Sunday, May 24, 2015

My Health Recovery Journey, Part 1

(Before you begin, take this for what it is. I am simply sharing a personal experience I had, the things I learned from all the people I worked with, and the ups and downs of recovering from chronic illness. I am not a medical professional nor do I claim to be. Now that that's out of the way, Here is a story of hope, miracles, growth, and new life born from suffering...)
Almost 6 years ago, I was desperately searching online for some answers to my health problems. After some time, I found a woman's blog. She described in detail almost EXACTLY all I was suffering at the time and what she did to get through it. Although my path to healing ended up being different than hers, it gave me a tremendous amount of comfort, just knowing there was someone else in the world going through exactly the same thing as I was. It is my hope that this will do the same thing for someone else.

I have had allergies, eczema, and asthma for as long as I can remember. The allergies were pretty typical though, animal hair and dander, grass, trees, mold, and mildew were the biggies. It was inconvenient, at most, a pain sometimes, but did not control my life. I became accustomed to it. My hay fever, eczema, and asthma really only acted up when I came in contact with the things I was allergic to, so as long as I avoided these things I was pretty much fine. Extreme heat in summer would worsen my eczema, and allergy seasons were difficult, but temporary.

Even though in the years of all my pregnancies (5), I had noticed an increase in my symptoms, about 5 years ago, something changed. After the birth of my 5th child, a time bomb went off in my body. It started with a yeast infection I could not get rid of with ordinary means. My doctor prescribed an anti-fungal medication. Then immediately following, I had a UTI (urinary tract infection) that became so serious I had very high fever and my doctor recommended going to the emergency room. I was given a very strong antibiotic and told to take this for 2 weeks. Little did I know I was changing the course of my health dramatically.

After recovering from the UTI, my excema became increasingly worse, to the point of not being able to function. A distinct memory my husband and I have, is going to the zoo with my brother and his wife and son. When I got in the car, my reaction was so extreme I was shaking uncontrollably and couldn't stop the intense itching for about 40 minutes. I was miserable all the time. My hands were in such an awful state I had to wear gloves during the day just for comfort.
My Health Recovery Journey, Part 1
(At Disney with my kids. "The glove stage". A friend of mine saw this before she knew what was going on and said "I just thought you were getting into the spirit of things!" This was such a miserable trip. except for the joy of watching my children enjoy themselves.)

Doctor number 1
 I went to a dermatologist. I have been to dermatologists all my life. Most of the time they have prescribed a steroid cream. Unassumingly, I always used them. A female dermatologist I went to actually looked me straight in the eye and said "You know steroid creams are bad for you. After you use it for a while you need to taper off." This is the first time a dermatologist had actually been honest with me about steroid creams. She then prescribed one for me, reluctantly, it seemed. I had noticed that when I used them, they worked for a while and then it would actually get worse. The next dermatologist gave me a new cream, assuring me it was not a steroid cream. I used it for a week, the itching got worse, not better, and I had to stop.

Doctor Number 2
Next I tried an allergist. We did all the possible food allergy tests and they came out negative. The doctor and I were both perplexed. He left the room and came back and sat down with me. He said "I honestly don't know. This is a shot in the dark, but maybe you have a nickel sensitivity. Nickel can be found in all grains, potatoes, legumes (this includes soy, coffee, and chocolate), fish, and nuts. Avoid these for 2 weeks and you will know." "What in the heck will I eat?" I thought to myself. But I was desperate for relief. I started researching, and began eating weird things like Quinoa and Tapioca flour. But all wheat, corn, rice, oats, and sugar were out. I began to discover vegetables for the first time. I mean, I had always eaten vegetables because I knew they were good for me, but if I had a choice between a cookie and some carrots, I would go for the cookie hands down. Now, vegetables were becoming a staple in my diet. Thanks to this honest doctor's "shot in the dark", the new nickel-free diet did bring me a little improvement, I think mostly because this was the first time I had started eliminating any food in my diet. I may or may not have had a nickel sensitivity, but I found out later it was much more. At any rate, I was eliminating a lot of higher carb foods, including sugar, and eating a lot more "whole foods". A good step in the right direction.
But something still wasn't right. I was still having severe allergic reactions, often to unexpected things. And I began to develop other symptoms. I was freezing all the time. Even in hot summer months.The only thing that gave me comfort was scalding hot baths, or sitting outside in 90-100 degree weather. I was losing my hair. I had gotten staph infections during stressful times as a child, but now it was at least once a month. I began to have chronic diarrhea. I could no longer tolerate any fabric but cotton. I had to start filtering all my water, including bath water. My life was a series of trying my best to avoid/control serious, dehabilitating reactions. Often these reactions would last an hour, sometimes all through out a day, and then I would barely have time to recover before another would occur. I was in tears often, and in so much pain I was limping around the house. I was also waking up throughout the night to react. I was completely exhausted all the time. Doing ordinary things like, getting dressed, hugging my children, and caring for them became very difficult for me to do. 2 doctors down.

