History Part 2 – And So It Begins…

I ended the last post at the point where something weird was happening to my digestive system after more than two years of non-stop antibiotic use. Let me explain how that unfolded.

One evening, several hours after dinner, I gradually became very nauseous and felt feverish. Those symptoms lasted maybe one or two hours, then cleared up and I felt hungry and generally fine. The next day, I ate as I normally would and felt fine until after dinner. Then, the exact same thing happened again – feverish and nauseous for an hour or two several hours after dinner, then felt better. This pattern repeated for almost a week. I did not vomit and don’t recall any bowel disturbance at that point. I was eating different foods every day, so no constant there.

I was twenty years old, in college, working part time, and without any health insurance. So, I went to an emergency medical clinic. They declared “stomach virus” and dismissed me. Uh, okay, but a virus generally doesn’t only make you sick for a few hours per day and leave you otherwise feeling fine, does it?

Well, I had a nagging feeling that maybe the antibiotics were causing the stomach upset. It is a known side effect. I called my dermatologist and told him what was going on and asked about stopping the tetracycline. He said, fine, go ahead and try it. I stopped taking tetracycline. Over successive weeks, the pattern of symptoms lessened from every day to several episodes per week. It seemed like the antibiotics had some connection but simply removing them wasn’t an immediate cure.

Even though I was getting a bit old to see my pediatrician, I trusted her medical wisdom, so I paid her a visit to consult on the problem. She had no definitive conclusion other than, yes, the antibiotics probably caused the illness.

Let’s fast forward a few years. I graduated from college and started on my career. The digestive issues continued to plague me. They hit at different times during the day – always about an hour or several hours after eating. The nausea was physically draining and I recall more than a few occasions driving to college after breakfast when I thought I’d have to pull over and be sick. The restroom at my first office was another refuge where I spent a lot of time. The episodes also sometimes induced chills (feeling feverish and chills often go together). My coworkers probably thought I was a little weird shivering in my office huddled in front of a space heater.

My employer after college was the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (where I’m still working!). As a state government employee, I now had good medical insurance and could start working with doctors to get to the bottom of my problem. Well, that’s easier said than done and will be the subject of my next blog entry. I will take you on a tour of how the medical profession of the 1990’s viewed an illness like mine and how it affected my growing distrust of doctors. My wife and I have a running joke that doctors are only “practicing” medicine and haven’t quite got it right yet.