Disclaimer: I am not a doctor and this is an opinion piece. Sometimes I like to vent on my personal blog.
This morning I went to the doctor. A rheumatologist, to be exact, on the recommendation of an all-knowing Google search. When I spoke to the office secretary, I told her what my goals were; to find out if I had celiac disease, as well as any other autoimmune disorders. Yes, rheumatologists generally specialize in arthritis, but she assured me that the doctor was well-versed in the conditions I was worried about. So, I went.
The office was painfully out-dated, with a popcorn ceiling and mismatched furniture. Unfortunately, the doctor visit was turning into exactly what I wanted to avoid – a very cold visit to a traditional, drug-peddling physician. Yes, I know that statement is polarizing and possibly overdramatic, but it describes my perception of a lot of today’s medical culture.
Chronic Acid Reflux
Towards the end of my undergraduate career, I was dealing with extreme ‘acid reflux’ that was keeping me up at night and sopping up all the joy I derived from my college diet. A few days after graduation, I went in for an endoscopy (where they put a camera in your throat to check out the condition of your esophagus).
GERD – A False Diagnosis?
My doctor, who happened to be a family friend, knew this procedure like the back of his hand… or better. He confirmed that I had GERD, Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease, and recommended a life-long prescription of PPIs (Proton Pump Inhibitors), which reduce the amount of acid the stomach reduces. The medication also calmed the inflammation that riddled my throat, with or without the presence of acid. I was thrilled. No questions asked, no second thoughts.
Backstreets Back… Alright.
After three years of taking the highest dose possible, my symptoms worsened and my confusion and concern started to flare. The irritation in my throat was back and spreading. I was also experiencing more joint pain, my first bouts with endometriosis and feeling tired almost constantly.
After opening my eyes and finally reading about the side effects of my medication, I learned that it was not recommended for periods exceeding 6 months. I had already done the recommended course six times in a row, without ceasing. But, it’s not like I had any other options. I was a year deep into wedding planning, dealing with my mother’s second cancer diagnosis, holding down a full-time job, getting sick bi-monthly and dealing with the same symptoms that lead me to the gastroenterologist in the first place. I was losing every bit of sanity I had. My hope for ever feeling well? Gone.
Then, I learned about food intolerances.
Wheat (gluten) and dairy, which are main staples in almost everyone’s diet here in the United States.
Gluten was the first one I decided to cut, simply because it seemed to be the easiest one to avoid. Fortunately, I got it right on the first try. Within two weeks, I threw my little blue pills in the trash. No more acid reflux. No more burning ears.
What the #%$@!?
Money and Medication
Why didn’t my doctor recommend an elimination diet to begin with!? Why did I spend more than $2,000 on drugs I didn’t really need that caused side-effects I definitely didn’t want?
Don’t Act Like You Know Me
And today. Today at the rheumatologist… I told him that all I really wanted was to be proactive. I wanted a firm diagnosis of whether or not I had celiac, and to watch for some of the conditions my mom started developing at my age. And you know what happened within 20 minutes? He diagnosed me with fibromyalgia and told me about five medications he recommended for my ‘pain.’
I don’t think I have fibromyalgia. My aches and pains have faded away since I started my gluten-free diet. They’re minimal. I feel bad even claiming that disease since millions of people really do suffer from it.
Is This About Wellness or Money?
I’m perplexed by doctors who will spend 20 minutes with a patient, make a diagnosis and immediately attempt to prescribe a medication as serious as Cymbalta (an antidepressant that has helped some people with fibromyalgia).
At this point in my life, I’m not depressed. I don’t really hurt anymore. There is no more acid reflux and usually not that tired. But, I do take my health seriously and want to be sure that this self-imposed gluten-free diet is enough to keep me healthy.
‘Suicidal Thoughts’ and ‘Symptoms of Aggression’
I have no desire to saunter into medications with side effects that include ‘suicidal thoughts’ and ‘symptoms of aggression’ without a care. [Shall we discuss American mass shootings?] I have no desire to see a physician that would even recommend that I take these medications when I have such mild symptoms. But, I do have a desire to encourage other people who may be suffering from confusing, frustrating and painful symptoms to take their health into their own hands.
Doctors: The Good, the Bad and the Realistic
Doctors deserve a tremendous amount of credit for the lives they save every day. I applaud them for their determination to complete such rigorous schooling in order to dedicate their lives to the service of others. But, doctors are people, too. They’re capable of making mistakes and they need to make a living just like anyone else. Education doesn’t stop at the end of residency and I have an immeasurable amount of respect for those who are willing to embrace new information and stand up for what they believe is the most healthful for their patients. Doctors like Kelly Brogan, William Davis and Amy Myers, who encourage people to take responsibility for their health and diets, knowing that food is, in fact, medicine.
No One Cares Like You do
If you’re suffering from acid reflux, joint pain, skin rashes, eye problems or anything else, I encourage you to do your research. Try an elimination diet and do everything in your power to be healthy, rather than treating the symptoms with drugs alone. In my opinion, drugs without a healthy diet and exercise can only mask the real problem. And, when necessary, trust your physician but always remember that your health belongs to you.