The thing that nearly killed me.
I suppose it's time for a life update, huh?
If you've been following my blog for a while, you may recall that a few years ago, I nearly lost my life. But by the grace of some higher power, here I am. Writing to you at 3:30am from my office surrounded by candlelight and the smell of frankincense as my husband and son sleep in the rooms opposing mine.
I'm awake because I suppose there is still some part of my soul that feels a bit of turmoil from time to time since this experience. 99.9% of the time I am in a routine and I feel good and it helps my healing tremendously. But once in a while, I have nights like this. Ones where I feel out of balance. Ones where I feel compelled to sit and write with headphones in my ears and a big cup of tea and some warm, fuzzy socks. This is healing, too. Each time it helps to bring more clarity and understanding as to why this happened to be my story.
I don't deny that this happened for a reason, either. In the past 2 years by being transparent and open about my experience, I have helped nearly a dozen people find the root cause of their own medical mysteries. Now that's pain with purpose.
Or perhaps, vulnerability with purpose. Because vulnerability and pain can be equally as challenging.
Being a practitioner in the wellness space and being completely unable to heal myself because I couldn't find the root cause has been a challenge to say the very least, but it has taught me a lot of very big lessons, and it has lit a fire within my soul to really run hard with this work of mine. To pour all that I continue to learn out into the world. A world where many other souls are still in the thick of their search for answers.
My brothers and sisters, I feel you.
Keep going. Trust me.
So let me start by giving you a recap (or you can just go back and read the whole story if you feel so inclined). 2 years ago, I had a baby. He's kind of my world, and his entry into this world was a bumpy ride. It was the kind of birth where things go wrong and stuff gets scary and there are moments where you aren't exactly sure if everyone's going to make it. But again - By the grace of some higher power, my baby boy and I are both here and he's 2 and he's a spitfire and the light of his mom and dad's life. Not a day goes by that I don't look in those little peepers of his and thank God that we're all here spinning around this crazy world together. Every day is a blessing that I don't take for granted.
Then we came home from the hospital, but I felt off. And this feeling of being "off" didn't exactly go away. As a matter of fact, for the 16 months following Nate's birth, I slowly got worse and worse until I learned that my body was going septic. My organs were beginning to fail and I was faced with unexplained gallbladder attacks, enlarged organs, a throbbing spleen so sore I was afraid to get down on the floor and play with Nate, stabbing pain in my kidneys and signs that they just weren't working via urine tests, occasional spans of blindness, low platelets in my blood so bad that blood would pool in my knuckles under the weight of holding Nate's head as I nursed him each night. And all of it went completely unexplained.
I desperately searched for answers, but nobody could help me.
Then add the financial strain of being put off work by the doctor but also being denied access to our insurance (because we didn't have an "official" diagnosis."). We appealed this 3 times, but each time it was declined.
In the middle of bouncing from both conventional AND natural practitioner to practitioner and spending every last cent we had on seeking a diagnosis from anyone who had any sort of understanding of medicine, Ryan was deployed for 6 months and away he went overseas. I graduated from my program and so began my practice. I left my full-time job to pursue this dream I've had for the last decade because I wasn't quite sure my body could physically handle running a 40 hour-per-week gig, being a single parent, running a household and running a new practice after bedtime all at once while also juggling a mystery illness which was a whole new adventure every day.
You see, my brain would WANT to try and do it all because I am most definitely a type A - but I have learned my limitations through this experience. I no longer play into the late nights of "hustling" and trying to achieve and accomplish until the wee hours of the night. I have a whole other understanding of what achieving and accomplishing TRULY is that wasn't in my vocabulary before.
I have committed heavily to my healing. I take things slow. I breathe.
I even consider my little garden as a non-negotiable part of my healing protocol, because when faced with a life-or-death kind of crisis, you learn pretty quickly the importance of slowing down and honouring the body, mind, soul.
Gardening: Cheaper than therapy, and you get tomatoes.
And so with Ryan's deployment overseas, I kissed my full-time gig goodbye to focus on my healing and to be the best damn mom I could be to Nate, and to follow my biggest career passion.
