Settle in, friends, this is a long story. Get yourself some snacks and wine. I’ll wait here.
Ok, so I can’t eat chocolate. I know! When I tell people that, they’re all ‘WTF’ and ‘OMG I’d die!’ but in reality, I’ve known this for eight years so I’m pretty over it by now. Struck down with debilitating migraines at 21, chocolate, mature cheese, red wine and pink wine were all axed from my diet, eventually after rounds and rounds of the ‘is could be this’ game. Slowly, I got over it. Declining red wine at parties, accepting then regifting boxes of chocolates from friends, carefully calculating how much chocolate I could tolerate (the tiniest amount), eating some (way more that I’m supposed to) and lying on the floor in pain holding a pillow over my face like I was practicing to suffocate myself (this actually doesn’t help a migraine).
And then came May 2014.
Ah, May, the month when pizza got taken away from me forever. And ice cream. And Starbucks Frappucchios. Less than a week after the Caramel Ribbon Crunch returned and Frappy Hour kicked off.
Here I am with my last ever Frappy less than twenty minutes after my diagnosis. You can’t see it, but there’s also a Buttermilk Blueberry Muffin there too.
You know, I feel like May was one of those months I’ll look back on a half a year down the road and think, ‘wait, what?!’
So I had this lactose intolerance test…no wait, lemme go back a bit because it’s important to understand why I was having this test.
All this stupidity kicked off 18 months ago, just after we moved here, when I started to get weird pains in my right abdomen. Nothing crazy. Just run-of-the-mill, oh-that’s-probably-just-period-pains…in my right side…when I’m not on my period…OK, fine, when I look back on it now it was perhaps not as not-weird as I initially thought and I shoulda really thought ‘appendix’ and not ‘right-sided period pain’. BUT I’d just spend five years living in Korea being ill Every. Single. Day. so this pain was a welcome break after a sea of cramping pain, nausea and diarrhea every single day. Did I mention it was every single day? They couldn’t figure it out in Korea. I had tests. And more tests. And blood tests. And an endoscopy. And took drugs. And more drugs. And antibiotics…for months at a time…and destroyed my immune system…and still, I didn’t get better. Until one day, 3 weeks into living in Canada, I realised I wasn’t sick every single day anymore. I was sick maybe one day. Out of 21. It was suggested it was soy and / or sesame causing my illness and eating a western diet I was just naturally avoiding these. I test this theory out, I had some soy sauce. Next day I got ill. Soy was eliminated from my diet. But yet I was still getting this weird side pain and random cramping/diarrhea every so often with no discernible reason.
So fast-forward a year later, May 2014, and I’ve had the pleasure of five abdominal ultrasounds, three pelvic ultrasounds (there’s a difference boys, Google it), a CT scan which really does make you feel like you’ve peed. Funny story, the male doctor who did my CT scan told me I had ‘women’s problems’ and needed to see a ‘women’s doctor’ without going into too much detail other than a scientific explanation as to how eggs are released from ovaries and then discharged me and sent me home. I was livid. I was more livid that I thought possible. A few weeks later I saw on the news my doctor’s house had sadly burned to the ground.
My friend wrote to me to ask if it was me.
It wasn’t. And no one died.
Following on from that, I’ve had too many blood tests to count (I have fantastically healthy blood apparently), a HIDA scan ( – where one is LITERALLY strapped down to a table unable to move while being injected with a radioactive tracer and put into a scanner machine for an hour…AN HOUR…), two colposcopies, a hysterosalpingography ( – it was so painful I don’t want to relive it by talking about it – I sweated through the hospital gown I was wearing it was so painful – although I’ll give credit to a girl at work who warned me to take the full day off and not attempt to come to work after), took pointless antibiotics, had an argument with a gynecologist who refused to do a laparoscopy for endometriosis despite it being the only reason I was referred to her in the first place. This was after a six month wait to actually see her. She referred me to the Regional Fertility Center to get the laparoscopy done ignoring the fact that I was showing zero fertility problems and back on a waiting list we went to see a doctor there.
