My mysterious spewing disease

It is 2006 and I’m in Thailand with my on-again-off-again boyfriend who’s training and fighting Muay Thai out of a gym in Chiang Mai. Our relationship is pretty unstable but I’m too much of a wuss to address it head-on; I’m too scared of losing him. I’m doing a little bit of Muay Thai myself, but mostly I’m there to be with him. I’m buying food from the street vendors every day, and every now and then I eat something dodgy and get sick for a few days – it’s pretty normal for that to happen over there. Sometime during the three and a half months I was there I picked up a bug of some sort, probably through something I ate, that was to haunt me for the next four years.

I remember the first time it happened; it was while I was still over there. I had a crook tummy and was throwing up over and over again, despite there being nothing to bring up other than bright yellow gastric juices. I don’t remember there being any pain during that first episode – the pain came later. The next time was almost a year later. This episode, and all the ones that followed, started with pain in my upper abdomen which intensified over a period of several hours and radiated out over my entire abdomen, making it feel rigid and tight and burn like ice.

Eventually the pain was severe enough that I would spew because of it. Spewing would temporarily relieve the pain, for a minute or two anyway, and then the pain would build up again until it made me spew again. Each episode, from the onset of pain through to the pain and spewing subsiding lasted for six to eight hours. For some reason, each episode almost always began in the evening, which meant that the spewing was happening in the middle of the night. While every single person in the whole wide world was surely peacefully asleep I was dragging myself from bed to toilet and back again, sweating one minute with my head down the toilet, and shivering uncontrollably the next. All I wanted was to be asleep. I knew when I was through the worst of it because I would doze off for a second between a spew and the pain coming back. Eventually I’d be able to sleep and the next day I’d be pain free and on the road to recovery, not knowing how many weeks or months would pass before the next encounter.

I saw doctors, had blood and faeces tests and ultrasounds done, I described my situation to anyone who I thought could help me. But the tests didn’t reveal anything, and the reaction I got from most doctors was “well that’s very interesting but I have no idea what it is or how to help you”. I had acupuncture and drank foul-tasting Chinese medicine, I had neurolink sessions; I tried everything I could think of. In my desperation to try and make sense of what was happening to me I even considered that maybe I was creating my sickness myself and that it was a manifestation of my negative thoughts, or something crazy like that.

At first I just endured the pain and allowed the process to run its course, but this got old after about 10 episodes. So I started presenting myself at the hospital’s emergency department so a doctor could actually see me in the throes of an episode rather than me trying to describe it after the fact. Aaaah the morphine. I can’t even begin to describe how good it felt to have my pain taken away. All of a sudden I felt human again, freed from my private prison of pain.

I take my hat off to people that live with chronic pain. Nobody can feel anybody else’s pain, and nobody really wants to hear you go on about how bad your pain is. I’ll never know if my ten-out-of-ten pain was more or less painful than the next person’s, I’m just glad it’s over.

My trips to the emergency department always ended the same way: the morphine took the pain away, the blood tests revealed nothing, so, pain-free and no longer spewing I was sent on my merry way, none the wiser as to what the hell was wrong with me. Somewhere along the way I was prescribed codeine, probably to keep me out of ED so they could focus on real emergencies. This turned out to be a big problem though. The codeine was powerful enough to alleviate the pain for a few hours, which meant I wasn’t throwing up. But the throwing up was an important part of the bug’s cycle, as I found out later, and by interfering with that I was drawing out six to eight hours of pain and spewing into about four days of temporary pain suppression and reliance on pain killers and their side effects – anyone who’s taken codeine will know how it binds you up.

Everything was coming to a head in 2010. The episodes were increasing in frequency, nothing I was doing was helping, and I was feeling increasingly frustrated and worried. Each time the now-familiar pain would set in I would feel crushed inside from knowing what the next few hours and days would entail. I was beaten down both physically and emotionally – as someone who has always been fit and healthy it was devastating for me and left me feeling very vulnerable and fragile.

Mum was also really worried about me, and seeing as conventional medicine had failed me big time, suggested I go and see and old flame of hers who happened to be a medium. Now this is where my story might start to challenge your belief systems a bit, but it happened to me, despite being dubious about it myself, so I know that it’s true.

