Now that I rarely have “stomach issues”, I often find myself looking back at situations that would have been far different if I had realized the source of my troubles. I’ve been tentative with regard to writing about physical problems I’ve had so far (don’t worry, I’ll get there) but this seemed like a mild way to start stepping into it. You’ve all heard the saying that hindsight is 20/20. Well, this story is an example from my past where all the pieces seem to fit together now.
During my freshman year of college, I read about a service-learning program in Germany and Poland that pertained to the Holocaust, which had always been an interest of mine. Prior to the onset of my issues, I had taken German in high school and went on a school affiliated trip to Germany where I got to visit Dachau. I knew then that I wanted to come back and see more, so I jumped at the course. It was a two to three week trip during the summer of 2002, and it included the chance to do service work on Auschwitz I – Stammlager and Auschwitz II – Birkenau, as well as other places. It also provided the opportunity to visit other former concentration camps, meet survivors, and take a class all at the same time. I couldn’t have been more eager to participate. (Yes, I realize how fortunate I am to have been able to partake in travel experiences like these and am very grateful to have had the opportunities.)
Skip forward to a week or so into the German portion of the trip. I woke up in our vibrant, little hostel room and was sent running to the bathroom. I couldn’t stay out of there for much more than ten minutes at a time. Took Imodium. Still stuck. Took more. Still stuck. I can handle basically any pain thrown at me but when you can’t leave the bathroom, you are screwed. Since the next day was a long travel day via trains over to Poland, it was decided that I was to skip Sachsenhausen that day and instead go to an ER in Berlin. No, I’m not kidding.
My German born teacher and the program facilitator, who was along because this was a first time trip, took me in to a castle-esque hospital with a few pit stops along the way. (Be grateful that the US requires public restrooms! I paid an arm and a leg to bounce into bathrooms, whether to actually go or just to confirm I didn’t have to go. I’m not exaggerating when I say I spent more money on/in facilities than I did on souvenirs and gifts. Also, if you use those pods in the middle of the street, be aware that at some point the door will automatically start to open again whether you are ready or not. Needless to say that I had that fun filled rush happen as well. Adrenaline will sure get your ass up in a hurry when you know you’re about to be exposed in the restroom to a public street full of passersby. I’m not sure how common these are, but I don’t recommend using them if you can help it. You might be forced into a premature heart attack.)
Going to the hospital is rough enough, but when you have a language barrier, it adds to the anxiety. I was soon put in an all white, yet dim room with no curtain barriers separating me from my roommate, a woman who was passed out and hooked up to a heart monitor. They started IVs to hydrate me and gave me something. I don’t know what because of our communication problems and don’t care because it worked. You’d think it would be all good from there but nope. We managed to create another small heart-skipping incident before departing.
It is important to know that at that point, I had been previously “diagnosed” with IBS or Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I say that in quotes because I don’t necessarily agree that it is real now, so much as a catchall when they can’t pinpoint the real cause. Anyway, when I heard “Crohn’s” out of the good doctor’s mouth, I probably turned whiter than flour and was almost instantly pouring sweat. The second I heard that, I thought I was going to puke. What?! I don’t have that! The look I gave my teacher apparently made him panic, and I explained to him why I didn’t want to hear that. At that time, the diagnosis still conjured up visions of surgery, losing part of my intestines, etc. being required. It was simply a gut reaction in my early years of issues before the loads of reading came into play. Luckily, my teacher chimed in quickly, translating between me and the doctor. It seems that they use the terms rather interchangeably there, oddly enough. I can breathe again. Since he presently had me in line physically, or at least well enough to travel, he suggested I stick to the BRAT (bananas, rice, applesauce, toast) diet with chamomile tea and water. It is fair to say that I became afraid of eating for the rest of the trip but followed the diet ordered.
Now you are probably thinking, she still had wheat in her diet with the toast (more accurately, my Zwieback). How did she get better then? Where are the pieces? I did better but that doesn’t mean I did well. I was still in a lot of pain and had some issues, they were just more controllable. Since I hadn’t cut wheat and gluten entirely out of my diet yet, I was sensitive but not hypersensitive like I am now. I was eating a German diet. Think wheat, wheat and more wheat. I don’t like any kind of wursts (yes, I have tried every kind I ever came across because I like to try new things and new foods), so I was surviving on their typical hard rolls with cheese for breakfast, beer cheese, dumplings, soft pretzels, spatzle, beer and more beer. Stepping back, it makes sense that I got so sick. I had flooded my system with wheat! Make sense now?