I got misdiagnosed with IBS after one appointment with a family doctor and changed clinics, got jabbed in the butt with an injection (“This will hurt.” – my nurse), experienced morphine for the first time, had a lactose intolerance test, a celiac test, a test that involves the collection of…um, bodily waste…and putting it into a very small (WTF?!) tube…TWICE! It was so much worse that this. Honestly, you have no idea how ridiculous your life has gotten until you’re asked to collect poop that has not touched water and put it into a small tube…the first time I was all ‘is this something I really want in my Google history?’ and the second time I was all ‘I got this! Gimme the test tube’. And I thought that time in Korea when I had to stick a cotton swab up my butt was bad. And then finally it was all capped off with an eventual laparoscopy and some endometriosis removal by the fertility clinic. The Canadian One had some fun wheeling me around the hospital in a wheelchair after the surgery.
So, lemme get back to the lactose test. For weeks beforehand I’d maintained I was not, under any circumstances whatsoever, absolutely, positively NOT lactose intolerant and this test was a GIANT. WASTE. OF. MY. TIME. I told everyone. I told friends. I told Facebook. I had to get up early. I had to fast. I had to drink a stupid drink and get four blood tests and live at the blood clinic lab on a Saturday for three hours with all the other impatient, annoyed people. IT. WAS. POINTLESS.
Then the results came back.
I’m lactose intolerant.
First thing I said to my doctor: “But…pizza…”
I also have endometriosis but let’s not dwell on that, it’s the pizza thing that really hurt.
Now, I’ve realized when I tell people I’m lactose intolerant they think ‘oh, you can’t have milk’. No. No no. I can also not have cheese. Cheese. CHEESE. Cheese is on pizza.
I cannot have pizza.
Or Starbucks Frappucchinos. I mean I do realize that this is not really a problem in the grand scheme of things. The Canadian One is diabetic and gave up everything and eats lots of salad.
Although, looking back, May was also the month my friend discovered she has an extra rib in her body that’s been causing her an incredible amount of pain so in hindsight it could be…no, no, the pizza thing is so much worse.
I love pizza.
Now, since May, I’ve learned how to make my own pizza. Lactose free. With no cheese. The first time I had no cheese pizza, I didn’t get ill, I didn’t throw up (I’ve done that twice literally in pizza places, never put two and two together), it was glorious and it was the way forward.
Despite all this, none of these tests has actually solved the pain-in-right-side problem just the stomach cramping / illness side of things. I was still in pain. And lots of pain. I couldn’t walk properly, pick things up, carry heavy objects or stand for long periods of time without pain. It was causing stress, headaches and sleeplessness not to mention despair as no one could figure it out.
At my next doctor’s appointment in June, my doctor suddenly asked if I’d ever injured my back. I told her about moving to Canada, how I ended up in the hospital my second day in Ontario with back pain suspected to be kidney pain. I told her how I’d taken antibiotics. That sometimes my back hurts periodically but I’ve always been told by many doctors that it would go away and to wait. That ‘patience is the key’ and ‘here, take these Percocet’. Here I am my second day as a Canadian paying for healthcare as I was in the wrong province:
My family doctor suddenly had a theory and a friend who she thought could help me. I immediately left her office and called her friend who said she would see me 48 hours later. I turned up promptly at 5:30pm for my first meeting with my physiotherapist, a lovely, brilliant, funny Irish woman who’s so full of smiles and optimism you just want to kidnap her and take her home with you. After a 10 minute conversation and medical history, she announced she knew what was wrong and how to fix it. I must have looked skeptical because she went off and got a medical book and showed me diagrams of what happened to me and why I’m in pain. I almost cried.
When moving here, I’d torn and damaged the muscles in my back with the twisting and turning and carrying of heavy boxes (for weeks beforehand as we moved twice before we actually left Korea) and bags (as we moved here, with a stopover in Ontario) and it was all compounded by the fact that I sat at a desk all day and it was causing referred pain my lower right quadrant.
