It’s three days before the new school year starts, and I have E. coli. For real. The bad E. coli–where antibiotics are necessary.
Want to know what floors me? I was oblivious to the severity of the matter until Wednesday evening when my doctor’s office called and informed me.
You’re probably thinking to yourself, Mrs. Ram Jam, how in the French toast were you unaware when you experienced the classic symptoms: nausea, abdominal pain, fatigue, diarrhea, and malaise? Are you also one of those women who didn’t know she was pregnant until she sneezed and a baby came out?
To answer the latter question–no. But to answer the former–these symptoms are a mere fraction of my normal. I just thought my IBS was flaring with the fire of a thousand suns.
I’m going to be honest; 85 percent of the time, I’m in a shit ton of pain. It could be fibromyalgia, IBS, Raynaud’s, or Meniere’s Disease induced. I’m not looking for sympathy or to complain. It’s my truth, and as always, invisible illness remains invisible if its sufferers remain silent.
Because I’m in pain most days, it’s pretty damn tricky to determine if new or increased intensity pain is due to chronic illness or if it has a different cause.
Overwhelming fatigue? Is that my fibro flaring because of a midsummer cold front storming across Louisiana or a vitamin B12 deficiency, anemia, or strep throat? OR DO I HAVE THE PLAGUE???
Radiating tender point hip pain? Is that fibro induced too or a vitamin D deficiency and a case of weak hips that needs three months of physical therapy? OR ARE MY BUTT CHEEKS GOING TO FALL OFF WHILE I SLUMBER???
Bowel habit shifts and abdominal pain? Is my IBS pitching a hissy fit because it’s impossible to control while traveling or could it be small intestine bacterial overgrowth or E. coli? OR DO I NEED AN EMERGENCY COLOSTOMY???
Most of the time my pain is due to chronic disease, but occasionally it’s something else. For example within the past six years, I’ve dealt with all of the diseases, physical therapy, and deficiencies listed above (excusing the all capped crazy thoughts of course). I initially chalked all these maladies up to my chronic illnesses.
I’m lucky this bout of E. coli coincided with a regularly scheduled trip to the gastroenterologist; otherwise, it could have gotten awful before I convinced myself I needed a doctor.
So how do I tell the difference?
I can’t. When the pain gets different, unbearable, or alarming for too long, I schedule an appointment, describe my symptoms to my doctor, and try to convince myself I haven’t contracted botulism in the interim.
And that’s part of what’s terrifying for invisible illness sufferers. We live in a habitual game show entitled: Is That My Invisible Illness, Am I Dying, or Is It Something Less Drastic Than Death but Still Needs To Be Treated?
Unfortunately, I didn’t win a new car this episode, just E. coli. Which might be the worst thanks-for-playing parting gift ever. Who’s producing this game show anyway? You’re the suckiest. I hope the network drops you midseason and you get E. coli too.
(P.S. How the hell did I get E. coli? *shudders violently* Okay, universe, you can keep that secret for eternity.)