13 August 2011

Why We Chose Midwifery Care :: Part 2 of 3

Before I jump into the content of the current post, I'll add the same disclaimer up top that I included in the previous post:

When it comes to having selected a midwifery model of care for my pregnancies, I speak only from my own experience. I claim no expertise in the fields of midwifery or obstetrics, and make no claims to know what is best for each individual pregnant woman and her family. Recognizing that a variety of experiences and reasons inform a woman's choice of who will provide her with the best care, I have nothing against any person who chooses an obstetrical model of care for her pregnancy and birth. I believe every woman should choose the form of care which she is convinced will provide the best experience and outcomes for her and for her family. 
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By the time I had graduated from college and progressed into my mid-twenties, I had moved well beyond the childhood that was characterized by 7-Up, saltines, and long waits in the allergist's office waiting room. A six-year course of allergy shots through my junior high and high school years successfully did away with my severe allergies. I was eating healthy, exercising regularly, and taking vitamins. I had reached a point in my life where I felt vibrant and healthy, going to the doctor only for a routine yearly check-up.

me @ whatcom falls park
July 2007

Early in the summer of 2006, I went to the doctor for a case of acid reflux. It didn't matter what I ate or when I ate it, or how many how much I consumed in the way of Tums, Pepto Bismol, or Rolaids. It was unrelenting. I went to my doctor, got a prescription for the acid reflux, and went on my way. The course of prescription treatment did its job -- for a little while. Within a few weeks, I was back in her office complaining of the same issue.

She prescribed the same course of treatment and since it had served me well in the past (this was not my first bout with acid reflux), and we thought we'd try it again. I took the sheet she had torn off her prescription pad, went to the pharmacy and had it filled. I took it gratefully, hoping I could experience relief in a few days. Instead of getting better however, it got worse. 

I went back again, explaining the latest round of meds had not only not worked, but that my symptoms had worsened. My stomach constantly hurt -- a burning, cramping hurt -- no matter what I ate or drank, or didn't eat or didn't drink. The pain was growing more persistent and more intense. New meds were added.

Over the course of the next several months, my symptoms continued to worsen. I continued to seek the help of my doctor, and other general practitioners as well -- not that I didn't trust my primary physician, but I thought perhaps a different perspective and a fresh set of eyes would help provide some insight into my condition. Over these months, prescriptions were added, dosages were modified, and my pain continued to worsen. The side effects of whatever I had increased. I was losing weight, suffering something with the rather unglamorous title of "leaky gut syndrome", a description apt enough that you can understand why I don't go into the details. My unexplained weight loss accelerated. Four pounds at first, then six, then nine. Then sixteen. Several months and six prescriptions later, and I wasn't any better. On top of that, I couldn't stay awake past six in the evening. My body was so fatigued. All the energy I once had was long gone.

One day, the pain was bad enough that I went to the ER. They put an IV in with a medication that helped me relax and relieved the pain I had. Though the nurses were incredibly caring and attentive, the doctor who saw me that day ended up charging me $600 for the sixty or so seconds of his time that it took him to write a prescription for vicodin (a drug that is notoriously hard on the stomach), and return to his very busy schedule.

I was finally referred to a specialist, another doctor who had a waiting list of several weeks. I went to his office and told him my symptoms, how long I had been dealing with them, and he proposed an endoscopy, a procedure in which a camera is fed down the esophagus and into the stomach so the doctor could see more specifically what might be going on in there. Finally -- someone was going to do some tests! Now we were getting somewhere. 

When I followed up with him for the results, he handed me a sheet of paper with pictures of my esophagus and stomach. The sheet said I had a hiatal hernia and gastric mucosal atrophy. Basically, my stomach was pushing up through my diaphragm, and the lining of my stomach was so damaged it had atrophied.

Would you like to treat this? he asked.

I was flabbergasted at the question. I thought it a ridiculous one, given the lengths I had gone to in seeking a solution, and how tired I was of dealing with stomach pain, unexplained weight loss, and more unpleasant symptoms than I could list. I answered him affirmatively and definitely. Of course I want to treat this, I replied. I'm miserable!

He said that basically he thought I had a "spastic" stomach that liked to squeeze a little too much, and then wrote me a low-dose prescription for an anti-depressant that he assured me would help the stomach to relax. With that, he whisked out of his office. Apparently, there was no time for questions -- for asking more specifics as to why I needed an anti-depressant for a gastrointestinal problem. I looked at the clock on the wall, hardly able to believe the blur of the visit that had just occurred. From the time the nurse had ushered me into the room and taken my blood pressure, to the time the doctor practically ran out the door was exactly four minutes. Four.

In the course of 8-10 months, I had seen five different physicians, taken seven different prescriptions (six of them concurrently), lost about thirty pounds by this point, still had no solutions, and was still in an incredible amount of pain. I was still obviously not healthy. On top of suffering with an unidentified and worsening condition, I felt like I was banging my head against a brick wall with the medical professionals whose help I sought. 

Frustrated, I sought a different form of treatment from a physician who had treated many people I knew personally. He came highly recommended. He was a naturopath

I went to his office and told him all of my story. And he listened. For a good thirty minutes, I sat opposite him in a blue velvet-covered chair and recounted the details of the previous ten or eleven months of gastric and medical misery I had endured. He took notes, asked clarifying questions. This was the first time in months I felt like someone was actually listening to me. At the end of it all, he rested his chin in his hand, and let out a hefty sigh. 

He affirmed what I already knew: whatever my condition was, it was not normal for a woman of my young age who, until that first bout with acid reflux, had been enjoying good health. He gave me an herbal intestinal repair complex, a natural supplement designed to help the stomach heal and repair the irritated and atrophied lining. He put me on an elimination diet -- a diet in which several potential problem-causing foods (e.g., sugar, alcohol, gluten, eggs, red meat, pork, dairy, etc.) are eliminated from the diet for three full weeks, the foods added back one at a time to see which foods specifically might be causing irritation. 

And he ordered extensive blood work. In the months and months I had been seeing doctors, this was the first time anyone had ordered blood work, the results of which showed that I was also severely anemic (my iron levels at about 25% of what they should be), had reduced thryoid function, reduced adrenal gland function, and a low red blood cell count. The elimination diet revealed an incredible sensitivity to gluten (e.g., anything made with wheat, kamut, spelt, barley, or rye) and to dairy. In addition to eliminating these things from my diet, I took supplements and treatments for my thyroid and adrenal glands. 

And over the course of just a few weeks of eating gluten- and dairy-free in conjunction with the supplements to get me back on track, my health improved considerably. I gained energy, and I had color back in my face. I could stay awake past six in the evening. My stomach no longer hurt, and I gained back about ten pounds. No more leaky gut! Follow-up blood work a few months later revealed things were back on course: my iron was normal, my red blood cell counts were healthy, my adrenal glands were functioning, and my thyroid was operating at optimal levels. I was healthy again!