I know what time the clock says it is, but my body is in some other galaxy where day and night are random stripes of dark and light, unrelated to waking and sleeping. The last time I fell asleep, it was eight in the morning after a long night of excruciating pain in my right sacro-ileac joint and a knot in my gut, in the spot called the ileosecal valve. It’s an old pain, long familiar to me, but this has been the worst episode I can remember. Inflammation in my gut overflowing its bounds and sending sharp agony outward in spirals through my whole body.
When the valve between the small and large intestines is irritated and jams open, toxins from the bowel flood back into the area meant for processing food and I slip into another familiar terrible state, a nightmarish semi-consciousness of auto-intoxication, where I drift on the surface of sleep, but can’t sink. Finally at eight, wary of the thresholds of epilepsy, I take Benedryl and Ativan and sleep for a few hours.
Tracing the tendrils and roots of this crisis back through weeks of gathering symptoms, I remember that I added several new supplements to my routine, wanting to boost my detox power. My liver is hampered by nine genetic defects. It’s as if instead of loading the byproducts of eating onto fast trains to be hauled away, my body must fill hand baskets a spoonful at a time and carry them away on foot.
It’s not that my liver can’t move toxic sludge, but it can’t go very fast. So I have to help out however I can. I don’t burden my organs with fried foods, red meat or pesticides, and I take supplements to enhance my liver’s abilities. Milk Thistle and Bupleurum, Fringe Tree and Bog Bean, and I just started taking liposomal glutathione, a recent breakthrough that allows fragile oral glutathione, essential to the chemical processes of the liver, to actually make it into my bloodstream. I’ve also added NAC and Alpha Lipoic Acid, precursors to let my body make even more glutathione. Maybe it was too much. (One of the experts on mercury chelation says alpha lipoic acid can be hazardous, releasing mercury into the bloodstream faster than it can be gotten rid of. Others say it's all good. I am a juggler of expert advice.)
About two weeks after adding all this stuff, my gut started to rumble and my stomach began hurting in the morning when I woke up, sharp stabbing pain right up in my actual stomach, which was hard and tender to the touch. Then I broke out in hives all over my back and my face and arms swelled up. It took five days of antihistamines for them to go away. While I was on them, my stomach felt better. When I stopped, it got worse. Soon I couldn’t eat anything without instant retribution in pain and diarrhea. But is this a sign of too rapid detox, a new set of food intolerances, increased irritation from the added fiber of springtime vegetables, the kale and raspberry smoothies that flow from my brand new Vitamix?
Then, the long awaited visit to my Lyme doctor, and the startling news that I also have a rare genetic defect in my immune system, that my body’s likely loaded with spirochetes, twirling their way through my brain like tiny roto-tillers, and that with the nine closed gateways of my liver, I am probably awash in neurotoxins, not to mention the leftover pesticides of my 1950s childhood on a tropical farm. With all that load of poisons and my slowed waste disposal, my body is in no condition to try killing the little buggers. My elimination systems are too swamped with old business. He decides to start me on Ketotifen, a drug that stops leaky mast cells from dribbling histamine all over my gut, making inflammation and eventually wearing holes through the lining.
I start slow, since the stuff knocks me out, and my slow liver means every dose needs to be fractioned. The pain in my stomach and gut is really bad and the first dose seems to calm it some. Second day, too. Third day the pain is back and I try adding a tiny bit more in the afternoon. I sleep for hours, having hit some tipping point in the drug’s sedative effects. Fourth day, I’m sitting at the table when my back suddenly and dramatically shifts into extreme pain. I can’t sit, can’t rise from my seat without yelling, can’t bend, can’t find any position that doesn’t hurt like hell. It feels like burning metal is piercing a spot halfway between my spin and my hip, and nothing will make it stop. At the same time, on the front, something has twisted my intestines into a small, tight knot just inside the curved ridge coming down from my hip bone. It’s been like this for four days.
I want to be writing my book. I want to be finishing the design of my fabulous new matchmaking site. I want to be planting the garden, writing to a political prisoner, finishing hemming my daughter’s shirt, embroidering, applying for an arts residency. All I can do is roll around and moan and it feels like such a dreadful waste of time.
Between the pain, and the sole responsibility of shuffling and sorting and laying out the details of my experience, seeking a pattern I can believe in, that will guide me to reasonable courses of action, sleep is elusive. It’s dark again. I know that at four a.m. the birds will begin singing in the trees outside these windows. In the maple out front, not the blossoming dogwood. The beginning of birdsong is one of the few landmarks of the deep night. It’s still early enough to call California without waking anybody up. If I slept now, it would be a good night's sleep. But I can feel the toxins crawling along my nerves, making my body restless, edgy, making my skin crawl. Sometimes I wonder if my cells glow in the dark. At the microscopic level, do the molecules of mercury and parathion and inflammatory substances shimmer and gleam?
I have been sitting too long in my ergonomic chair. The pain is starting to build again in my back, and my stomach has begun to burn. It’s a long time before the birds will start dropping their liquid notes through the new-leafed branches. I think I’ll try peppermint tea this time.
Aurora Levins Morales is a disabled and chronically ill, community supported writer, historian, artist and activist. It takes a village to keep her blogs coming. To become part of the village it takes, donate here.
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