Everyday, I deal with troublesome symptoms. I used to be an active mother and teacher, a career I absolutely loved, but unfortunately had to eventually resign from due to my health. The evening of February 16, 2013 I went to bed as a "normal" 35 year old and woke up the following morning to an unexpected life of chronic illness. One where food was no longer a pleasure, but instead a nightmare of pain, nausea, and vomiting. I spent months unable to eat anything at all, in and out of ERs and doctor offices dehydrated, in pain, and in need for someone to listen to and actually willing to help me. However, I was unable to find any answers or relief with the exception of IV fluids, usually accompanied with blame for allowing myself to become dehydrated. According to them, I just needed to drink more water, what they didn't understand was I couldn't take in anything without drastic debilitating symptoms. It took numerous different doctors and two hospitals before I FINALLY found someone that understood the reality and severity of my health issues, took my condition seriously, and admitted me for the first of many hospitalizations. Even today, I still fear meeting new doctors as a result of some of the negative, degrading, and hopeless experiences I have been through. Thankfully, through determination and God's grace, I currently have an awesome medical team of doctors that authentically care about me, my quality of life, and that I can actually feel comfortable with trusting.
At this time, the majority of my nutrition literally enters my small intestines through my GJ feeding tube I've had since 2013 and then exits my small intestines through the ileostomy that I've had since 2016, when I had my colon removed due to colonic inertia. Due to chronic dehydration, I have had a few PICC lines and PORTS. Both are types of central lines that are threaded through a vein to the entrance of the heart, but differ in the location they are placed and how they are accessed. I, personally, have a PICC right now to infuse Lactated Ringers at home throughout the week and for a couple of iron infusions when I am anemic. (Other people may use central lines for things such as saline hydration, TPN, antibiotics, and/or chemo.)
Having central lines can most definitely be beneficial but also come at a great risk for central line blood infections and sepsis. I have been hospitalized numerous times for infections that required removal of my line, broad course antibiotics while inpatient at hospital for at least a week, sometimes longer, and then having a new line placed. I have had friends, likely you have as well, that died as a result of central line bloodstream infections. It is a scary risk, but necessary for some in order to have any kind of quality of life.
Daily I deal with pain, nausea, and fatigue. The majority of all of my health problems can be labeled as chronic GI motility disorders, (recently being rebranded as Disorders of Gut-Brain Interaction by Dr Drossman and the Rome Foundation). The Research Enhancement Act is a bi-partisan bill that we are currently trying to have co-sponsored and passed in the House of Representatives. It is also known as H.R. 3396. If passed, it can help increase research and awareness for GI motility disorders including but not limited to gastroparesis, colonic inertia, GERD, achalasia, and pseudo-obstruction. Even if our problems are not cured in the immediate future, better awareness, more effective treatment options, and improved understandings of the causes and impact of these illnesses on our lives and our family's lives can. Our successful #DCgreen2019 Gastroparesis March on Washington patient rally, our Facebook live Virtual March on Washington event, and our attendance and participation in legislature meetings with IFFGD (International Foundation for GI Motility Disorders) at their Hill Day event show that together we can, and will, make our voices heard to make a difference.
In closing, I want to encourage each of you to never give up. Keep advocating for yourself and/or your loved ones. Find a doctor that is right for you. If you're not getting answers or aren't satisfied with the care that you are receiving, keep searching. You know your body best. When plagued with chronic illness we learn very quickly how important it is to actually create a medical team, one that knows and understands us and wants to work WITH us on devising the most effective plan for our personal best quality of life. Communication, empathy, and compassionate care are all beneficial along with medical knowledge.
Learn from your experiences, allow them to make you stronger. Remember you are NEVER alone. You will have difficult days, we all do. You may have days that you feel like giving up, I know I have. And that's okay! If you need to take it one day, one hour, or heck even one minute at a time - do so. B-R-E-A-T-H-E. Reach out for a supportive hand or a sympathetic ear when needed. Nothing is wrong with that. There's a whole community of people that care for you and are here for you, whether it's family and friends nearby, ones you connect with online, or both. I promise you are not alone. On more tolerable days, if possible, offer helping hands or ears to others. It doesn't matter if it's in person, by mail, over the internet, or by phone. Small actions can make a positive difference in someone else's day or even life, just like they can for you. Find a way to have your voice heard. Whether it's by social media, writing, talking, attending conferences or events, contacting your legislators, or something else - you have a purpose and you have a message that can make a difference. You may even discover that sharing your experiences helps you feel better mentally and emotionally. To me it helps bring the feeling of purpose and meaning to my life.