By Liane Kupferberg Carter
I am at a fish restaurant in the theater district the first time it happens. My sister in law Susan and I have tickets for the matinee performance of “Love, Loss and What I Wore.” I have just ordered the filet of sole, when suddenly the room gets too bright, the clatter of glassware too loud. A swell of nausea washes over me. My heart pounds; my throat constricts. I can’t breathe. Is it the smell of seafood? A panic attack?
I flee to the ladies’ room. Eventually the sick feelings subside.
But several days later it happens again. Nausea. Racing heart. Tightness. I go see the cardiologist.
“Everything checks out okay,” she says. “I don’t think it’s your heart. You should see the gastroenterologist.”
I dread the idea of someone threading a camera down my throat. But the nausea quickly becomes unrelenting. I feel systemically sick. After I wake nauseated one night, teeth chattering, I schedule the endoscopy. When I wake up from the anesthesia, the doctor tells me, “The good news is that you don’t have an ulcer. You have some reflux. We’ll have the biopsy back in a week. We’ll start you on a proton pump inhibitor, but if you don’t feel better, come back and we’ll explore further.”
The futuristic-sounding proton pump inhibitor, it turns out, is a fancy name for a Nexium- type medication. I am hopeful. And for a few weeks I do feel better. Then the nausea and constriction come back. The doctor calls it non-specific gastritis. Is he suggesting this is all in my head? Anxiety gnaws at me. I start to dread eating. I find myself cancelling social appointments, because they all revolve around meals. I am consumed with feeling ill. I think about the many meanings of that word consumed. Swallowed. Spent. Drained. Depleted. Devoured. Destroyed. I wake in the night with a suffocating sense of my own mortality, thinking, I can’t be sick. Mothers of special needs children have to live forever.
I return to the doctor. He palpates my stomach and weighs me. I have lost 12 pounds. “I think the medication isn’t helping as much because you have a hybrid form of gastric reflux and irritable bowel,” he says. “Are you under stress?”
I tell him that my younger son, Mickey, has autism and epilepsy. He nods sympathetically. “Okay, let’s just get an abdominal ultrasound to rule some things out.” Continue Reading…