September, 2014 - June, 2015
Apparently some antibiotics can have an immediate and/or delayed effect on the body. Neurological issues, tendon tears, muscle and joint problems, to name a few. I didn’t know this before I took them. I found out afterward, the hard way. About two weeks after the c-diff fiasco (or so I thought it was the end), I woke up one morning with a sore shoulder and figured I’d slept wrong. I tried to stretch it out but over the next week it got worse. Painful. It felt like there were glass shards all through the tendons or ligaments or in the socket. I couldn’t really tell specifically what it was coming from. I just knew it hurt like crazy. And I started to not feel so great again. Nothing specific, just a general overall I-don’t-feel-so-good feeling.
One day while trying to convince myself that I was being a baby and just needed to shake it off, I agreed to accompany my partner over to Memorial Lake, a local state park with a great walking trail, where she would walk with the dogs and I would go for a walk at my own pace so I didn’t feel pressured to keep up. I started down a path in one direction and Rachel in the other. I got about 100 meters from the car and realized I was dressed too warmly. I walked back to the car and started to take my hoodie off, being careful of my shoulder. When I moved my “injured” shoulder a little to get my arm out of the sleeve, I surprised myself with a yelp. Things started to go dark and I quickly lowered myself to the ground, knowing what was coming. I woke up a few minutes later as a couple was walking out of the woods and coming in to view. They looked concerned but then stayed away when they saw I was getting up. Right. The sweatshirt would stay on. I laid down on the picnic table nearby until Rachel got back with the dogs.
My shoulder continued to get worse through the end of September and October until I couldn’t move my right elbow more than an inch or two in any direction without passing out. My doctor ordered x-rays. But I didn’t even go get them taken. There was something more going on. Because at the same time my shoulder was deteriorating, other strange and unpleasant things were happening. The full body throbbing I’d experienced after the antibiotics in the hospital was back in full force. In addition, intense, constant muscle pain started in my upper arms and then got worse and started spreading down my arms and across my chest and down to my legs and feet. Then my other shoulder started getting the glass shards feeling but not as bad as the right as I used it much more being left-handed. My vision was suddenly no longer 20/20. I was having problems reading my computer screen and needed to constantly increase text size. The warm water in a shower was becoming increasingly intolerable and I started taking cool showers. Brain fog was setting in and focusing and concentrating was taking herculean effort. I was back to taking 14-16 hours a day to get 7-8 hours of work in. And to top it off, the c-diff kept recurring every few weeks.
One day in mid November, I let my partner talk me into getting out of the house and going on a little walk. She was trying to raise my spirits by getting me to one of my favorite running places - in the woods on a trail. It took more effort to protest than agree so I agreed, having no idea how I was going to manage. I knew what I felt like and walking even a small distance was unfathomable. The 10 steps from the couch to the bathroom was often daunting.
We got out of the car and walked 100 ft or so on the gravel trail before my legs started to go rubbery and my heart started doing funny things. I’d reached my limit. I somehow made it back to the car and couldn’t even cry on the way home for lack of energy. Once home, I got to the couch and sat. Rachel brought me some food but I was so spent, I couldn’t lift the fork to my mouth. The total body weakness lasted a couple hours and then started to lift and I returned to my normal level of wretchedness. From then on though, the slightest activity would cause my heart to start beating funny. And my weekly shower turned into a bath because I couldn’t stand long enough to take a shower.
Sometime during this decline, I realized that all these symptoms were related and caused by the effects of the antibiotics. My body doesn’t normally do things like this on its own. And the only thing that had changed recently was taking the antibiotics. And going to the doctor and telling her all my symptoms would be a waste of time as she’d just send me to numerous specialists, each of which would try to suppress some symptom related to his or her specialty. Just the thought of that was exhausting. Plus, I didn’t need symptom suppression. I needed someone to help me correct the underlying issue caused by the antibiotics. And if I tried to tell them that all this stuff that was happening was gut-related, and that I knew that because if I stopped eating for a few days or a week, the symptoms would decrease, I’d just be laughed at as the GI specialist had laughed at me for describing my gut symptom as throbbing. I didn’t waste my time.
This second lap around this mountain of illness had the added bonus of a declining mental state as well. During the first 8 months of the initial infection, my attitude was always, “I just need to get through this current episode and then I’ll start to get better.” I always had hope. This time I wasn’t seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I didn’t understand what was going on at the time and the worse it got, the more my spark of hope dwindled.
By the end of November, I was fearing for my life. I felt awful, my weight was back down, and getting 500 calories in me in a day was an extraordinary day. I started calculating how long I had left according to how rapidly I was losing weight. Something had to change.
In the beginning of December, I had an appointment with the doctor who was against the antibiotics. It had been 3 months since I’d last seen him. There was no possibility of faking my way through the appointment. I’d have to level with him. Plus I was hoping he’d have a solution to turn things around. And if there was ever a doctor who would believe me that these weren’t just individual, random symptoms but connected and related to the gut, it was him.
I showed up at the appointment and he knew quickly that I was in crisis mode. He saved the “I told you so” for another time and quickly determined a course of action. He sent me away with a bunch of vitamins (his autoimmune protocol) and something called Udo’s Oil. I was praying this stuff, whatever it was, would help because I was at my wit’s end. Throughout my life, I’d always had in the back of my mind that if things ever got bad enough, there was always suicide. I’d never actually contemplated it. It was just something I kept in my back pocket. A way out if I ever needed it. And to date, I never did. I made a deal with myself on the way home from the doctor. I’d give this Udo’s stuff and the autoimmune protocol one month. If I didn’t see any improvement by January 1, 2015, I would take that suicide card out of my back pocket and examine it and come up with a plan.
That night I took the first dose - 3 TBSP of Udo’s Oil and a double dose of probiotics before bed on an empty stomach. Holy hell. Major full body reaction within 15 minutes. I still don’t know how to describe it other than to say that it felt like someone had just squirted engine oil directly into my veins, if you can in any way imagine how that would feel. The purpose of it was to coat the inside of the intestines, but this felt like it seeped directly into my veins. It was 4 am before the effects subsided enough to fall asleep.
The next night I decided to take a more conservative approach with my sensitive system and only took 1 TBSP. Over the next month, as the reaction to it lessened, I gradually worked up to the 3 TBSP. I also started following the diet outlined here for gut permeability with the logic that the more easily digestible the food is that I’m eating, the more easily my gut will be able to break it down and the less reaction I’ll have.
It was working. There were a few hiccups but after about 3 months, while my shoulder still hurt like a !@#$%, I could move it without risk of passing out. By May, I was back to about 60-70 percent, depending on the day. My heart was back to normal, my 20/20 vision returned. Every single symptom had lessened or disappeared. I started extrapolating to calculate my return to full health. At the current rate, I should be back to running by October. I started making plans. Surely I was well enough to travel a little and take advantage of being able to work from anywhere with an internet connection. My favorite web developer conference was coming up in June. I decided I was going to attend and then go stay in my favorite place in the U.S. - Leadville, CO at the Leadville Hostel - for three weeks afterwards. I’d have full use of the kitchen there so would be able to follow my diet. And once I got there, the only strenuous thing I’d need to do is walk the three blocks to the grocery store once or twice a week. I could manage that even on my bad days if I went in the evenings during the time when I feel my best.
I was excited! Running and hiking and biking were so close I could taste them. I even went for a run on a few really good days in May and early June. And mid June off to Colorado I went! And promptly returned home 24 hours later.