If you haven’t read Part 1, click here to read the background and our first step towards healing Adam’s IBD.
The damage caused by the occasional cookie or snack was cumulative. The final flare up was the worst he’d ever experienced.
In November, two days before Thanksgiving, we went to Bald Head Island with my parents. Bald Head is a hidden gem of an island in North Carolina’s emerald ocean with beautiful old forests and no cars. The first night there I woke up to hear Adam violently ill. He was crouched over the low bed, supporting himself on hands and knees groaning. Adam never verbalizes his pain. The entire time I’d known him I’d seen him tear up, I’d seen him barely able to get up from the couch, I’d seen him nauseous from pain, but I had never heard him express the pain he’d felt. Frankly I was terrified. He’d never experienced this level of internal pain–sharp, cutting, twisting. I called an ambulance.
We thought, initially, that it might be appendicitis. He’d never experienced a Crohn’s episode that intense and I’d had little first hand experience with Inflammatory Bowel Disease. Adam had eaten a bit of stuffing at a work Thanksgiving dinner and it turned out to be the straw that broke the camel’s back. “Cheating” had prevented Adam’s gut from fully healing and had set off an autoimmune response, causing his body to attack itself.
This was a serious wake up call. A sign of what was to come if we didn’t get serious about Adam’s health.
That ride to the emergency room was the hardest night of my life. For Adam, I can only imagine the pain and fear he experienced. They transported him to the ferry where he was jerkily loaded onto the boat for an hour’s ride back to shore. We were told he was lucky not to be airlifted out. In the second ambulance, after docking, he was given morphine. It didn’t relieve the pain.
At the ER, we worked with a doctor who was very understanding and answered all our questions. We were told antibiotics were the only way to stop the attack on his gut wall so they dosed him up and gave him another round of morphine which finally kicked in enough to dull the pain. The doctor wanted to keep Adam in the hospital but was willing to give him an anti-nausea medication so I could drive him to a hospital near our townhouse in Raleigh, about a 3 hour trip. He warned us I might have to pull over to help Adam out of the car to throw up on the way but we were lucky. He faded in and out of consciousness, dulled by the morphine, while I drove non-stop to a Duke hospital near my house.
I dropped Adam at the emergency entrance and had him take the papers we’d been given to the desk while I parked and then ran inside, worried I’d find him passed out. But he was fine, the nurse at reception had taken the papers and was entering in the information. I was able to supply the details after sitting Adam down. We were quickly taken into a curtain-partitioned room. It was early enough in the morning that, apparently, it wasn’t the ER’s peak time so we saw a doctor quickly. She told us simply that, if she kept him there, all they’d do was give him pain medication and an IV to keep him hydrated. If I was comfortable monitoring him then she would write the prescriptions and send him home. Grateful, we took her suggestion and left with the prescription.
And then we experienced the fallout from that autoimmune attack. It would take Adam a year to recover from the damage.
I remember the constant fear and exhaustion I felt in the ensuing weeks. I saw him drop from 170 lbs to 125 lbs. For the first few days he couldn’t even look at food, only able to drink water. I was growing increasingly worried until I finally managed to get real, homemade bone broth into him. For the first time he slept deeply, snoring gently as his body relaxed and started to take in nourishment. On the eighth day, he was finally able to eat small amounts of solid food. I had been spending all my time with him in bed, including eating there, and I had made a simple bowl of shirataki noodles and ground beef with a marinara. He asked me if he could have a bite, and then promptly finished the entire thing.
The month following that is a blur to me. I had to return to work. Terrified something would happen while I was gone, I called him frequently until his sister was able to come by and stay with him. As he was too weak to get out of bed on his own, I would get up throughout the night to help him to the bathroom. I would wake up even more often and reach over to check that he was breathing regularly; I was so scared he would stop. When the pain subsided enough, his sister and I could help him walk down the stairs so he could sit on the couch. His knees, not in great shape in the first place, now hurt terribly going down stairs and it would be close to a year before he could run again. The greatest improvement in his knees came later when I started giving him a consistent dose of collagen and ionic magnesium.
We didn’t receive any support from conventional medical channels.
One GI doctor we visited really summed up the reaction we received from conventional practitioners. Adam had visited her before and felt comfortable going back so we booked an emergency appointment. I had been reading into the use of a paleo diet, curcumin, boswellia, and low-dose naltrexone to relieve Crohn’s symptoms. I brought the studies and recommendations to the visit. The doctor told us that we could either prescribe Adam prednisone immediately, taper it off, and then get him on another drug for the rest of his life or we could find another doctor. She told me that there was no evidence that diet had any effect on Crohn’s and that he would never recover. Shocked and angry, we left with a prescription for prednisone and the understanding that we would have to find someone else.
Adam was still in considerable pain, and we couldn’t find a functional medicine doctor fast enough. I left it up to him to decide to take the prednisone or not and he opted to use it. He feels it (slowly) stopped the pain. I know a bit more about it now than I did then and I’m falling on the side that Adam was already recovering and that the pain relief that slowly set in was, in most part, his own healing and not the drug. Either way, this was yet another nightmare.
Prednisone has a laundry list of symptoms and Adam had about half of them.
Thankfully they were more mild than they could have been. First his feet swelled up like balloon animals. It was so comical looking and I was so short on sleep that I had to bite my tongue very hard to keep from laughing. Prednisone increases the permeability of veins, so fluid had begun to pool in Adam’s feet. On a wild guess, I soaked his feet in a green tea bath, banking on the idea that caffeine increased circulation and constricted blood vessels. I didn’t verify either idea, I just figured I had nothing to lose. Surprisingly, it worked. I have no idea if it was coincidence, caffeine, or just the hot water, but Adam’s swelling reduced.
The prednisone also kept him up at night, which frustrated me since I was felt sleep would do him more good than the drug. Of course, this also woke me up and I was already short on sleep from the previous period of wake up throughout the night to help him out of bed. As an added bonus, prednisone shortens your temper. Adam’s never had a bad temper and the prednisone didn’t turn him into a raging nutcase, but he did snap a bit faster and more often. Again, as I was short on sleep, that was just great to add on top of everything else.
Once he was off the prednisone, we started addressing the lingering results of the attack with diet and carefully chosen supplements.
From the inflammation, pain, and lack of motility, Adam’s muscles ached. His sister and I massaged his abdomen and back with a hot pepper cream. The heat and endorphins helped soothe the muscles and keep things moving in his intestinal tract.
During his recovery, we followed a very low carb diet to combat the intense inflammation in his intestines. When he was beginning to recover, he had lost so much weight that he was skin and bones with a lower abdomen swollen far out of proportion. The diet helped get his inflammation back under control. We added l-glutamine and l-arginine to help his body heal the damage to his intestines. He took it twice daily while recovering and still takes some every few days now. We also added the collagen and magnesium which helped heal and relieve pain from the damage to his joints and muscle and helped him rebuild some of the muscle.
Over the following year and a half, we kept to a strict paleo, low carb diet. We discovered that vegetable oil (when eating out) really upset his GI system. We also noticed that he occasionally felt overfull, bloated, and had some pain. We couldn’t pinpoint specific foods so he would often do a short fast and the pain would clear up. Still, I was concerned. We were doing everything I knew to heal Adam’s gut. The inflammation was gone (we finally found a functional medicine doctor and had a C-reactive protein test) and his blood work came back perfect.
So why was he still experiencing bloating and the occasional painful night?
You may not have known this…I certainly didn’t. Check out the final part with brand new research that helped unlock the way to get Adam back to his optimal health.
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