I started experiencing abdominal cramps and every time I ate, I felt intense pain and had to immediately rush to the bathroom. I started to realize that I needed to go to the doctor but I was so busy at both work and school that I put it off. For three days before Thanksgiving, I didn’t eat much of anything so I could continue to get things done. I managed fairly well without food (okay maybe I was a little slower and not as smart as usual), and not eating ensured that I could drive to Vacaville, my hometown, the night before Thanksgiving.
The next day my family told me that it looked like I lost weight. I feel like most people are so used to seeing themselves a certain way that it is hard to see the changes in their own bodies without other people pointing them out. I had lost seven pounds. I never loose weight so I was pretty shocked, and it confirmed to me that there was definitely something wrong with me.
I started eating again, because I realized that not eating was not helping anything. But after Thanksgiving, for a two-week period, things got a lot worse and I was still loosing weight. My joints felt like they were on fire, my eyes hurt, I was nauseous, and I was having 15 to 20 bowel movements a day, with the worst occurring at night. I would go to sleep for a maximum of two hours and then every hour of the night I would have to rush to the bathroom. I used a whole cupboard of toilet paper! That’s expensive. Because of my lack of sleep I developed a really bad head cold, so my nose felt like it was broken as well.
For those two weeks, the toilet bowl was also red from bleeding in my colon. My stomach cramps and spasms were so bad that my parents were beginning to think my colon had perforated. It was time to get help. But this started the most frustrating and confusing part of my story. Health Care.
I Have Health Insurance…Right?!?
As an undergrad, I had gone to UCSC (Banana Slugs!!!). In the University of California systems, the school health insurance was required. Because I was a graduate student at a California State University, I assumed I was covered by the school’s insurance. But I was dead wrong. State schools do not offer health insurance.
I tried getting insurance, was sold crappy insurance that did not even apply in California (even though the brokers assured me it was a great health plan), and I had to cancel it. I blame part of this on the fact that I was out of my mind with pain but mostly on the insurance brokers for answering my questions wrong. My dad took over after this fiasco since I was obviously an easy mark. Kaiser Permanente was chosen but because of the new Affordable Care Act, nothing was starting until January 1.
Finally my family decided that we would just pay out of pocket at Sutter Regional, the place I used to go when I was under their insurance. $100 per visit and my first appointment I had to take blood and stool tests ($525). They all came back negative (I had to pay another $100 for an appointment to find that out) and I was sent to a GI specialist a week later. This whole process took three weeks. By the time I saw the GI specialist I had gotten over the worst of my symptoms on my own, but I was still not able to eat without going to the bathroom soon after. He asked really good questions, listened closely, and said it could be one of two things. I could have had an undetected virus that attacked my digestive tract and I was suffering from Post-IBS. Or it could be a more chronic condition like Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, or colon cancer. The only way to diagnose me was to get a colonoscopy done. He recommended, because of my health care situation, waiting until I was covered by insurance, especially since I had been getting better. So I waited to get the ball rolling. Continue reading on Part II – Diagnoses and Adjustment.