With every flare up I would seek medical care, yet made little progress with doctors, as my labs and scans either looked “normal” or they couldn’t identify a particular cause. Going from specialist to specialist, I left with only more questions and frustration, such as:

Why are my liver enzymes so elevated (sign of liver failure)?
Why haven’t I had a menstrual cycle in 8 years?
Why do I have stomach pain and excessive burping after every meal?
Why am I so susceptible to viruses and illness?

I knew something was off, but why couldn’t I or anyone else figure it out? I finally had a small, but impactful breakthrough following one clinic visit with a new PA. She suspected I had “functional hypothalamic hypopituitarism” and said to look it up online. Is that English I thought? 😉 So I started personal research.

This opened my eyes to an entirely new world. One of:

  1. The inter-connectivity of the body (and why we cannot fully heal the whole person by only looking at one part)
  2. The importance of addressing the cause and not just treating the symptoms

One thing I discovered was that acid reflux (my burping/indigestion) is often caused by too little stomach acid, rather than too much ~ and drugs like Prilosec (which they gave me) can mask the problem, if not make it worse in the long run. Per recommendations, I tried taking HCL supplements with meals that contained protein, and saw some progress.

I also began to learn about our body’s network of hormones (hypothalamus, pituitary, thyroid, adrenal what?? I was clueless haha), what they control and how closely tied they are to our immune system, gut and inflammation – all things that were “coincidentally” (or not 😉 ) issues for me.

It was a start, but I didn’t quite reach any resolutions, as I acquired this new level of insight at the same time I was heading towards (other) new beginnings in LA. As I look back, the beauty is that my struggles also made me strong and have a fresh perspective on what is important in life. For me, it’s about more than a degree, corporate job or “glamorous” lifestyle…it’s about my relationships, experiences, passions and having the health to give my best self to them <3

My iPhone 392My ATL kickball family (crushin’ it)

My iPhone 671

My iPhone 665My Delta work family sending me off to LA

{To be continued}

Yours Jenuinely, xoxo

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