The Rusty Knife

Two months ago I decided to take my anxiety into my own hands.

Working at a holistic health association gave me the idea to search for natural methods of quelling stress. One suggestion was catnip tea. I like cats and I like tea, so I gave it a shot.

I walked down to the Kent Co-op and fished a few spoonfuls of catnip out of the glass jar and into a plastic baggie. I went to check out and asked the woman, “Uhh, do people often put this in their tea?”

“I’ve heard of it,” she responded unconvincingly.

Nevertheless, I stowed the green baggie in my striped purse, feeling a little mischievous. I played out the scenario of a cop asking me what was in my purse, and me fearlessly pulling it out. 

“Oh, this? It’s just catnip, officer,” I’d say.

But I ran into no such officer.

I got home with my remedy and brewed some chamomile tea. Then I sprinkled a few leaves of catnip into my porcelain cup, left it in briefly and then strained it out. I took a hot sip and then thought for a minute. It just tasted a bit more earthy than the usual cup of chamomile. 

After finishing the whole 8 oz cup, I settled into the couch and fell asleep peacefully.

“Yay!” I thought when I woke up. “This could work!”

The rest of the calm night passed, and then the next day came. When I got home from work, I brewed up another cup of my secret solution.

This time, I was so tired that I didn’t strain the leaves out. I left them floating in the pale yellow chamomile hot water. I drank some of the cup and ingested a few leaves. It started to gross me out, so I tossed it down the sink and went to bed again.

When I woke up the next morning at 6:30 a.m., I felt the way I usually do at 6:30 a.m.: Tired. Nothing more and nothing less. I got in my car and went to work.

As the day wore on, I developed a nagging, burning pain in my upper abdomen. I crunched myself up in the fetal position in my stiff gray office chair, trying to get through the last three hours before 5 p.m. When I couldn’t remove the hands clutching my stomach to type even one more sentence in Microsoft Word, I told my boss and he told me I could go home.

The hourlong drive home was a nasty one. Crunching up in a ball while driving is not exactly the safest technique. When I pulled into my gravel driveway I raced to my bed, shoved a pillow in my stomach and cried.

The dull pain did not go away all night. It was still there when I woke up on Wednesday morning to babysit. But I went anyway.

I didn’t eat much that day, and I managed to get through the day with a little less pain than the day before. I Googled my symptoms and then a lightbulb flashed on above my head.

A search for “Catnip side effects” on WebMD showed the herb can cause nausea and vomiting. 

“Ah-ha!” I thought. “It’s just the catnip. What a dumbass I was for trying that. But phew, at least I know the cause of all this!”

How I wish this story ended there.

The pain seemed to gradually go away. Nick and I started cooking food for ourselves much more often than we ever had. I was eating the healthiest I had eaten in four years of college. Yet the dull pain showed up again. And I don’t mean dull as in ‘not that painful.’ I mean dull as in a rusty knife slowly stabbing and turning in circles in my midsection.

It made no sense. Here I was, eating less meat and fast food and eating more vegetables and fresh fruit and I was having constant stomach pain.

At this point, the pain was manageable. If I was active and took my mind off of it, I hardly noticed it. I was watching my diet and trying to be as healthy as possible.

Then my friends and I went camping for the weekend in New York. I brought my own healthy food and figured I would be fine. I turned down delicious, spicy tacos for a bowl of Greek yogurt with granola and fruit. But 30 minutes after eating it, I was in the worst stomach pain yet. We were sitting by the bonfire and I could hardly talk, it hurt that bad. I went to bed early, clutching my stomach once again.

It still hurt the next morning and I felt completely hopeless. Here I was, saying no to the foods I wanted to eat in favor of ones I thought wouldn’t hurt my stomach, yet I was still immobilized by a single banana. I knew I had to do something, so I asked Nick to take me to Urgent Care. 

We got there and had to wait in a tiny room with sneezing, sick people for a long time. Nick tried to distract me from the pain by playing Sporkle. 

By the time I entered the waiting room, I’d researched the hell out of my condition. I had diagnosed myself with Gastritis, an acute or chronic disease that involves inflammation and bloating of the stomach. I told the doctor what I thought and he said I was probably right. He prescribed me an acid-blocking medicine and sent me on my way.

The medicine worked enough that I could enjoy the rest of my time there, but it was not the cure to my problem. When I started hurting badly again, I called my family doctor. She told me inflammation happens to everybody and that I just need to stop stressing and start exercising more. I left the office even more hopeless than before.

After a few more nights of debilitating pain after eating the blandest of food, I had to see someone else. I scheduled an appointment with a well-known gastroenterologist.

My appointment is tomorrow. I’m terrified that the doctor won’t tell me anything new. I’m trying to be hopeful, but at this point it’s not easy. I ate a peach two hours ago and my stomach is still burning. 

But I know many people who deal with pain on a daily basis. If they can do it, so can I.

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