How I Got Sick

Talk about a case of appendicitis gone wrong…

After a 36-hour protest insisting I didn’t need the hospital, I finally went in and a CT scan showed I had an inflamed appendix. My family (aka my most favorite people) was coming to visit in just a few short days, and there was no way I was going to be sidelined recovering from surgery. So, I was offered another option: antibiotics! “It’s the preferred method of appendicitis treatment in Europe…” I was told. So I eagerly told the hospital staff to sign me up!

I spent some time in the hospital with antibiotics pulsing through my veins and slowly the pain started residing, my fever went away, and all things indicated success. Antibiotics were my new heroes!  I left with 10 days of Flagyl and Cipro in hand, and was super glad to have all organs intact.  And so began my crash course in the not so pretty side of antibiotics…

About a week later, I was hit with what I thought was the WORST stomach virus of my life.

For 48 hours I spent more time in the bathroom than out of it. We’re talking like 20+ trips to the bathroom per day sort of thing, no exaggeration. The speed at which food seemed to be moving through became downright illogical.

My last day before the C. Diff really hit. Something didn’t feel quite right, and so began the “force smiles through activities” phase. Warriors won!

I did some research and used my WebMD degree to diagnose myself with an “antibiotic induced infection.” I learned that antibiotics took no mercy as they ran through your digestive tract, obliterating all bacteria types, both the bad and the precious good. This left the door open for the bad bacteria, like a bacteria called C. Diff, to repopulate and run rampant without the good bacteria there to keep it in balance, and as a result, one could get very sick. So, I begrudgingly set up another doctor’s appointment, assuming I’d get a few more drugs to reverse the infection and all would be well.

Well, I got to the doctor’s office, was laughed at when I blamed the antibiotics, was wheeled straight to the ER, and a few snips later my appendix was gone. I was sent home with painkillers and some anti-nausea medication and guess what happened? You guessed it. I set up camp in the bathroom once more, now with the added grief and pain of losing my dear appendix. After a few more days, I called the doctors back and demanded a test for C. Diff. “You’re way too young to get C. Diff,” I was told, but I sheepishly begged and got the lab tests I asked for.

Two days later, I got a call confirming that I did in fact have C. Diff…

…that it was a nasty thing, and that I needed to be put on more Flagyl (antibiotic) immediately. Hold the phone…are you thinking what I’m thinking? Weren’t antibiotics the reason I had the C. Diff in the first place? I was so very confused. So I started Googling again, called my pharmacy friend, nurse sister, nurse mom, getting everyone I could think of to weigh in. My recent research into the negative repercussions of antibiotics was sounding alarm bells for me – I was not about to haphazardly sign up for another round. Despite my confusion, my research proved that an initial round of antibiotics usually was enough to get rid of C. Diff. Sometimes bad cases required a second round of antibiotics with tapering. And in the most extreme cases, kicking C. Diff required what was called a Fecal Matter Transplant. Are you kidding me?! That’s disgusting…I don’t care how sick I get…I’d never do that. (Guys, that is some serious foreshadowing right there).

So, I was started on a potent antibiotic, Vancomycin. I did the 10-day course, but all along my problems persisted, so I was told to continue taking the Vanco and began a tapered regimen (another week at 4 times a day, then a week at 3 times a day, then a week at 2 times a day, etc.).

At this point the weeks really started adding up.

I know I’m glossing over the specifics here, but those first few weeks with C. Diff really were Hell. It’s probably difficult to relate unless you’ve experienced the uncertainty of needing a bathroom at any given moment (I developed a new, profound sympathy for you Crohn’s, UC, and IBS sufferers!), but it really, severely impacts your quality of life. I couldn’t go to work, or even leave the house for that matter – what if I got in my car and needed a bathroom immediately? My super sweet friends kept offering to help with a visit or a grocery store run, but I was too embarrassed by my condition to see anyone and I certainly didn’t need groceries – food had become evil! My attempt to even watch a movie with Steve (my hubs) turned into a 4-hour affair with all the “breaks” I needed to take.

I know these things might sound so very mundane on paper (and I know sick people suffer so very much more than anything I experienced), but as the days passed, things became achingly more difficult, lonely, and depressing. I missed life.

So, I finally made it through the tapering and was off antibiotics.

