See Through

the life & times of a perpetual student

Down with the Sickness(es).

It’s been a couple months of feeling like shit in my household. I’ve had two bouts of bad colds, but nothing compared to what my husband has been dealing with.

Around Thanksgiving he returned sick after traveling overseas. He gets sick every time he flies, no matter how much we load him up with Airborne and Emergen-C and Vitamin C and anything else to boost his immune system. I joked that he brought back some exotic illness from afar.

But this time it was more than just a cold, he really was not doing well. Nosebleeds, flu-like symptoms and a painful ear infection landed him at Urgent Care.

Did I mention he rarely gets sick? This was the first time .. IN HIS LIFE .. that he had to take antibiotics. This is the first time he’s seen a doctor since he moved here in 2007. Shocking, yes? I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve been on antibiotics in my lifetime. But it’s different in the United States. Here they kind of push them, whereas in Holland (where my husband is from), it seems they go for more natural, easy approaches. At least that was my experience when I lived there.

Anyway, it took him a while to start feeling better but he eventually did.

Then, the night before Christmas Eve, something happened.

We were out at one of our usual dining spots. We both ordered and ate the same thing. We were nearly finished when suddenly, he coughed.

“Oh god, don’t choke,” I said, kinda jokingly. We left and I didn’t think much more about it.

We were planning to leave town the next day to visit family and had a long car trip ahead of us, so we stopped at the grocery store to pick up some supplies. Almost as soon as we got inside, he told me he was having difficulty swallowing and that it started after he coughed and nearly choked back at the restaurant. He looked super pale and I could see he was panicked. We dashed through the checkout and then debated outside if he should go to the ER. He said he just wanted to go home, so we rushed home and he went straight to rest. When he got up in about an hour, the problem seemed to be gone although his body temp was a little low. I gave him some club soda and then some ginger tea. He eventually warmed up and said he felt better.

Fast-forward to the next morning, he woke up feeling fine so we went ahead and kept our travel plans. We hadn’t even gotten out of our city yet when he decided to eat a cookie, and the problems started all over again. Difficulty swallowing, excess salivation, and a feeling that the food was getting stuck behind the breastbone.

We made it to our destination and he still felt terrible. We spent Christmas Eve in the ER. X-rays showed no obstruction. What they thought happened was that he swallowed a chunk of food that was too big (the night before at the restaurant) and it had left behind some irritation.

The Monday after Christmas, he still wasn’t improving. He missed a couple days of work. We came home and saw an ear, nose & throat doctor, who referred us to a gastroenterologist. He’s had both a nasal endoscopy and an upper endoscopy and neither showed anything other than some minor irritation. They gave him Nexium and he’s taken it daily.

Fast-forward to today: Since 12/23 he’s had nothing more to eat than soft foods. Bananas work fine. Chicken noodle soup in the blender is okay. Almond milk is good. Oatmeal works. Herbal tea, Ensure, Greek yogurt, all fine. He can eat a little bread if he dips it in the soup. But other than that .. well, that’s about it. He’s not getting much more than 1,000 – 1,200 cal/day. He’s keeping a food diary of exactly what he eats and drinks and what causes issues.

Things that made the problem worse: Dairy seems to aggravate it. Naked Juice Smoothies were bad. Today he couldn’t eat more than a few bites of a flatbread from Subway with just turkey. Rice wasn’t do-able.

He’s still complaining of difficulty swallowing and the feeling that food is getting stuck in his sternal area. On top of that, I think he’s stressing over what could be wrong, so therefore he’s not relaxing or sleeping very well either.

My question is .. what the hell could it be? 

If it’s just GERD, shouldn’t it be getting better by now? Do people with GERD also have extreme fatigue, and miss work over it?

How long does it take Nexium to start working, and are the side effects worth it? My Dad has been taking it going on 10 years now. I know my husband will not be thrilled to have to take something for that long. He doesn’t even like to take aspirin.

If they didn’t see a hernia, or any narrowing of the esophagus, or anything other than some minor irritation, then why can he still not eat normally?

I know these aren’t questions for a blog, these are questions for a doctor. And we’re calling his doctor back tomorrow. Right now I am just worrying out loud, getting it out there, wondering if anyone has had a similar experience, and trying not to freak out thinking that it’s something serious.

When someone you love is struggling just to eat normally, it is the worst feeling. I feel helpless. I feel guilty eating in front of him. Normally I know how to take care of him when he’s not feeling well. Normally I can tell him what supplement to take, or what tea to drink, or even find an OTC that would work for him. But this ..  this I don’t know how to fix and it’s not getting any better.

When we figure out what it is and can get him feeling good and his energy levels up, we can start focusing on making some big lifestyle changes .. whatever it takes.

Until then, I don’t know. I’m just at a loss and so worried and if I keep looking things up on Google or using the WebMD symptom checker I’m GOING TO LOSE MY FUCKING MIND. Don’t Google your symptoms, guys. Just don’t. It never ends well.

Anyway, thanks for reading and I appreciate all the advice and messages of concern I’ve gotten so far (Twitter and FB peoples, you know who you are, thank you).

Hoping tomorrow will be the day he wakes up feeling great.

Hoping hard that it all turns out to be okay.

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2 thoughts on “Down with the Sickness(es).

  1. Nathania Johnson on said:

    Wow. That is tough. I would maybe ask for a referral to the gastroenterology department at UNC or Duke. They’re used to seeing the more unusual cases.

    The other factor that stands out is coming home from overseas. So maybe an infectious diseases specialist?

    In the meantime, seeing a psychiatrist. Stress can definitely exacerbate the symptoms. I started seeing one when my sickness went undiagnosed. Even though they’re MDs, I didn’t realize how insightful she would be to my physical symptoms. (Plus, my gastro’s best guess was that I had IBS and that is often treated with antidepressants, of all things. My psych got me on one – and then I got better.)

    I hope he gets well soon. I know how much this sucks. I remember forcing myself to eat 1200 calories a day and keeping a diary, etc. It felt crazy to keep going to the doctor and having tests – but go until he gets better!

  2. Those are all great suggestions and ideas, thank you! I will run them all by him and we can talk to the doctor tomorrow about getting a referral. She said that if he wasn’t feeling better in a month, she would check further to see if his esophageal muscles are working properly, but I’m sure he won’t be happy waiting a month with no relief. He’s not a big guy, but he’s normally a big eater. The appetite is there still, just not the ability to get it down.

    It doesn’t seem to be getting worse, but it doesn’t seem to be getting better either, and it IS strange that this all started happening after his trip. He was in Amsterdam for 2 weeks visiting family & friends, but that includes the long flights and lots of trips on public transportation .. so germy.

    A psychiatrist is a good idea as well. I hadn’t heard about antidepressants for IBS, but it makes sense. He also has issues with IBS which I’m afraid they aren’t factoring in, even though he told them about it. In Holland they only recommended fiber, drinking lots of water and daily exercise so he’s never treated it any other way.

    I am glad you got better, and I appreciate the advice & encouragement. We will definitely keep going until he gets better. Whatever it takes!

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