Six months ago I made the mistake of googling the symptoms of what at the time I thought was a bad case of food poisoning. What did Google report back to me?
CANCER! Death! Erosion! Apocalypse!
Ok. Maybe not the last two, but my innocent Google search of food related symptoms did bring up terrifying descriptions of secret tumors, smoke related illness and parasites. I wish I could say that I stopped using Google and WebMD in my quest to understand my body, but I did not. Typing a few keywords into a search bar is the fastest and most wallet friendly approach there is. If I wake up at 3 AM with a bad cough and swollen glands, chances are my doctor won’t be available. Chances are I will have to wait until 8 AM and call the receptionist who will maybe give me an appointment next Tuesday if I am lucky. But Google is always there for me, no matter the time of day.
But it is not the time of day I turn to my computer that worries me, it is the mass amount of information readily available for self-diagnosis.
The case of food poisoning I thought I had lasted longer than normal, so I called my doctor and made an appointment. First, he thought it might be my birth control making me nauseous. When that turned out to be false he suggested I get an ultrasound of my gallbladder and kidney to rule out stones. At this point I had gone through two VERY painful flares of what I would later discover to be intestinal inflammation. During these flares I would have to call off work due to the extreme pain in my abdomen. I would spend all night in the bathroom with vomiting, diarrhea and intestinal cramping. The pain from this cramping was so bad, I convinced myself that going into labor couldn’t possibly be any worse.
Little did I know that this was just the beginning.
My third flare of inflammation was one of the most painful things I had ever experienced. Just like the first two flares it struck in the middle of the night. I was awoken around 1 am with the sudden urge to vomit. I ran into the bathroom and threw up twice. I didn’t think this was caused by anything I ate the night before, so I started to worry, telling myself that I would keep note of my symptoms to share with my doctor. Before I could step a foot out of the bathroom a sharp pain flashed throughout my abdomen, bringing me to my knees. For five hours I alternated between vomiting, having diarrhea and lying on my bathroom floor wishing that the pain would stop. I really started to worry when the next time I used the bathroom I noticed blood in the toilet. At this point I was not passing stool, but instead what looked like bloody body tissue. The site of the blood immediately scared me and I contemplated whether or not I should go to the hospital. I decided that I would try and lay in bed until the pain stopped and then I would go to the emergency room. I finally got some sleep and when I woke up the pain had mostly subsided. I got on a bus and headed to the closest ER, still weary of what had happened throughout the night. At the hospital my stool tested positive for blood so I was given a CT scan of my abdomen to check for any stones or tumor like masses. The scan came back negative for both, but did pick up inflammation in my intestines.
The doctor sent me home with a recommendation for a colonoscopy to see if I have inflammatory bowel disease – not to be confused with irritable bowel syndrome. This is where my Google searching picked back up. I furiously searched for answers. What is inflammatory bowel disease? What is the difference between IBD and the more common IBS? Was this disease life threatening?
Although IBD is chronic and can last a patient’s entire life, it will not shorten a person’s life span. I was glad to hear that part.
Two weeks ago I had my colonoscopy. I was scared - more so for the results than of the actual procedure, which went by fairly quickly. The doctor told me that the colonoscopy confirmed a few spots of inflammation along my intestines but that I would also need a blood marker test to determine if my ailment was indeed Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis (similar to Crohn’s, but affecting a different part of the digestive tract). I got the blood test done and just a few days ago got the results. While my blood test confirmed that my blood patterns were consistent with inflammatory blood disease, the test was inconclusive on determining whether the IBD was Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis. The doctor said that I need further tests to specify. Ironically, the same day I had my doctor’s appointment– I had another flare. This was the fourth time since Christmas that it has happened. Just like the last three times vomiting, immense abdominal pain and diarrhea hit me in the middle of the night. Thankfully this time there was no blood, but the pain was enough to leave me sore all weekend.
I have started seeing a gastroenterology specialist at the Illinois Center for Digestive and Liver Health. My next steps are having both an endoscopy and MR enterography. I am having both done to try and pinpoint any additional areas along my digestive tract that could be affected by Crohn’s or Ulcerative Colitis.
Although Google and WebMD cannot give me the personal face to face time that a doctor can (or an actual real diagnosis), I am still happy that I have access to the internet where I have the option to search my ailments, read blogs from people with the same experiences and find remedies to help reduce my pain.
Not knowing what exactly is happening in my body is in short very scary. Knowing that there are forums, medical websites and a whole world wide web of information at my fingertips comforts me when I start to feel like a number in line waiting my turn to be seen.
But be careful! The endless information on the internet can turn even the most relaxed person into a hypochondriac. But when used as an aid for information AFTER seeing a real doctor, the internet can be a very useful tool indeed.
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