And in the middle of all of that, Nate had four seizures.
In the span of 12 hours, and just a day or two after my Naturopath and I spoke of how delicate of a state my body was in, and how I was on the cusp of potentially developing a lifelong autoimmune condition, and how the best thing in the world I could do was to go slow and avoid stress at all costs, my whole entire world was handed to me by his daycare provider, completely limb and lifeless after seizure #1. And in the 12 hours that followed, there would be 3 more seizures after that.
I sat in the emergency room on a stretcher in a dark room with my unconscious baby under me, and no access to my husband or anyone, really. Until Nate's Godfather (who I am fairly certain is an angel - and that's a fact) came and sat with us. Nate eventually woke and we were sent home with the notion that seizures were commonly seen in kids when they spike fevers. We were told to bring him home and let him rest. But an hour or two later, back we went for ambulance ride #2 and another seat in a stretcher as I held my unconscious baby. And a few hours after that, ambulance ride #3, at which point I was advised that there was no choice in the matter - antibiotics WERE happening, and so was a trip to the children's hospital 90 minutes away, which would be ambulance ride #4. And on the way to the children's hospital, Nate had his fourth seizure - a memory that will be permanently engrained in my memory as one of the most horrific things I have ever seen.
One of the paramedics that triaged us in worked on Nate and the other consoled me as I wondered whether my baby might be dying tonight, with my husband overseas and my family 1,600kms away.
But of course - Nate's Godfather (our angel that day) drove down to be with us, as we spent the next day on another stretcher as Nate had medications I wasn't told about (one of which gave him "red man's syndrome," which is an allergic reaction where they very quickly turn bright red and begin to swell and develop itchy/painful welts all over, while scratching at their face and screaming hysterically. I hit the panic button as a nurse calmly told me it was totally normal while I tried to prevent my son from clawing his eyes out). He even brought me a banana and made me eat. I took care of Nate and he took care of me in what I would consider my darkest hour.
After the first seizure, the military Padre called and offered his support. I played the strong military wife card and politely thanked him for the call. I told him all would be fine. After seizure #3 and hearing that I would need to go to the Children's hospital and watch my tiny little boy go through invasive testing, I called the Padre back, woke him in the middle of the night with my unconscious child in my arms and said, "Padre, I apologize for waking you, but PLEASE send me my husband now. I'm not sure if my baby is dying, but something is wrong and I can't do this without him anymore."
With Nate in my arms, I called my Naturopath whom I had spoken to a few days earlier when she advised me to avoid stress at all costs.
"Hey, doc. Remember that time you told me to not to stress? Well, we have to talk."
After a CT scan and a lumbar puncture (both of which were probably MUCH harder on me than they were on him to be honest) to check his spinal fluid for bacterial meningitis, we eventually learned that Nate had Influenza A - A pretty severe strain of it - along with his dad's genetics (childhood seizures apparently run in his side of the family). We also were told that he had a calcification on the pineal gland of his brain, which can commonly be seen in older adults but very rarely in children. This meant that when this was all over, we would have to come back and have him do an MRI to get a closer look. Of course, the only day this was possible was on his 2nd birthday, and so Nate spent his 2nd birthday in the tiniest little hospital gown, completely sedated as his dad squeezed his mom's hand super tight to help her keep her shit together.
Thankfully, we were told all looked well and we were sent home. Ryan went back overseas and life as we knew it went back to normal.
Until a few weeks later when I was happily plugging away at my work and humming to a good tune and I got a phone call to book Nate's follow up appointment.
"Oh, the doctor told us everything looked fine, so I'm not sure we have to go back for anything."
".....Who told you everything was fine?"
"Oh. Well they're going to be getting in trouble for telling you that. You have to bring your son back, because they found another spot and we have to have the neurologist do an exam to make sure he's okay."
I spent the next 2 weeks waiting for that appointment while doing everything in my power not to pace a hole in my office floor. I kept all of my emotion out of sight and ensured that our lives and routines were as normal and positive as possible. We drove to the hospital (which is a day trip), only for the doctor to shine a flashlight in his eyes and say, "Okay. Looks good. We'll see you in 2 years for another MRI."
