Let me tell you about c-diff. C-diff is short for Clostridium difficile. It is a bacteria that can live in our colons along with lots of other bacteria. It is difficult to kill and can live on surfaces for months. It’s also resistant to most antibiotics. So when you take an antibiotic and start killing off the other bacteria that normally destroy c-diff, c-diff will flourish. And flourish it does. Although flourish isn’t exactly the term I would have used to describe day 10.
Now let me tell you about the effects of c-diff. Many people associate c-diff with diarrhea. That’s accurate. But it’s more than that. It’s not like any diarrhea you’ve ever had if you haven’t had c-diff. If I ate anything, within 30 minutes it would start a crusade in my gut to rid itself of whatever it was by whatever means necessary. It was amazing how much diarrhea could be produced by eating a small hard boiled egg.
And it was sneaky. Once the entire GI tract was emptied of every last molecule of food, it would start to calm down and I’d feel not just hungry but ravenous. Thinking that an appetite was a good sign and that things were starting to turn around, silly me, I’d eat again, only to spark another 6 hour episode.
The diarrhea was bad and the nausea was too but that was only half of it. Every episode brought with it a feeling of impending doom. It was like my body was screaming to me that this was serious.
I stopped taking the antibiotics on day 11 figuring that they were probably the cause because this was definitely not normal modus operandi for my body. I tried to ride it out, hoping it would correct itself but no such luck. By the next day, the diarrhea had turned to blood. A visit to the ER brought little consolation. It was there that I learned that the antibiotics I was on were of the powerful variety and that it was likely c-diff. Unfortunately, they couldn’t confirm because I couldn’t produce a stool sample. I was completely empty and I refused to eat for fear of another attack. They did test me and made sure I wasn’t bleeding to death (it’s the small wins you have to hang on to!), but didn’t want to put me on c-diff antibiotics because they didn’t know what my doctor was up to with the other three antibiotics. “Go home and call your doctor on Monday,” said the ER doctor. This was Saturday. No eating this weekend then. Got it. And parting words from the ER nurse, “Good luck. It took me 6 months to get rid of it when I had it.” Sigh.
Monday came and the doc ordered a c-diff test and told me to get some saccharomyces boulardii. What in the world was that and where do I find it? In the drug store with the probiotics. I started noticing improvement within 12 hours of taking the first dose. Ahhh. The test came back positive 3 days later.
I didn’t understand. I was already taking probiotics. I did so religiously, at least 3 hours after the antibiotics. Why was this probiotic different? And another question: how in the world did other Lyme people take antibiotics for months on end without a problem and I end up with c-diff after only 10 days? I started doing some research. First, the probiotic I was taking, which was approved by my doctor, had a potency of 1 million bacteria. By comparison, most other probiotics are measured in the billions. And 7 billion/day is considered the lower limit of a therapeutic dose for one of the top brands like Natren. A dose of VSL#2, another top probiotic, is in the 200+ billion. Well, that explained things. That was a heck of a hard way to learn that lesson.
The c-diff was also the start of another lesson that would take me another year or so to trust. Our bodies talk to us if we listen. Illness is just one way. And that feeling of impending doom wasn’t just me overreacting. I learned later that c-diff is indeed serious. People lose their colons over it. A normal, healthy immune system can keep it under control. But not only was my immune system compromised from the hell of the last year, I’d just wiped out a good bit more of it with those antibiotics. The impending doom feeling was my body sending me signals that this wasn’t something to just ride out, like I’d tried for 8 months with the other infection. Thankfully, I’d listened.
I also realized that I should have gone with my gut (pun intended) about whether to even take the antibiotics or not. Just the fact that they are called “antibiotics” which means “against life” made me hesitate and question whether I should take them. It was out of fear that I did. Fear that the infection was still active because my gut still wasn’t back to normal 3 months after the 3 different IV antibiotics in the hospital. And because I still had the mindset that western medicine instills in us of an instant fix. I didn’t understand the depth of the illness, nor the long process of recovery. I kept comparing the illness to a broken leg. Six weeks in a cast and a month of physical therapy and you’re back in business. Or a friend of mine who’d had open heart surgery for a quadruple bypass over the summer and eight weeks later was back to running. I questioned whether I was really getting better because it was going so slow and thought the antibiotics would hasten things along. They certainly did, but in the wrong direction, as I was to discover their delayed effects over the next 3 months.