Doctor Number 3 and 4
I decided to go to a gastrointerologist to get tested for a gluten-sensitivity, at the suggestion of my allergist. He said, however, that since I had already eliminated gluten with no improvement, there was no need to do an endoscopy. Then I went to a primary care doctor, a long time friend who had taken care of my mom and grandmothers. She ordered a whole series of tests on me, very thorough. After half a day of blood pricking and such, we were done and I went home to wait for results. She called me 3 days later, and with a very kind, compassionate voice said, "The good news is you are not anemic. The bad news is... I'm so sorry. I don't know what's wrong with you."

So, as we were desperate and had tried all the doctors we knew of and still had no real answers, my husband and I decided I would go to a friend who was a homeopath. This is someone who helps people to heal by natural means, herbs, supplements, and diet. She sat down with me and started asking some questions. "Can you remember a time when you were sick as a child and had to take an antibiotic?" and "About when did your eczema begin?" As I thought her questions over, I realized that my eczema started right about the time I began taking penicillin as a child when I was hospitalized for pneumonia. As we talked further I realized that, I was given Keflex, an antibiotic, for frequent staph infections. After doing her own analysis of my health state, she began to piece together some of the puzzle, though not all yet.

Here is my somewhat simplified version of her explanation. Over time, the antibiotics had stripped my body of the flora, or good bacteria. This good bacteria is necessary in our system for many reasons one of which is to create a balance with the yeast that reside there. Both yeast and healthy bacteria are good and necesary things for our body. The flora also create a protective layer in our "gut" or intestinal tract. "Leaky Gut Syndrome" is when that protective layer is compromised, and openings allow what your body would consider foreign objects in. Your immune system responds with inflammation of different types. You can read more in depth about "Leaky Gut Syndrome" here. In this whole process one negative effect that can occur is candida, which can act more like parasites than the friendly fellows they are supposed to be when you have plenty of healthy bacteria keeping them in check.
She also believed that frequent use of steroids (creams and some injections) had taxed my adrenals. Adrenal Fatigue is when your adrenals which normally produce hormones to help you deal with stress, don't do their job. Steroids try to mimic those hormones and in doing so suppress the adrenals. The person I was working with said the damage would take at least 1 & 1/2 to 2 years to repair. What she did not know is that my health problems were much more complicated than just leaky gut, candida, adrenal fatigue and a compromised immune system. But it was a starting place for my path to recovery. She gave me a foundation to jumpstart from. She built up my immune system and began the repair on my intestinal tract with supplements and natural herbs and put me on a restrictive diet to create an unpleasant environment for the candida I had developed. She also impressed upon me the importance of organic foods because of the homones and pesticides in regular foods. I remember the first time I was cooking with grass-fed beef versus regular. I was amazed, because for the first time while touching beef, my hands were not burning (I was not allergic to beef). The more foods we switched to organic, the more my health improved. After 6-7 months on her regimen, I began to see improvement. The diarrhea stopped, it was a daily occurrence every morning for several hours. My skin looked much better. I was still having reactions, but not daily and not as severe. Most importantly, I dared to hope for the first time. 