So I'll tuck this whole experience into a corner of my heart somewhere for 2 years and pray and love my baby hard until we have to do this all over again.
Ryan says there's no sense in worrying about it, but that's my baby - my only one. And he's kind of a big deal in my world. Every moment I have with him is a blessing, and I won't take a single one for granted.
Through all of this, I also started looking into functional medicine as a possible next route in seeking answers to my own great medical mystery. Oh yeah - aside from my baby giving us the scare of a lifetime, my organs weren't doing great and I was having ocular migraines with a side of occasional blindness - all of which was completely unexplained by modern medicine. As a matter of fact, at this point, my doctor gave me the all clear and told me that a swollen spleen, low platelets and white blood cells were all pretty normal.
I had remembered stumbling upon a functional medicine practitioner's website a few months back, but saw the price tag and closed it immediately. Partially because instead of paying for one appointment, there was a commitment of about 8 months and $2999+HST involved, which we simply couldn't do at that point after all that had just happened. Also because I didn't yet understand why functional medicine was different. What if I invested all of this money into them and they did exactly what everyone else did? What if they based my treatment off of symptoms alone and I paid for the appointment and supplements and medications and treatments only to be dropped or to still not have a root cause? The commitment was one I couldn't yet make because I had to be shown why they were different.
So again I found this practitioner's website and a few YouTube videos where they were doing a lecture and they explained their belief in healthcare. One phrase they mentioned instantly brought me to tears, and that was that, "An effective healthcare system is one that liberates you from it."
It was as though a lightbulb had gone off. All this time, I was stuck in the healthcare system. I was spending a gross amount of money desperately seeking answers, proactively doing whatever I possibly could to try and heal myself, and you know, that's actually GREAT for the economy.
Let me say that again for dramatic effect. Sick people are GREAT for the economy.
Healthy people aren't great for the economy, and dead people aren't so great for the economy, but chronically sick people? That's the sweet spot.
So I would go to my doctor and be given a "clean bill of health" as I pleaded and begged to be taken seriously, but I would be sent home. My insurance didn't cover me, and my doctor pretended it was all in my head.
"An effective healthcare system is one that liberates you from it." I just couldn't get it out of my head. So I started digging into this functional medicine stuff a bit more, only to learn that they do NOT base their treatment off of symptoms. Instead, they provide the RIGHT targeted testing based on those symptoms in order to pinpoint the actual cause of a chronic condition. This kind of testing is far more thorough than anything that can be provided from a family doctor.
And to be quite honest, the difference in testing between functional medicine (which is not covered by our "free" healthcare) and conventional testing - It's maddening. Frankly, I feel it's likely the reason so many sick people get sicker and struggle to find a root cause until it's too late.
Because again - Sick people? GREAT for the economy.
In total, I knew I would be looking at about $5,300 for all of the testing and the program through functional medicine, and while that number might sound overwhelming, consider the cost of spending the first 2.5 years of my son's life literally being told that I'm dying while spending all of that time, LOTS of money and every possible emotion in my bank on trying not to die.
I would have frankly sold my house, gone bankrupt, or sold my soul to get better at this point.
Would it be worth the money?
Every. Damn. Penny.
Because the most effective form of healthcare? The kind that liberates you from it. And I was ready to be liberated, baby.
So the first thing we did was cancel our family vacation, which was scheduled for immediately after Ryan's deployment ended. We were planning on all driving home to Nova Scotia to see family, and frankly after the last few years, I needed my mom & dad, my aunts and uncles, and the beach. But we also needed to make this big investment, so our trip was a necessary sacrifice.
Instead, we snuck away to a little lakefront cottage for a couple of nights. We had each other, and it was a beautiful feeling to just be together again.
I also debated on creating a program through my practice and just selling it, but that's not really my style. Instead I wanted to offer something that anyone could watch - No matter their financial standing or their ability to help. I started a GoFundMe account and linked it with a webinar that I would host completely by donation, with all proceeds going toward this giant leap of faith in functional medicine. We raised $1500 toward our $5300 bill.
