Archive for May 23rd, 2011

May 23, 2011

well well well…

A few weeks ago, I was flirting with the idea of visiting a chiropractor. I’ve never been before, so I did what every sensible/shameless person does when they need medical advice: I asked every single person that I see regularly for their recommendations or opinions.

I’m not exactly sure what this means about me or my circle of friends and acquaintances, but I didn’t talk to a single chiropractic enthusiast during my research. Instead, I had variations of this conversation:

“Urgh. Chiropractors? Really? That’s scary. And you get addicted. And why don’t you just go to a doctor, anyway?”

Which is a very good question that led me to having even more awkwardly medically detailed conversations with my friends, but really got me thinking about my body, my health, and what has changed in my life in the past few years.

I am, on the whole, a healthy person. I don’t get sick a lot, I don’t have a lot of strange ailments, I go to the doctor for physicals and the occasional Rx for antibiotics but not much else.

My third year in college, however, I started to feel like crap.

It started with a stomachache. Nothing gross, nothing even particularly describable. Just an unpleasant, after-eating sensation that I translated roughly as “Food, body does not want you.” It was worst after dinner – I’d find myself curled up in bed with a book or TV until I got tired enough to sleep most nights of the week. And even the nights I wasn’t sick, I was tired. Really tired. Tired when I woke up, tired when I was in class, tired when I got home.

So I went to the doctor. I saw a nurse practitioner who I loved. She was seriously nice. But she also prescribed to me a battery of tests and bloodwork, enough that my parents were a little alarmed by the bills being sent home.

My blood proved that my tiredness wasn’t Lyme’s Disease, but it could be allergies or slight anemia. Get thee to the allergist for tests. A chest ultrasound revealed mitral valve prolapse… maybe. This could make you tired, but there’s nothing to do about it anyway. No h. pylori in my blood so I didn’t have an ulcer, so off to a abdominal CT. 64 oz of disgusting liquid later, I have “slight ascites” but have otherwise healthy-looking organs.

By the time I finished all my visits, I had nothing but a handful of Allegra-D samples, an Rx for over-the-counter antacids, and some prenatal vitamins.

During the next year, I started having a lot of sinus troubles. It started with something like 10 common colds in six months, two or three of which turned the corner to full blown sinus infections. When I moved home – away from all those collegiate germs – I stopped getting sick so often, but sometimes sinus pressure would creep up on me and stay for a day, two days, a week. These headaches were unlike anything I’d ever encountered: I wasn’t stuffed up at all, but it would hurt like hell to breathe through my nose, my face would be tender, my ears and teeth would ache. My whole face would throb when I bent over or stood up too fast. Tylenol did little to help.

My next physical was with a new family doctor. I told her about my rash of colds and sinus infections, and my persistent sinus headaches. She said, “Well, there really isn’t anything we can do about that.”

So I found myself a new doctor. I was optimistic. She re-ran some of my bloodwork from two years prior and saw those pesky allergens and referred me to an allergist (and also noticed that my prenatal vitamin was actually elevating my iron levels TOO high). My new allergist demanded a new set of skin-prick testing (ouch), and based on my symptoms expected me to have a dozen hidden allergies causing my discomfort.

Alas, the tests came back with only two, neither of which severe: dust and mold.

I signed up for allergy shots – for a year, I went diligently, twice a week then once, and read my book in the waiting room for fifteen minutes before leaving. I tried every allergy medicine under the sun, but the only thing that gave me any relief was the straight-up, meth-makin’ pseudoephedrine. At that point I’d discovered Excedrin, as well: whenever my headaches hit, I could knock them back with a few pills. They made me loopy and relatively pain-free, but after a few weeks I started to get anxious, jittery, and my heart raced over 120 beats per minute after a minute and a half on an exercise bike.

The system wasn’t working. I went back to the doctor for adjustments on my meds, and while I waited for my magical allergy shots to kick in, I went back to the doctor.

First, an ENT. A camera into my sinuses revealed no polyps or growths. An MRI of my head revealed no blockages and an only minorly deviated septum. Hearing those results – my head aching that day, my ears painful to the touch of his little ear scope – was the first time I cried in a doctor’s office.

He felt bad and wrote me a referral to a neurologist. I told him, the only guy in town, that the headaches were usually one-sided. He told me they were migraines, then, and asked me if I wanted medicine to stop them or prevent them. I chose prevent. He wrote me an Rx and told me they would make me gain weight.

I filled it, but never took one. And I stopped going to the doctor.


That was about two years ago.

I didn’t even go in for a yearly physical after that. After almost a month of completely bizarre, out-of-character insomnia, I visited my new family doctor for advice. She asked me one question – what medications I was taking. I told her I was taking my allergy medicine – but that I’d stopped taking the daytime pill (Sudafed) because it made me too crazy, and that I was only taking the nighttime pill (no Sudafed), but only sometimes, and most of the time in the morning and not at night.

She said, “Oh, that must be it. Stop taking your allergy medicine and see if that helps.”

I said, “Are you sure? I just told you that I don’t take it that often and that it’s a specifically “Nighttime” kind of pill.”

She said, “Yes. Most definitely.”

I was enraged. Not because she was wrong. She was probably right. If I couldn’t take the daytime pill, I probably couldn’t take the nighttime pill either.

But what she didn’t do was listen to me. She didn’t look at my patient history. She didn’t ask me if I was doing double shots of espresso before bed, or double shots of vodka. She didn’t ask me if I was staying up late or going to bed early or just got fired from my job or was applying to grad school or perform any sort of physical exam.

After years of prescriptions, tests, and medical bills, I almost completely gave up on “organized medicine.”

