Warning: Some of this has been said before, but some of it has not. This is more of a processing post than anything, but also to fill you in a bit on what's going on. Proceed.
The week and a half we spent in Kenya was heart wrenching, as we told a mother of 6 that she had HIV, which likely meant many of her children, if not all of them, did too. We told a very young girl she was expecting a baby, which was not welcome news, as there was a potential rape involved. There was so much heartache, but for me there was so much joy as well. For those we were able to treat, even with something as simple as Tylenol, I knew we were doing what we needed to do there. I was able to make the day of a child with a glitterwand, as they waited for treatment. I was able to provide resources and show mamas how to hold baby while we stuck them to see if they had malaria, which would make the child comfortable, but also secure and safe. I got to spend time with the school kids during their recess, who thought bubbles, and especially sticky bubbles, were the greatest thing in the world and shrieked with joy every single time I waved the wand or blew the bubbles their way.
Was it perfect and without its bumps in the road? No. It never is. But I loved every minute of Kenya. I honestly didn't want to come home. It felt impossible readjusting to the 'first world grind' and 'problems' after being where I had been. Many of my teammates struggled deeply with the trip, The structure, the lack of being busy, but I loved simply being back on the continent I love, in a new culture, and simply being. I think if I knew what was going to happen in the year following, or heck even the days after arriving home, I would've soaked it up even more than I did. This picture is a bittersweet reminder of the 'me' that was 'before' the return home. Before it all 'hit the fan' if you will.
I wrote some of this on my post 'Through the Storm', but there is more detail and more about what is going on now...
On the trip home from Kenya, I felt pretty queasy, but I thought that maybe we all caught something. I wasn't the only one with the 'mouth sweats', as we affectionately dubbed them on our trip. I took Zofran and was ok. I remember sleeping like a ROCK, once allowing myself to sleep, but having some serious GI issues over the next week- particularly the first several days back. I checked in with the team to see if anyone else was having issues, but nobody else did. I realized it probably wasn't a bug after a few days. It eased up, but still, I would be overcome with waves of nausea or other issues randomly throughout the week. After a month of this, I realized I wasn't ok. I had a very scary symptom- I'll spare you all of the details- that happened more than once. Finally, I asked my mom if this was normal. She said I needed to go to the doctor. When your mother, who is a nurse, says you need to go to the doctor, you need to go to the doctor.
My doctor immediately went for the obvious assumption and wanted to test me for parasites and other weird illnesses that could've taken me over during my travels in Kenya. I didn't eat anything PARTICULARLY weird, though I did eat sugarcane off of the street. I then got yelled at for doing that and didn't do it again. I was honestly rooting for it to be a parasite of some kind, so that we could just treat it and be done. After several tests and a couple of weeks, we discovered that I did not have a parasite or any tropical illness we could find. Since there was nothing my General Practitioner could find and I was NOT getting better, but weaker, she referred me to my GI specialist.
I told him how I had been feeling and his first response was basically, "You are far too young to be having these symptoms and for me to take this lightly. We are going to do a round of testing to see what is going on. From the sounds of it, I am going to guess that it is something fairly mild, such as Ulcerative Procitis, and will be in remission in a few weeks or months, but we need to get in there to really see what is going on." We scheduled my first Colonoscopy, and the games began. The first test was within 2 weeks of my appointment. He made it clear we needed to get in ASAP to be sure something wasn't wrong.
At first, I felt okay about it all, but then my doctors words stuck to me. 'You are too young for me not to make sure its not something else.' Something else? Like what? Cancer? Then my mind had a good old time with me. Colon cancer runs in our family, but not until we are in our 50s... normally. The doctor didn't at all see what he expected. He said everything actually looked really good considering my symptoms. He said he still suspected Proctitis, which would be the best case scenario, but we would have to wait for the results to find out what's truly happening.
The 14 days of waiting for my results felt like an eternity. The first 7 were fine, but the second 7, I began planning for the worst. 'What if I do have cancer? What will I do? How will I finish school...' And it went on and on and on. This was all in the middle of the semester, which just made it even more fun. Day 14 hit, and I still had no results, so I called. They couldn't tell me over the phone, but they had been mailed. They were mailed to my parents address, not mine, so I had my dad take a picture of the results. Colitis.
The world was upside down, but my doctor saw me 2 days after I got my results and got me medication right away. I felt like a new person. I had energy for the first time in weeks, I didn't feel like I would pass out at any moment. I felt like a new girl. That lasted only about 3 weeks. Then I started feeling gross again. I scheduled a follow-up, but nobody told me my doctor couldn't make it. Another doctor was free, however, and I NEEDED a follow-up, because I was NOT doing well and truly needed intervention asap. This doctor ended up taking over my care. It had been about 6 weeks since my first bout of testing and he wasn't comfortable with my progress. He was nervous that I was getting worse, so he scheduled me for an endoscopy, to figure out what was making me so nauseous all of the time, and a flex sigmoidoscopy to be sure I hadn't gotten markedly worse.
When we did the procedure, my doctor was much more thorough. On the first procedure, only 1 biopsy was taken. This time I think I counted over 6 biopsies were taken. We tested for all kinds of things. Nothing came up positive. Again the wait was torture, but I was insanely frustrated when 'non-conclusive inflammation and gastropothy' came up. Basically means 'there's something weird going on, but we don't know what'.
We put me on acid reducer after acid reducer. We thought we found the right one, then it failed. Nausea came and went daily, until I decided to cut out gluten and all sugars(except natural sugars) from my diet. In January, my doctor said he suspects I have IBS, so we started treating for that. I did well until about late March, then other parts of my body started falling apart. We messed with dosages, did all we could think of. I began PT for my back in May, which everyone has been saying is unrelated, but I truly think is related somehow. I have also had tendinitis in my foot for over 7 months and will finally start PT on that this week.
Now, in July, a whole year later, i feel like we are back at square 1. I present with almost the exact symptoms I had when we started- give or take a few. I am headed back for another round of testing (endoscopy and colonoscopy) on Tuesday. I truly hope that this time there are answers. Answers that can be fixed easily and without anything that will spin my life off of its course more than it already has. I am very tired and incredibly ready to have more good days than bad. I am ready to be better.
Teams at Mosaic have been leaving to go all around the world for the last few weeks in order to serve different organizations who are making a huge impact in their communities and spreading the word of God. The Kenya team left last night. I am both so excited for them and heartbroken. I really thought when I got on the plane headed back to the states last year that I would be headed back this year. My heart breaks because I truly feel called to go all over the world, but I know now is not the time, no matter how much I wish it was. I know that when God calls me, I will be ready to go, whether it be with a huge pack of medication and materials on hand, or free from all of this.
My heart still longs to be somewhere else; far from the day to day routines. I know August will be full of adventures, new relationships, and the choice of whether I will make my classrooms a place where extraordinary things happen, or where we fall into the grind, and simply survive, until the next big thing comes down the pike.
I am certain big things are going to happen over the next year. I am just hoping that my health issues will soon be a thing of that past that helped grow me into a stronger person, not one that put limits on who I am and what I can do.