When she felt my body was strong enough to handle it, she put me on my first cleanse, a parasite cleanse, meant to focus on the yeast, but milder than the yeast cleanse. After going through 3 boxes of this, I began to see 4 different changes. 1. I could take a bath without filtering the water, without reacting 2. I could start to eat cashews. (I had to eliminate all nuts until this point) 3. The nightly routine of itching at 3:00 a.m. for up to an hour, stopped temporarily. And the itching died down dramtically overall. 4. I was able to wear some earrings and necklaces again. I was unable to wear any jewelry without breaking out in a rash until this point.
(Cute baby break! just kidding. Actually this was close to right after the parasite cleanse. I got a break here, a brief recovery that gave me the strength to keep going.)

Because of the obvious success of the parasite cleanse, she decided to put me on a more intense yeast cleanse. I began to experience detox symptoms with this cleanse. These "yeast die-off" symptoms included fever, nausea, itching, flu symptoms, headaches and fatigue, all of which I had. I spent a total of 40 days, cleansing. At first, the side effects didn't seem so bad. But towards the end, I started to see all my excema come back and more. I knew this would happen to some extent as my body was cleansing, and the skin is a "dumping grounds" so to speak, for toxins leaving the body, but I had no idea how much I had to "dump". Here's where the progress came to a halt. 6 weeks after stopping the yeast cleanse, The detox was intense. I looked and felt like I was severely sunburned from head to toe. I lived in the bath most of the time, or next to my space heater as the chills returned, and I had become confined to my bed. I honestly did not desire to live anymore. The lives of my children and husband kept me going.

As I look back on this stage I think several things. She taught me so much about the importance of healthy eating and educated me well on the benefits of natural remedies, God-given medicine in the bounty of creation around us. She taught me the damage that prescription medicine can do when taken without thought, personal education, or moderation. She, through no fault of her own was unaware of how incapable my body was of handling intense cleansing, nor did she realize there were other factors besides the ones we addressed. I still believe though that the cleanses layed a good foundation for eradication of yeast. However, they were like setting off major bombs to get rid of all the junk, and my body just wasn't strong enough to handle it.

While bedridden from the cleanses and unable to function, a dear friend of mine was helping me with my children. She, through the hand of Providence, had been given the name of a doctor in town that had helped many people including her friend, a cancer survivor, deal with candida. Since this was the only thing I knew was wrong with me at the time, we decided to, once again, venture into the medical world.
(This is the only birthday party I had to sit in the background for, July 2011. I think this was in between cleanses. My neck was swollen and red, as were many parts of my body. I couldn't bear to have my hair or really anything touch my skin, and lacked the strength to stand.)

Doctor number 5
My husband was more at peace with this because we as a family could not continue with the state I was in, any longer. This was important to me because he was carrying such a heavy burden of his own, working full time and being a full time mom replacement, and dad.