So I went to visit this fellow, whom I had not seen or spoken to or had any contact with for at least 20 years. He immediately informed me that I had a tropical parasite living in my digestive system. It was something uncommon in the Western world and wouldn’t have shown up in a faeces test, which only tests for a few common parasites. It was also very small, about the size of a match head, so an ultrasound wouldn’t have picked it up either. He said that for most of the bug’s life cycle it happily lived in my intestines without causing any discomfort to me, its host. But about every six weeks or so it needed to reproduce, and during its reproductive phase it moved from my intestines into my stomach and (somehow) caused pain so that it could be vomited up and spread into the world.

To this day, I don’t know if this is true, and if it is true, what this parasite is called. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is the fact that the advice he gave me worked and now I am free. It was pretty simple really, he said to take colloidal silver, and if that didn’t work to take ascorbic acid – dry and undiluted – when an episode was happening, as this would come in direct contact with the bug while it was in my stomach and scorch the mother fucker to smithereens (my words not his).

So I took the colloidal silver dutifully each day, and it stirred things up a bit but it wasn’t powerful enough on its own. One evening an episode was coming on, and as I waited with grim resolve for the first spew, instead of the pain increasing to spew-point it started to recede and then went away entirely. I was ecstatic! I wasn’t completely clear yet but something was changing. During the next episode, I decided to give the ascorbic acid a go. It burnt like fire, but it was easily tolerable in comparison to the pain I was used to.

The last episode happened in September 2010. I felt the pain coming on and I just sat with it, no interference with codeine or morphine. Immediately after each spew I swallowed about half a teaspoon of ascorbic acid. I visualised the bug in my tummy being killed by the ascorbic acid and I guess that’s what happened. I’ve been completely clear for four years and counting; not a murmur or a hint of the shit times that plagued me for four long years.

The day I visited the medium’s house he told me that his guides had been particularly active that morning, informing them of my condition, amongst other things. One even stopped by while I was there, causing his eyes to narrow to thin slits and flutter about as he sat in his armchair. He proceeded to tell me some things about me, personal things, while he was in this altered state. He told me that I have a heart like a marshmallow and that it gets hurt more easily than most, which is true. He told me that I’m like a fox terrier: once I get impassioned about something I can’t let it go, which is also true. Then he said that he could see me at a crossroads; I’d been walking along a path with someone for a long time, we’d come to a junction and the person I’d been with had turned and started walking in a different direction. I knew that I couldn’t follow this person on the path they’d chosen, but I didn’t know which path to take myself so I was left standing alone at this junction, unable to move at all, in any direction. This, of course, summed things up perfectly. The person was my ex, the path was the path we’d taken together, and the crossroads symbolised him moving on and me being left behind, unable to let go or move on.

In time I did let go and move on. And I’m eternally grateful that the information came to me to allow me to heal myself, regardless of its source.

How to move house without losing yourself

I’ve just moved house for the tenth time in the last two-and-a-quarter years. Anyone would think I was running away from something. I’m not. I’m running towards a better place, each and every time; that’s what I tell myself anyway.

The last place I felt really settled was the house in Dunedin where I lived for three years. I’d returned from a stint overseas and all I wanted was a kitchen and a garden and to stop living out of a backpack. I loved that house, I fantasised about buying it and doing it up and living there forever.

I replaced the missing panes of glass in the glasshouse and grew tomatoes and cucumbers and basil and chillies in there. Outside I grew beetroot and red onions and peas and carrots and coriander. When I first started contemplating leaving Dunedin for Auckland it was the coriander patch that yanked the most firmly on my heart strings: the few plants I’d initially bought had multiplied into a miniature forest that burst through the soil of its own accord early each spring, proving that it had survived yet another gruelling Dunedin winter.

Interestingly, the spring that I left Dunedin the coriander never came up.

I remember lying in my bed looking around at all my possessions and wondering what the hell I would do with them all. The bed itself, a dresser, sets of drawers, couches, tables and chairs, a TV, none of it was worth shipping to Auckland so it all had to go. The memories that had been created within the parameters of that house and garden also had to be dismantled and stored away in little boxes in the recesses of my mind.

