A few years ago I was on a hero quest to discover the cause of my chronic illness.
I went from very healthy to very sick in a matter of weeks and over the next few months would visit dozens of doctors.
When I found myself often in the emergency room, I felt relief when I made it there.
I was filled with a youthful confidence in the brilliance of my doctors, that they would, in a spectacular 'House'-like manner, tell me what was causing everything and give me a magic pill.
That's the expectation, right? All those commercials we see everyday of young families frolicking around in fields - there are always fields - and at the end of it "ask your doctor about. . . ". Easy.
Then you get sick, and worse, you get sick with a set of symptoms that don't match a specific disease. Now you're in the no-mans-land of sick-without-a-diagnosis.
No magic pill for you.
Not All Doctors Are Created Equal
When you get sick, you become acquainted with the different types of doctors out there.
There are those that google your symptoms on the computer while you're talking to them.
The ones that go get one of their medical school textbooks after you discover you have a positive ANA test and flip through the different autoimmune diseases and wonder aloud 'which one you will get' and hope it's not 'one of the really bad ones'.
There are those that ask you where you are in your cycle, how stressed you are, then suggest yoga and other ways you can 'calm down'.
Then the looks.
There was the doctor who I waited a month to see.
I told her that the migraines that suddenly started were so severe they caused a stroke-like paralysis on the left side of my body, would often make me lose consciousness and that my head inflammation was so bad I could no longer read.
I told her that these symptoms were made much, much worse if I ate gluten.
She gave me a skeptical side-eye over her clipboard and said curtly "I've never heard of that."
Open Water & Anchoring
Its not only patients who expect their 'one thing' to be solved by 'one pill,' doctors can fall into the trap too.
Some doctors are in a hurry to package their patients into a diagnosis and funnel them down the diagnostic assembly line to collect their pills.
That is why those without a diagnosis can find themselves adrift - unable to find treatment or even get a clear answer on who they should see next.
Those with a misdiagnosis or impartial diagnosis find it hard to escape it and hard to convince their doctors to order additional blood testing to explore other possibilities.
Doctors refer to this as an 'anchoring problem' - once a diagnosis is found, practitioners usually stop looking for other causes or treatments outside of the radius of the diagnosis.
The Many Things
Don't be daunted by the fact that it's probably not 'one thing' that got you sick and not 'one thing' that will get you better.
In the abbreviated version of my case, it was some impaired methylation genes, coupled with heavy metal exposure, which led to dozens of food allergies, which lead to adrenal collapse, which lead to severe vitamin and mineral deficiencies all of which caused rampant inflammation, severe pain and many other things.
The Wonders Of Integrative Medicine
The Autoimmune Protocol Diet (AIP) gave me the first real break from my symptoms.
I began to look everywhere for alternatives to pharmaceuticals - in Chinese and Ayurvedic herbs, diet, and in posts on message boards on chronic disease websites.
I found out that my story was not unique, there were thousands like me with symptoms that doctors had trouble diagnosing.
From my fellow online patients I learned that there are doctors who specialize in complex cases and whose treatments are nuanced and tailored to the individual.
A few months into recovery I was persuaded by a friend to visit a chiropractor, I had never been to one before and wasn't even sure what they did. I called his office and told him I had a constant severe migraine all the time.
"I can help you, come on in."
I'm surprised I didn't get pulled over on the way over to his office. I was so excited that someone thought they could help me.
Within a few minutes, using a few adjustments, he brought the light and sound sensitivity that had forced me to wear sunglasses all the time and keep my blinds drawn - to virtually nothing.
The pain was also significantly reduced. After one visit.
He guided me toward herbal supplements that could help fortify my system, fight an infection I picked up in the hospital, heal my adrenal glands and to reduce my neurological inflammation.
I still tote around a high quality olive leaf extract whenever I take a trip because I have yet to find a better overall anti-viral and anti-bacterial (and you can even use it for food poisoning!).
Acupuncture helped reduce my overall pain and inflammation and even improved my Raynaud's symptoms.
Another doctor, an osteopath, convinced me to try a different kind of testing than the kind I got in the hospital.
Functional medicine testing revealed some of the more complex inter-workings of the body - and how I could heal even faster.
Two days after starting her targeted supplementation I spent my first full day out of bed in a year.
I started to get better.
It didn't happen all at once, or even at a steady rate.
For a few weeks it would seem like there was no improvement, then I would wake up one morning with a whole range of symptoms gone.
This continued for weeks, then months. With each symptom I shed I became more of myself again.
That summer I picked up my emergency ice pack to pack in my purse (for my sudden-onset migraines), only to realize I hadn't had one in six months.
As dramatic as the onset of my illness was, my recovery was a gentle slope upwards.
I started to be able to go on walks, then longer walks, then runs.
Ex Uno Plures
If you are on your own hero quest, don't give up.
Be wary of the practitioner who has a one word explanation of your situation as well as the one who insists that your case is so complicated that he can't be bothered with explaining it to you.
Good, compassionate doctors are out there. Don't be put off by the medical establishment because of a few bad apples.
There is someone who can help you and there is always hope for recovery.
Above all, don't be dissuaded by those who say you will never get better - they said that about me and I know they're wrong about you too.
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