And two years later, I’m still here.

I don’t currently take any medications or get any allergy shots

And guess what I don’t have?

  • Sinus infections
  • Post nasal drip
  • Allergy symptoms
  • Stomachaches
  • Insomnia
  • Debilitating Headaches
  • Racing Heartbeat

I am obviously far from a licensed medical-advice giver, and I still am struggling with a few medical-type issues, but this is what works for me, and it’s nothing that a doctor ever told me.

For sinuses and post-nasal drip and allergies…

It helps to not get sick in the first place. Wash hands. Take vitamins. Eat vegetables. Get enough sleep.

If my sinuses start to bother me, I don’t wait around to see if they will “get better.” I pop two little red Sudafeds (THE STUFF FROM BEHIND THE COUNTER) and get on with my life. They are fast acting and not slow-release like my other allergy medication, so I don’t get much SudafedOverload/MethHeadSymptoms.

Drink hot water if your throat hurts. Nasal irrigation (I just do it when my sinuses are troubling me, but my boyfriend says daily irrigation is a musician-trick for keeping healthy and moist and such).

It could be that my new home in Boston is just less allergic than my parents’ abode, but I really don’t have any of those sinus symptoms I had for so long, and when they do show up they are associated with illness or a change in the weather.

For stomachaches…

For me, these are 100% related to stress and diet.

I eat smaller portions of food more often rather than waiting for a Big Dinner.

I try not to eat after dinner unless my hungry stomach is going to keep me awake.

If I’m stressing out, I don’t eat something that’s going to just make me feel sick (a pepperoni pizza) and instead eat something mildly healthy (anything that’s not a pepperoni pizza).

Get enough sleep.

For insomnia and racing heartbeat…

Dropping the daily Sudafed was a first step toward the larger goal of Paying Attention to How Substances Work In Your Body and with your daily life.

Example: during this “racing heartbeat” period, I was going to the gym after work. Of course, I was kind of TIRED after work, so I thought a little extra caffeine on my drive home would be okay if it would help me reach my goal. I think Mindy Kaling talked up these little drink-mixer things on her blog, so I decided to give them a try instead of my normal Diet Coke/sugary energy drink. It took me a few weeks to realize that they were making my work-outs crazy – my heart would race, I’d come home after a normal workout and die. It took me months later to read about one of the ingredients – stevia – and how some people are just sensitive to it and it makes their hearts race and generally go nuts.

I used to be in a bad way caffeine-wise. A normal day could include 2-3 shots of espresso on my way to work, 2 refills on a 32 oz. Diet Coke at lunch, an energy drink at 3, maybe another Diet on the way home from work, maybe another 32 oz fountain Diet Coke after my work out.

That is not really an optimal way to live.

On a day to day basis, I drink coffee in the morning. When I’m writing a paper or something, I might have some more caffeine in the afternoon or evening, depending on what I can get a hold of, but that is very rare – two or three times a semester.

I don’t take caffeine after 3 or 4 p.m. because it keeps me up.

I don’t really take fake sugars any more, either. They kind of give me a headache.


For debilitating headaches…

For me, this was a little of The Sum of the Parts.

Getting Enough Sleep helps. Not having a Sinus Infection helps. Not being so stressed out helps a lot.

But Listening to Your Body was a big part here.

I do still have headaches, but I understand them more.

Maybe they are sinus related, allergy related, maybe they are migraines. But if they are, they are still triggered and complicated by muscle strain and stress. 

My guess is this:poor posture + old tennis injury + carrying my stress in my neck and shoulders = muscle tension. Muscle tension travels down the arm, down the back, up the neck, to my head, etc. Somewhere in there, some nerves start firing that send the pain all over. When I say they are one-sided headaches, they aren’t just one side of my head – I can have pain on one entire side of my body. The firing nerves inflame my sinus cavities/nasal passages/face. The muscle tension wires up my jaw and hurts my ear. Sometimes, this turns into a full-fledged, nausea+aura migraine, but it starts with the muscles.

Not a sinus polyp or a dust allergy or a brain malfunction or an infection.

Just a muscle.

So I’ve gotten better at noticing when things are getting worse and trying to prevent the headache from spreading. I don’t carry heavy bags on stressful days or walk to work, or even to the train sometimes. I only work one 12 hour day a week (I’m not sure I’ve gone a single 12 hour day without starting to get some kind of headache). If my shoulder is hurting when I get home, I lay down with a heating pad or an ice pack. If my shoulder is hurting during the day, I slap on an IcyHot patch and take an Excedrin right away, before it gets out of control. Lately, I’ve noticed “flare ups” from typing too much in a certain position, so I try new ones. I go to bed early if I’m not feeling well.

Pay Attention.

This is still the weirdest physical thing that has ever happened to me and I have yet to read about a single other person with similar symptoms, and this is one of the reasons I was quizzing people about chiropractic care in the first place.

But during the past three of four years, I’ve gained some control over my health, without the help of doctors. I used to be at work with a headache, unable to focus on anything at all, and just cry. Cry because I was in pain, cry because I was frustrated, cry because I just felt like a hopeless, unwell person.

I don’t feel that way anymore.

So I’m writing this oppressively long blog post not so I can gross out my friends and family with all of this overly detailed medical history and other assorted TMI. I’m writing this so that maybe somebody will Google some combination of symptoms that they’ve spent the last months Googling, looking for some single other person who isn’t quite “sick” but can’t get a hold of their health and as much as they’d like them to, doctors just aren’t helping?

Here I am.

I’m not 100% healed, I’m not 100% perfect, but I am well.

 P.S. Get enough sleep.