At my first appointment (August 2011) my husband went with me. I was unable to leave the house without a blanket, I had constant chills and I looked like a lobster from inflammation. But this doctor looked at me and said calmly, "I have seen worse than you." I wanted to give him a big kiss! I seriously thought I was done for, that I was a freak show, and that once again I would get that familiar doctor's puzzling look and an "I don't know." Although he used a combination of prescription drugs and natural remedies, he seemed to know more about my condition than any other doctor I had talked to. He had studied under Dr. William G. Crook who wrote "The Yeast Connection" and other related books. He explained, as it does in the book, that both overuse of steroids and antibiotics can lead to a yeast problem. He put me on a prescription anti-fungal right away, talked to me about the importance of rotating foods in my diet so as to not increase my allergic response to the foods I was eating. He also put me on some herbal teas, Vitamin E and a probiotic. I was on this regimen for at least 6 months, My diarrhea was under control again and itching was down to a minimum of 5-10 minutes a day, usually at night. This doctor did several things for me. He restored my faith in the medical community. He geuinely wanted to help me, understood my condition somewhat, showed me compassion, and gave me hope. He also taught me not to believe in every latest craze for health remedies. For example, while under his care, I had the experience of watching the documentary "Fat, Sick, and Nearly Dead", the story of a man who recovered from his serious health problems, including excema by going on a juice fast and changing his diet and lifestyle. This was a new remedy for me, juicing to heal, and I wanted to try it. My doctor okayed it but warned me my "gut" would probably not be able to handle the sugar in the juices, even if just vegetables, and that I needed the fiber right now. He also was concerned that I might increase my allergic response by juicing foods I could eat as it made them highly concentrated. He was unfortunately, right about all of it. My diarrhea returned, and I developed more sensitivity to the foods I juiced. The following were the detox symptoms I had while juice cleansing :1. extreme bloatedness around the abdomen, like I was pregnant. 2. Lots of itching 3. cold sweats (at one point I changed my clothes 5 times in one day, this was not heat related.) 4. nausea 5. chills 6. irritability. So all in all, a roaring good time! In all seriousness though, if you are trying to get through a chronic health problem and have to dump some toxins in one way or another, you will probably have to put up with some kind of detox symptoms. And this is not to say juicing or juice fasting in moderation may not be a good thing for someone else. It obviously helped that man, and a good friend of mine with another chronic illness was helped greatly by it. It just wasn't the right thing for me at the time. Overall, this doctor did help to dig me out of the ditch and put me back on my feet, he just wasn't the final step.

I had also begun going to Accupuncture during my time with this doctor (who approved of and encouraged it) at the advice of friends and co-workers, and believe this significantly contributed to the healing in this stage of my health journey as well. At some point though, I was not getting worse, but also not improving anymore, and when we got the name of yet another doctor about 45 minutes from our home, one with promising stories from people we knew, it was time to move on.

Thorughout this whole journey, I was journaling about what I was going through. I thought the following was a good snapshot of the frustration juxtaposing the faith and hope you have to have when dealing with a chronic illness. This was during the above time but before I began juicing:

"I have learned that you are in fact what you eat, and only you can decide to take control of your health. No one will make you. If you're lucky like me though, God will place many people in your life who will not let you stay sick if they can help you. I have also learned that nothing is hopeless, no matter how hopeless it seems. My doctor has been taking me off of Diflucan to see how I fare, and I have not responded well. I asked him one time what is the longest time he has had someone on it, and he said 4 years. I have been on it for 6 months or so, so I guess it is just a drop in the bucket. I have been struggling a bit with depression as I was under the illusion that I am almost well, until taken off the Diflucan. I also began trying foods I formerly could not eat, such as nuts, beans, and some fruits that were not organic, and not responding well to that either. My doctor has asked that I try an elimination diet, where I eliminate one food at a time for 3 days and see if it gets better or stays the same. Dealing with this condition requires a great deal of patience. It feels like I can see the end, but it is still far away, further than I realized. I am making the practice daily now, of reminding myself where I was (with the encouragement of my husband) and being grateful for what I have and where I am. So here is my grateful list:

1. I am grateful to be sleeping through the night. No more 3 a.m. itching sessions.
2. I am grateful to have a supportive family, that keeps believing and trusting and encouraging.
3. I am grateful to still have many things to choose from to eat. My doctor told me one of his patients only had 3 things she could eat. 3.
4. I am grateful to be able to get out more. My illness no longer controls my entire life.
5. I am grateful that my reactions are not so bad that I have to soak for hours in the tub every day.
6. I am grateful to not be freezing all the time.
7. I am grateful to be able to cook for my family again.
8. I am grateful to be able to exercise again.
9. I am grateful to be able to wear jewelry again without reactions.
10. I am grateful to be able to wear some of my shoes again, without reaction.
11. I am grateful to be able to be a mom again.
12. I am grateful for daylight.

I have been thinking about this scripture:
Job 13:15
"Though he slay me, yet will I hope in him."

 Some of the above improvements, were setback by my juicing experience, but I was allowed these little glimpses of hope on and off.

Ok so take a break, stretch a little, get some coffee. Stay tuned for Part 2! It's sooo much better!! Don't miss it! :) When you're ready, click here.

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