If you're reading this and you watched the webinar or you supported us, I want to pause to offer a word of gratitude to you. It is humbling to say the least to EVER open a GoFundMe account - even if you're hosting a 2 hour webinar and doing it by donation - It's still hard. And my family and I are eternally grateful to you for reaching your hands out to us in what has been a rollercoaster of a few years. Thank you.
With that, our leap of faith in functional medicine began, and just as Ryan's deployment ended & our family was finally back together again, 2 of the 3 tests came back.
And guess what? The root cause had been discovered.
Are you ready to see why I think functional medicine is the future?
According to conventional medicine:
Platelets are a touch low, white blood cells are low, and I'm obviously crazy because I think I'm sick but it's all in my head. Maybe I need antidepressants.
According to functional medicine (and testing not available through our conventional healthcare system):
I have a parasite called Entamoeba Histolytica, which kills about 100,000 people every year.
I have a parasite called Giardia.
I have an overgrowth of a specific type of bacteria called Prevotella Copri, which is an autoimmune trigger for Rheumatoid arthritis. (which could likely explain the radiating pain that has moved from my abdomen/pelvis to my hips, knees and neck. I don't yet have RA according to blood tests, but my autoimmune marker for this is quadruple the normal range which means it's a slippery slope and this test couldn't have come at a better time.)
I have SIBO, and a tremendous amount of inflammation in my gut.
My immune system is running poorly, meaning it has been under pressure and fighting these pathogens for a long time. (Thank you, body.)
My body is struggling to metabolize fat (which would explain the random gallbladder attacks).
I'm lacking in vitamin in B12 which is necessary for methylation.
I'm deficient in amino acids which are needed to regulate mood. This will show up as occasional anxiety (which is likely why I wake up once in a while at 3:30am and feel the need to write), and can be rebalanced with a simple amino acid supplement.
My cells are dying and replacing themselves too quickly.
My body has experienced oxidative damage which requires antioxidant support.
These deficiencies and imbalances are all linked back to the root cause: The parasites.
And my treatment?
Lifestyle modifications, sleep, stress management and meditation, herbal antimicrobial supplements to eliminate the pathogens that caused the imbalances, targeted and specific antioxidant support to reduce inflammation and increase immunity, and a specific strain of probiotics to support my immune and digestive system. All of these things are relatively affordable, and can be purchased through my own practitioner supplement dispensary.
Relatively affordable, but terrible for the economy. ;)
So I guess you could say I'm a believer in functional medicine.
And also, miracles.
And this was only the findings from the first 2 tests. I will also complete a hormone test in a few weeks and will continue to share the journey with you all.
So today, I not only have a root cause, but I finally think I can piece the puzzle together, too. Are you ready?
Back in November 2014, a good friend and I went to Mexico. We were extra careful and only ate food from the resort. One evening, however, we tried something off of their Italian menu, and my friend ordered sea bass. She asked me to try it because she wasn't sure if it tasted a bit weird.
Not even thinking, I took a little bite and instantly knew it was completely raw.
The following morning, I was so sick that we ended up cancelling an excursion we had planned for that day.
But the following day I felt fine, and so I never thought much else of it. Looking back thought, I believe this could definitely have been when this "stealth" infection started. I became pregnant shortly after that vacation, and it wasn't until near the end of my pregnancy when I had discovered my platelets were low. I was told at the time that it was super common, so I never made the connection that something else could have already been happening with my immune system. And with all that happened during Nate's birth, it makes perfect sense that it would serve as a trigger, it would suppress my immune system enough for a parasitic stealth infection to gain momentum and create a symptom, and the more and more I pressed on to find answers, the more my immune system was suppressed and the worse I got until I was quite literally losing my life.
So friends, while my healing is certainly not yet finished and there is still much to be done, this is the first time in a long while that I can say I believe I'm on my way to finding true, real health again.
And it feels pretty damn good.