Within an hour of physio involving massage, electrotherapy and ultrasound therapy I felt a billion times better. Better than any of the painkillers, heat pads or muscle relaxants ever did. This little AMAZING Irish woman had found and solved my 14 month-long problem in less than two hours. Well, not solved, I still see her every two weeks and follow a strict daily physio regime, but we are on our way. And my pain? Ohhhh my pain. That spends its days either being non-existent or it comes along and I know exactly how to get rid of it in a timely manner. No more afraid to stand at concerts. No more oh-my-god-the-pain-is-so-bad-I-might-die days. None.
So, at this point, I bet you’re thinking, so where does the EpiPen come in?
August 4th, the Monday holiday in Canada, I was at work as I’d volunteered to do overtime in lieu of a day off and a day and a half’s pay – not a bad compromise for working one day. Things were going fine. We were a little busy but not overly so and I was working on some online courses I had on the go in my spare time. Lunch rolled round and I took my homemade lunch out to the couch to eat alone. I usually never eat alone but it was a holiday day and there was maybe twenty people in the building. My lunch was rice, tomatoes, white beans, sage, beef sausage from Safeway and onion. All food I’d have previously many times, except the sausage, which I’d only ever had once before. After the first two bites, I started sneezing uncontrollably. My eyes felt itchy and like they were on fire and my ears felt hot. I suddenly realised I was having trouble breathing. I was wheezing. I text The Canadian One to tell him what was happening and while waiting for his reply, I went to pee because 1. I needed to pee and 2. I was fairly certain this wasn’t going to end in anything other than a hospital trip and so I didn’t want to need to pee that whole time. As I left the bathroom, I got dizzy. Really really dizzy. And my breathing was slowing. I began to realise I might be dying. That this was it. I was going to die alone on the couch at work surrounded by strip lighting and my half eaten lunch and lonely fork. I called The Canadian One who told me to go find my supervisor as at this point I was struggling to talk. In hindsight, that’s what I should have done first before calling him but anyway…
I bolted back to my supervisor’s desk, flailing about in a panic, explained I was having an allergic reaction and was marched over to the manger on-duty’s desk. I sat, wheezing, not allowing them call 911 as I felt it was ‘too dramatic’ but as we were right next to a hospital, I agreed to being driven there by the manager. I was making weird wheezing noises but my throat had stopped closing at this point, although my nose was blocked and all puffed up at the back. I called The Canadian One who was with our vet neighbor and both got in the car and headed to the hospital to meet me.
An hour in the ER and, although I had yet to be seen by a doctor, I was feeling fine but couldn’t talk properly. I was diagnosed with an allergic reaction, (obviously) given two Benadryl (which knocked me out) and was told to follow-up with my family doctor.
Honestly, you should have seen her face when I went back and explained all this to her.
I would later be diagnosed with a mystery ‘preservative’ allergic, issued an EpiPen for safety and made see a dietitian as all my foods were being taken from me and I was running out of things to eat.
My Family Doc: “Do you know what an EpiPen is?”
Me: “Yes, I’ve seen the ads on TV.”
Doc: “Ah, yes, with the little girl.”
Me: “Yes…but I’m not allergic to anything. I’ve never been allergic to anything.”
Doc: “Yes, you are. You’re getting an EpiPen.”
And so I did. I got two.
For more information on food allergies or anaphylaxis, check out Anaphylaxis Canada or Anaphylaxis Campaign UK. The Canadian site has the option to sign up for a Food Allergy Alert service oddly enough sponsored by where I work!
For more information on living dairy-free, check out Go Dairy Free for hints, tips and recipes. Also I recommend Daiya as a preferred cheese alternative, although it does take some getting used to and also almond milk for coffee is quite nice if you are also soy-free. My addiction to Veganaise soy-free ‘Mayo’ is outta control too. It really is so much better than mayo! And Earth Balance produce a really good line of vegan alternatives.