What followed was a glorious week. No more middle of the night antibiotics, my stomach was queasy but stable enough for work and fun, and to top it all off I even won a beer pong tournament. Pause. Beer?! If I had known what I know now, I would have realized my wounded digestive tract needed to be treated like the most sacred of temples. I’m SMH at the naïve me that was failing to understand the fragile bacteria warzone that my gut had become…beer certainly wasn’t what it needed.

Beer pong success! Gut flora failure…

Nonetheless, things were looking up as I headed into a fun San Diego weekend with some friends. I was back to life!

So it’s the first morning in San Diego and we go to brunch. I take one bite of my salad (I was still being super cautious so I had modified it to a plate of lettuce, no dressing).  Instantly, the unmistakable, horrible, C. Diffy feeling returned. I tried to pull things together in the restaurant bathroom, hoping it was just a fluke, and then we headed out to a park. FYI, a park might be the single worst place for a person with C. Diff and what followed is now quite comical. Let’s just say I bought tickets to a car museum in said park, just so I could get to a bathroom. The guy I purchased the tickets from must have thought I was the world’s BIGGEST car enthusiast as I bolted through the door. Steve had a much better time at that car museum than I did.

The rest of my fun weekend was shot, and I returned home to a lab test that revealed the C. Diff was in fact back. NO! Back on the Vanco for me. This time the bad bacteria proved too resilient for even an antibiotic as strong as Vanco. The medication wasn’t working and it was time to look at other alternatives. Luckily for me, my GI doctor at the time was quite evolved in his philosophy on fighting C. Diff and immediately encouraged me to consider a Fecal Matter Transplant (FMT). For those unfamiliar with an FMT, the mechanics of the procedure involve taking stool from a healthy donor (someone whose digestion is on point!) and placing it in the intestines of a C. Diffy person usually through a colonoscopy. All that glorious good bacteria from the healthy donor crowds out the bad C. Diff bacteria and a normal gut flora is restored.

That’s super gross, right?

I thought so too. But I now think (as do many others) that FMTs might become one of the most incredible miracle workers of modern medicine. For people with recurrent C. Diff, FMTs have a 90% success rate in getting rid of those pesky bugs. 90%!! But that’s not it – there’s talk that altering the gut flora through FMTs could be the answer for those suffering from IBS, Crohn’s, UC, and even crazier things like Parkinson’s, depression, anxiety, and so much more. I think it’s safe to say that the complex role bacteria plays in our bodies is still waiting to be beautifully uncovered.

So anyways, remember when I said I’d never ever be sick enough for an FMT? Well, I was wrong, I was sick enough. I was ready to try anything to regain control of my gut. After much research, I decided my husband was my best donor. There was just one problem – he was away for a summer internship in Detroit. So, my devoted husband took a 5-hour redeye to drop the Browns off at the Super Bowl (go Ravens!), then hopped right back on a plane. With what I needed in hand, I went in for my FMT hoping that it was going to be the 90% miracle that I read about.

Life post-FMT was different in one major way.

Me, pre-FMT (my mom takes pictures of everything). It was the day before my birthday. What a way to say goodbye to 27!

I no longer tested positive for C. Diff! As promised, the FMT was successful at restoring a balanced enough glut flora to keep the C. Diff in check. Unfortunately, all the symptoms that I thought would disappear along with that negative C. Diff test decided to hang out longer. Much longer. Months and months longer, without any indication that they’d decide to move on any time soon.

I still needed the bathroom multiple times a day and I was left with this constant, awful, churning feeling in my stomach that just never seemed to be willing to give me a break. Mornings in particular were a torturous mix of nausea and stomach churning that sometimes required hours of nursing before I could even leave the house. In a day I did only what I had to (work) and was left without any willpower for socializing or even running errands for that matter. I cried my way home from work, more days than not, on the phone with my mom and dad. Not even sleep was an escape as my gut never failed to wake me up several times a night. I became guilt-ridden having to choose the couch over family events, my cousin’s wedding, a best friend’s bachelorette party, and countless social events that I had to “flake out” of at the last minute. I learned what it was like to just get through life and hated it.

My doctors told me that this just happens sometimes after an infection like C. Diff, and they labeled it “post-infectious IBS.”

I was told that post-infectious IBS has no cure, and it could last a few months, years, or even a lifetime. A lifetime? F*** a few years, let alone a life time (sorry for the language, Mom!). I was not signing up for that. It was time to turn all the intensity I could muster towards finding a treatment, medicine, or diet that would prove to be my one-way ticket out of this new found way of living.

And so began the phase I call, How I Tried To Get Better…