Nothing opens a can of worms like a doctor’s visit.
About six weeks ago I started to experience stomach problems, the kind where you’re curled up on the couch wondering what the hell you’ve eaten in the last few hours to induce such discomfort. And knowing deep down that it probably had something to do with the Dominos pizza and three bottles of Miller that you’ve just polished off. This went on for a couple of weeks; long enough that it couldn’t have been food poisoning and I knew it wasn’t hormone-related.
So off I went to my GP with €50 in my purse and a mild stomach ache. My GP, a kind lady I have to say, recommended blood tests and a possible endoscopy given that half of my family, including my sister, have coeliac disease. Gluten is like Kryptonite to our family, so it seems. I’m not so good with anything to do with bloodletting (I’ve been asked to stop trying to donate blood as I just can’t get my shit together when I stand up afterwards) and the idea of a tiny camera being inched down my throat is equally unnerving, so neither of these options sounded appealing but I made the appointment for a blood test nonetheless.
Then, two days later, my tonsils decided that it was a perfect time for them to become inflamed and covered in white spots. So that put the kibosh on the bloods as long as I was taking antibiotics. Ironically, I had lots of socialising to do that week – the one time I actually got to interact with humans and I couldn’t drink. Marvelous. The strange thing about getting tonsillitis was that, for a couple of weeks afterwards, my stomach issues actually seemed to resolve themselves. Fan-bleedin’-tastic, I thought to myself. I’m cured! Well, somehow.
Ha. My boyfriend and I then took a trip to Wexford for a few days and the mysterious stomach gremlin reared its crampy head again. My euphoria at feeling well again was swiftly dashed, and himself got to revel in his ‘I told you so’ moment (to be fair, he had told me so). But there was little I could do about it as I was leaving for Spain with my family that weekend.
Spain was, in a nutshell, just lovely – the weather, the beach, the food, the sangria, my awesome suntan. But the week was slightly marred by that constant feeling that my intestines were in a vice. And as we all well know, being in a foreign country can have an undesirable effect upon one’s digestive health – strange food and water, overindulgence and a lack of sleep do not a happy tummy make.
So once we got home, I made an appointment for a blood test as soon as possible. The next morning, I was lying on a couch in the doctor’s surgery with my arm in a tourniquet, being distracted by questions about college while vial after vial was filled with my red stuff. Thankfully I didn’t make a tit of myself by passing out afterwards, but I did have to carry my own blood (and that of an elderly lady) in the car to the hospital to leave it in that little fridge to be sent off to the labs. Because a GP surgery with numerous doctors, locums, nurses and receptionists can’t do this themselves. But anyway.
My mother is a nurse in that same hospital and has some unofficial privileges, one of which being able to find out blood test results the next day. So she rang me last night, and it turns out that I’ve opened an almighty can of worms by getting things checked out.
It transpires that I have a supreme trifecta of issues: anaemia, alkaline phosphatase deficiency and slightly high cholesterol. And no, I don’t really know what the second thing is either. All I can gather is that it means an inability to absorb some nutrients and minerals. Essentially, the good stuff that I eat isn’t benefitting my body and the bad stuff I eat is affecting me too much. Great.
My coeliac disease results aren’t back yet, but in light of the crappy stuff above, it’s likely that I have it. A coeliac person who isn’t eating a gluten free diet can’t absorb enough vitamins and minerals from their food as the gluten prevents their small intestine from working properly. Or at least that’s my very simplistic take on it. I’m not very scientifically-minded, as you might have already guessed.
So I got answers, but the fun is only really starting now. I’ve spent some of today googling foods that are good for raising iron levels, and foods which help lower cholesterol. And apparently these three conditions don’t compliment each other at all. Liver is a great source of iron, but it’s also bad for cholesterol levels. Eggs are also an anaemic’s friend, but not when your cholesterol is high. And on top of all that, I need to avoid gluten. Such a shame that wholegrains are chock-full of iron, then.
There are other things I can do, such as exercise and iron supplements – neither prospect I exactly relish. In a show of solidarity, James brought me to Tesco to stock up on salad things for lunch – a big move for the eternal carnivore. He didn’t eat his salad, but I appreciated the effort. And yes, there was plenty of spinach in the salad. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m going to need a new wardrobe come November as I’m going to drop a serious amount of weight if I maintain to this new ‘lifestyle’. Not that it would do any harm, but I’m going to be broke as it is trying to keep myself in red meat, almonds and oily fish.
But my afternoon of research did yield some more pleasant results. My two favourite foodstuffs, chocolate and wine, are somewhat allowed. Good quality dark chocolate is rich in iron and one unit of alcohol a day has been said to lower the risk of heart disease. Sweet.
When I first made an appointment with my GP, I never expected that I’d end up having to make so many changes to my diet. The anaemia was definitely a surprise. But it will do me no harm at all to clean up my act a little, and I might even lose a few pounds in the process. It’s be nice not to be so tired all the time either. But when my willpower is sorely tested at 3am this coming bank holiday Sunday, I may need to be dragged away from the chipper.