My body betrays me

For the most part I’ve always considered myself healthy. Yeah, I have exercise-induced asthma, but I’ve overcome that by avoiding exercise (grinning). I have a sensitive stomach, but everybody in my family is that way, so I just use a lot of over-the-counter antacids and anti-diarrhea medications, and don’t eat the day before a really important or stressful event.

I am usually in pain somewhere on my body, but I’ve always attributed that to my foolish youthful years when I engaged in behaviors like body building (trust me, ladies, even if you can leg press 450 pounds, that doesn’t mean you SHOULD), mountain biking (my friend Dawnn went with me off-road ONCE and refused to go again, stating that I was ‘crazy’) and firefighting (to this day, all I have to do is press on my right shoulder and I remember so clearly helping to lift a grass rig pump back onto a truck and feeling something ‘rip’ inside it). That shite all catches up with you eventually, so try to take care of yourselves, Dear Readers.

And if you look back a few posts, you can read about how I tend to faint pretty easily in the face of bodily insult, even though I don’t consider myself to be a ‘tightly-laced’ and fragile woman.  I’m hypothyroid due to an autoimmune malfunction, and just recently I was diagnosed with Sjögren’s Syndrome, another autoimmune disease in which my immune system attacks my moisture-producing glands.  It causes dry eyes, dry mouth, dry you-know, and general low-level misery.

Oh, and I’m also extraordinarily lazy and overweight, both of which may be either causal or resultant, depending on what type of mood I’m in that day. And don’t forget my history of depression, and a bunch of other stuff that has happened along the way: Carpal tunnel syndrome, gallstones, tonsillectomy…you get the picture.

I’ve always just dealt with things that come up by either a.) Ignoring them, or b.) Taking massive doses of over-the-counter meds to alleviate symptoms and making token efforts to improve my general health. There have been many bottles of vitamins purchased and discarded years after their expiration dates, having languished unswallered in the fridge.

Huh. (Counting on fingers, moving to toes.) All things considered…I guess I’m not very healthy. But I’ve never thought of myself as sickly.  At least, not until the Sjögren’s diagnosis.

It feels like this all started back in December, when I started bloating after I ate anything. Remember that I’ve had periodic instances of really bad stomach pain before, but a course of OTC omeprazole usually takes care of that. But the bloating…mygod. It’s difficult to BREATHE when one’s stomach is distended fully by whatever’s fermenting in there. My regular doctor advised cutting out dairy to see if the bloating was caused by lactose intolerance, but that didn’t make much difference, so I went to see a gastroenterologist.

Way back when I was 11 years old, I had really bad stomach pains which my doctor diagnosed by treatment–he said I had gastric ulcers, handed me a little bottle of Maalox and told me to drink some whenever my stomach hurt. At my first appointment in December 2010, my new gastroenterologist told me that this is not a valid method of diagnosis, that only an endoscopy can confirm stomach ulcers.  Okay, it’s not my fault that my childhood doctor didn’t scope me 31 YEARS AGO, and that I was not bright enough to insist on a visual examination of my digestive tract to confirm the diagnosis, so let’s move on to the present day, shall we? My new gastrodoc said we’d start with a nuclear study of my gastric emptying function, and if nothing was wrong there, we’d move on to scoping. That test was done mid-January, and showed nothing out-of-the ordinary.

In the meantime, I’d been having twinges, like little excruciating muscle cramps, in my parotid salivary glands. Whenever I’d see something appealing, I’d salivate, and then I’d feel sharp pain in my saliva glands. Weird, kind of reverse Pavlovian response. I pretty much lost my appetite due to the pain, but my saliva glands kept swelling and I kept chewing a lot of gum at work, because my mouth was so dry. (But don’t worry, Gentle Readers, I found my appetite again. Dangit.) I suspected a stone or stones blocking my salivary glands, kind of like what happened in my gall bladder, but on a much smaller scale. I didn’t put the swollen parotid glands together with dry mouth, dry eyes, fatigue, and all-over general pain.

On February 17, my glands were so swollen that I couldn’t see my earlobes when I looked in the mirror. I had a big square-jawed face like John Goodman, and wearing my headset at work or even turning my head hurt enough to make me pout. I visited my regular doctor the next day (Friday), and she somehow got me an appointment that same afternoon with an ear, nose and throat specialist, who picked out my type of thyroiditis and guessed Sjögren’s. Blood testing that following Monday confirmed I had both the Sjögren’s and rheumatoid antibodies.

So there actually IS something wrong with me. Oddly enough, hearing this diagnosis didn’t bring me down; it was actually a relief to know there was a reason I had been feeling so universally crappy.  My ENT put me on prednisone to manage the symptoms and I had my first appointment with a rheumatoid specialist on March 30.  Learned a lot about Sjögren’s and how I can get rid of the prednisone eventually, using other medications to manage the troubling symptoms.

My gut issues may or may not be related to Sjögren’s, but I’m addressing those as well.  Colonoscopy and endoscopy are scheduled for tomorrow (I’m making light of it by saying it’ll be like when they dug the Chunnel, because they’ll meet in my middle) so hopefully my gastrodoc will find out what mutant goodness resides there.

There is no cure for Sjögren’s Syndrome, but I can’t picture it changing my life very much. After all, I’m not a competitive sportsman or working as a volunteer firefighter anymore, so I don’t have to have a tremendous amount of stamina or physical capability. (I am very glad, however, that I got my eyes LASEK’ed back in 2007, because I probably wouldn’t have qualified for the surgery now with decreased tear production.)

It’s just really…disappointing, for lack of a better term, to find out that I have this weakness. It feels like my body has betrayed me. I don’t trust it anymore, especially now that I know there’s actually something wrong, and every little twinge, ache or oddity I experience is now suspect. Last night, for instance, I had a 10 ounce bottle of citrate of magnesium as part of the scope prep, and after I drank it, I had a deep ache in my back, between my shoulder blades. I couldn’t help thinking about how women can experience back pain as a symptom of heart attack, and I wondered if I was having a heart attack (foolish idea!) or the citrate of magnesium was tweaking my kidneys. And DAMMIT, I do NOT want to have to worry about stuff like this.

I guess given how much trashy food, Diet Coke and alcohol I’ve consumed, toxins I’ve exposed myself to, and all the late nights and hard work I’ve inflicted on my body, that it really doesn’t owe me much in terms of fidelity. And I’m trying to eat better and treat it more kindly now, but I guess I should have been doing that all along, eh?

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