After working behind the scenes at a few prominent Boston hospitals for the past 30 years, I had an eye-opening experience these past few months as our “sick” care health system has hit way too close to home for comfort.
My son has been sick since November when he was home for Thanksgiving. At that time, he spent a couple of days being sick to his stomach, self-diagnosed it as a virus, and went back to his regularly scheduled life.
He came home again in December and spent several days in bed. At that point, he vomited so much that we took him to the emergency room. They ran some testing on him, gave him some anti-nausea medication, and told him it was most likely a virus and that he should ride it out.
Along comes the beginning of January. My son is now back at school in Chicago where he is in his last semester of college. Once again, he starts vomiting and goes to an urgent care center. The physician there tells him that he should not be throwing up so frequently and tells him that he really needs to find a primary care physician. My son does so and, at his appointment, she tells him that he most likely has an ulcer. She does more testing which, in her mind, confirms this diagnosis, gives him a medication to suppress his stomach acid so that it can heal, and sends him on his way.
This past week, his girlfriend calls me and tells me that she is bringing him to the emergency room at a prominent hospital in Chicago. He had been vomiting again and was in pain. After sitting in the emergency room for seven hours, the medical team decided to admit him to the hospital and this is where it gets very interesting.
At this point, I fly out to Chicago to be with my kid while he is in the hospital. By the time I got there, they had gotten his vomiting under control with another anti-nausea drug and he was hooked up to a saline drip “just in case.” They are not letting him eat anything to “let his intestines rest.” Then the surgical team came in to say that he was NOT a candidate for surgery. I asked, “Were you ever?” and he said not to his knowledge. Hmm… interesting, but I am glad that surgery is not necessary.
Then we meet with a gastro-enterologist, i.e. a gut doctor. They tell him that a test that was run while he was in the e.r. suggests that he has Inflammatory Bowel Diseease (IBD) or maybe IBS, Irritable Bowel Syndrome. I am still not sure what the difference is or if it matters. They then proceed to tell him that he may have a blockage in his small intestine related to “inflammation.” Then they say that he cannot eat anything because they want his gut to rest and then proceed to tell him that he will be in the hospital until at least Monday because his gut needs to heal before they are comfortable doing a colonoscopy which, by the way, we don’t do on the weekends so we are going to hold you here until then. (This is Thursday!)
By Friday morning, my son is no longer vomiting, has managed to have a bowel movement which was a requirement to being released, and had been promoted to a clear liquid diet. In addition, the medical team kept trying to give him anti-coagulant shots which is important if someone is bed-ridden and not moving around but my son was NOT bed-ridden and was losing his mind and feeling like a hostage.
The question has now become, why does he need to wait in the hospital for two more days to get a colonoscopy. MY question becomes, “does he really need a colonoscopy at all.”
When I pose this question to my son’s girlfriend, she says, “Well, they won’t treat him without a diagnosis.” And, this, my friends, is where I have officially lost all faith!
In three short months, my son has had 5 different diagnosis – virus, ulcer, IBD/ IBS, ulcerative colitis, and small intestinal obstruction caused by inflammation.
Not once did a doctor talk to my son about his typical college diet but when they took him off all food, the inflammation decreased significantly enough that he felt well. When I suggested to the physician that maybe he should remove gluten from his diet, the doctor assured me there was no research to back my theory. (There is actually quite a bit of research on this.) They feel the need to do a potentially dangerous procedure because they NEED a diagnosis to know how to “treat” whatever his issue is. This translates to what pharmaceutical to give him. And don’t get me started about the nurse that kept telling him that he is “very sick” and needs to stay in the hospital. I am just grateful that he never believed her because I am a firm believer that your beliefs turn into your reality.
Functional medicine would take a look at my son’s symptoms and find out WHY he is having these issues. A diagnosis is nothing more than a group of symptoms that can fit into a neat little box, sometimes. Also, while I may agree with suppressing his stomach acid short-term, they did nothing to help heal his gut lining. Without some support there, he could potentially have a “weak” stomach the rest of his life.
I don’t want people to think I am ungrateful for the hospital or what they did to help my son with his pain. Certainly, I have been on the supporting end of some traumatic events including saving the life of a motorcycle driver who was in a horrific accident and had lacerated his liver which resulted in being transfused with over 50 units of blood. (We have about 8 to 10 units of blood in our body at any one time.)
If you are unfortunate enough to have a traumatic or immediate event, please, go to the hospital. However, if you have on-going issues, look toward a Functional Medicine Practitioner to help you. We will have better success at educating you on diet and lifestyle changes that won’t put you in remission but will actually heal you.
Missy Cohen, MPH, Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner has been working in Functional Medicine over the past decade.