Let’s jump in the Wayback Machine and travel back to around 1993. I don’t recall the exact date, but I was living in Los Angeles. A friend of mine invited me out to dinner at a très chic Mexican restaurant. After a drink and appetizers, my abdomen cramped up, and I felt as though someone was stabbing me in the stomach with a samurai sword. I excused myself from our table and spent ten or fifteen minutes in the bathroom sitting on the toilet, doubled over, sweating and in pain.
Upon my return to the table, my friend asked if I was okay. I lied and said yes. She rolled her eyes and finished her dinner. There in front of me was a beautiful seafood burrito, but I could only pick at it. I downed a few bites and that was all I could manage as the stabbing pain returned. We left the restaurant and I dropped her off at her apartment and then drove straight home. Pain ripped through my gut all night. I remember sweating profusely and not sleeping.
I didn’t have health insurance in 1993, and whatever this pain was; it felt very expensive to investigate, so I didn’t bother to visit a hospital or a walk-in clinic. Just ride it out, I thought. Around daybreak I fell asleep for a few hours, and when I woke up the pain had diminished to a slight ache.
Did I think again about looking into what caused the problem? Absolutely not! For the moment, I was healed and that’s all I needed to know. When you’re in your mid-twenties, you just want to move on if you don’t have to deal with something. Which was precisely what I did. I stuck my head in the sand. From this I learned that high pain tolerance usually comes back to haunt you.
This episode falls in the 10 to 15 year age range the surgeon mentioned. There’s no way to prove it, but I believe that’s the night the tumor got a foothold in my small intestine. Whether it self-generated due to my wild habits in the late 80s/early 90s; burst through the wall of my small intestine just because it felt it was time to do so; or leapt onto center stage because it was a diva, that’s the night I believe it all started. There’s no way to prove this hypothesis, but it makes sense to me.
From then and there, I continued on with life as per usual, and my digestive system worked just fine until winter 2002. What did happen, over the course of nearly a decade, was that I developed flushing of my skin and night sweats – two symptoms of carcinoid tumors and carcinoid symptom respectively. I’d wake up in the middle of the night in a pool of sweat, or suddenly my face, neck, or chest would burst out in red splotches. Another thing I noticed is that no matter how cold it was, I rarely required more than a light jacket. By this time, I lived in Wyoming where the weather could plummet ten or fifteen degrees below zero, and I could remain comfortable in a fleece-lined windbreaker. My thought was that my body produced extra body heat because I was out of shape. More exercise would cure the problem, right?
The night sweats and flushing never went away, regardless of my physical condition. Pay attention to your body should be a subject taught in health class. Maybe they did teach that and I just wasn’t paying attention. After all these years, it’s clear to me that our bodies communicate to us. We just have to learn to observe and listen, because we may not understand precisely what it’s saying.
Back to 2002. In February, I began having pains in my abdomen again. Unlike what happened the decade before, this pain is tolerable though relentless. It’s more of a gentle ache that won’t go away. I still don’t have health insurance, so I hold out for nearly a week before succumbing to the pain and visiting the emergency room.
The diagnosis? Diverticulosis. I had never heard of it, and the doctor prescribed me anti-inflammatories (steroids) and set me off on my merry way. After a couple of days, I felt fine. No pain, no reason to keep worrying about this, right? It’s worth noting that I had totally forgotten about the night at the restaurant in the 90s and therefore failed to mention it to the ER doctors. But who cares?!? I felt better. I had no pain, so everything was fine.
Until March 2003 when the pain returned. I visited a doctor this time – still uninsured – and she and I went over my previous history, and her diagnosis was – you guessed it – diverticulosis. More steroids (anti-inflammatories) and once again, in a few weeks I felt chipper.
The idea that I can treat pain like a minor obstacle and hurdle it, and the world will be just fine is a wonderful novelty. I was a mere thirty-five years old. Surely this was all a minor inconvenience and I was done with doctors and hospital visits. I was too young to be dealing with any of this!