My friend and flatmate, Kate, and I had had some great times in that place; we were the hostesses with the mostess: we’d invite friends around for barbeques and everyone would always know that they could expect a mean spread to be laid on. Other times we’d get the fire blazing and play endless hours of cards or scrabble or poker, or do 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles, or watch episode after episode of Outrageous Fortune or Dexter.

The trick to moving house without your life completely coming apart at the seams is to pack up the stuff you use least first. Pictures can come off walls, books into boxes, linen and towels and other-season clothes can all be packed away. Leave out the things you use every day until the very last minute – you’ll need them again soon and you don’t want to be rummaging around in the bottom of a box searching for that elusive hairbrush/toothbrush/most comfortable pair of undies.

You’d think that with all this packing and moving and unpacking I’d have whittled down my possessions by now but I haven’t. I still have my jigsaw puzzle collection that I cart around with me – some of them I’ve had since I was little and they’re filled with memories of doing puzzles with Dad. I have Rupert the Bear books that Dad also used to read to me and I want to one day read to the children in my life. I have records and CDs and framed pictures and textbooks and clothes and exercise equipment and pots and pans and cups and bowls and teaspoons… And a great collection of cardboard boxes that I’ve learned to not throw away.

If I didn’t have all these material possessions I would still be me, but these things help me redefine myself whenever I move house. My coffee cup and frying pan and chopping board help me to feel at home in a new place. My memories and experiences and all the things that make me me are embedded in the nooks and crannies and creases of all these objects that I refuse to stop bringing with me.

I never moved house as a kid. I was born in the house where my mum still lives now and my roots run deep there. I think if I hadn’t had this foundation in life I would be finding all the moving around I’ve been doing over the last couple of years really hard. But moving around and trying different options has helped me to know who I am and where I come from, and, little by little, I’m figuring out where I want to be and what my purpose is. It’s kind of a process of elimination – each living arrangement that doesn’t work gives me a clearer idea of what my ideal is, I take the snippets that did work with me and I leave the rest behind.

One day (soon, I hope) I’ll be putting down a new coriander patch, and making much more permanent gestures too, like planting trees and arranging vegetable gardens and unrolling and framing that beautiful print I bought in Thailand 16 years ago. I might even get around to framing all my degrees and diplomas and certificates too and finally allowing myself to acknowledge how far I’ve come and what I’ve achieved, even if it has been in a very higgledy-piggledy, roundabout kind of way.

I’m a neat freak

When I was a kid, I vowed that when I grew up and had my own home the crockery and cutlery would always and only be matching sets. In my childhood home you’d be lucky to find two plates that matched. Instead you’d find stacks of randomly assorted plates and bowls in varying degrees of deterioration, hand carved wooden spoons, an old handheld egg beater. Nothing matched and nothing was new.

My mum had a special knack for putting some ethnic garment of the dye-running variety in with my school uniform, turning my white socks and blouses a mortifying shade of pink. I quickly volunteered to do my own laundry, hanging each item with care, choosing two pegs of the same shape, size and colour and carefully pinning the item to the clothes line without stretching or creasing the fabric. Each Sunday evening I would iron my school uniform skirt so that the pleats sat perfectly flat and perfectly straight.

This was my way maintaining a little bit of order and calm when so many other things in my life felt like they were spiralling out of control. This was my way of coping. Coping with growing up in a family where there was favouritism, coping with my parent’s finally separating after years of bickering and squabbling. Looking on as one sister battled cancer and the other a teratoma. Watching my brother lose his mind and being terrified that the same thing might happen to me. These things I couldn’t control, but the colour of my pegs and the pleats of my skirt, they were all mine. If there were just one or two things that I could have complete control over, that I could rely on to be predictable and mundane and routine, well, it made the stuff that I couldn’t control just a little bit easier to deal with.

Now that I have the decision making power over my cutlery and crockery collection it’s amusing to see that there are no matching sets. Yes, the bowls are largely white and ceramic, as are the mugs, and they match because they are all appealing to me in form and function, they match in the sense that I chose them, and all together they make one large, semi-matching set.

These days I’m more inclined to relax the reins on my control freak tendencies – I won’t be mad if you cut the vegetables differently to how I would’ve cut them if we were to make a meal together. My sisters both got better, my brother’s stable, my parents are amicably separated. Time passes, the river rolls. There’s no point sweating the small stuff.