Health Scare for ‘Healthy’ Vegan Mom: What I learned…

So there I was – vegan for over 20 yrs, vegetarian for most of my life (since childhood) and rarely getting sick… ever. Well, apart from the odd bouts of burnout/mental tiredness issues….

And then Pow and Kerwwhamm: I wake up with jaundice one day. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

Actually, to be accurate: my husband noticed I had yellow in the corner of one eye on a Saturday, by Sunday I had both eyes with a slight yellow tint, and the following day I was noticing the skin around going yellow. Yikes!

Yes – I was a little freaked out. We were/are still in Covid times, and I live on an island nr Vancouver BC (Canada) where there are literally zero family Drs available, so my only option was to call in on a video chat to an online health system and ask some questions. The call was very good, and I did have to move my laptop around and move in close to show the ‘yellow’ of my eyes to the Dr. He arranged a lab test requisition (had to print and book for myself – such is modern medicine booking here on the island!). I got the tests done that Friday and by Monday am, the Dr called back and asked me to go to the ER in my local hospital! Jeepers!

Made it to ER before 9am, spent the entire day there in between waiting room and tests, and the first (and wonderfully caring) Dr was finally able to tell me “it’s not BAD news, at least” by around 4:30 pm. They were just sooooo very busy there, and it was a Monday, I guess, so there would be many people who maybe held off or overdid things on the weekend (speculation on my part here)…

My room with a view…

However, the Dr did say they would need to admit me to ‘medicine’ and that I would need to stay in a couple of days for tests to find out why I was so jaundiced – why my bilirubin count (the stuff that makes you go yellow and that should be being filtered by the liver into the bowel) was not working as it should. I am NOT a fan of hospitals myself, and my only other stay was when I had my daughter many moons ago. This was depressing news for me, but at the same time; I was feeling grateful it was not an immediate life-threating disease – or the ‘bad news’ the Dr was referring to.

So… husband came back with vitals and I said teary goodbyes to he and my daughter in the parking lot.

It all felt VERY surreal, I have to say. I am sooo proud of my health, of being vegan of my diet. What went wrong? I spent a lot of time looking inward. The new Drs were not as ‘caring’ or good on the ‘patient’ side as the first Dr, and many awkward questions were asked – which I understood they needed to be asked, but the first night and a few consequent ones did have me feel like I was being interrogated at times.

I stood by the truth and my principles. I told them of my relatively good diet, lack of illnesses, no I don’t do drugs – not even Tylenol (I go to bed, drink water, if I have a headache/ailment, usually)….I eat well, no other symptoms, no pain, exercise could be better after a lazy covid year, I mentioned stress at work (although this fact was ignored, as far as I could ascertain). I mentioned I had my period for an unusual amount of time (still do) which was also initially ignored, but noted later, though no action about it taken. Focus went onto how many glasses of wine per night, how often, could it actually be more? This was due to my pretty much not doing much of anything else that could be a toxin. In reality; I had actually been preparing myself to move off alcohol – as I felt I had been using it as stress relief the last year or so – and work had been very stressful. I was aware of my daughter being influenced by ‘mom liking a glass of wine at the end of the day’… and didn’t want her thinking that was the only solution to deal with stress. I told the Dr this – but I do not feel they listened. I had actually even ordered a new pressed juice detox (week of juices only) which was due to be delivered the week I was in hospital. I mentioned this to the Drs, and that I had done the same earlier in the year, but it was met with suspicion “Is this because you had been overdoing it lately, would you say?” Ugh. My feelings of guilt pushed in, as this really was the only thing I did that I considered ‘a naughty treat’ or unhealthy maybe – and I was even drinking vegan organic Prosecco!! I resigned myself to this being a possibility, but stuck to the truth that I hadn’t suddenly started drinking more – if anything, the weeks prior to jaundice, I had been drinking less, and throwing the remains of the glass out often… but if they were trying to pin a mad blow-out of alcohol-fueled partying before this all started – they have the wrong gal. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ I really did not think a couple (sometimes an extra one, sometimes less) of glasses of wine per night was a problem… ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Just so you know: I have not had any alcohol now for over a month… I think I am through with it for life, if there is a chance it can cause such an issue… I DO think there is more to it than that, but the break from alcohol and dealing with stress – working on reducing it and not just pushing it aside is certainly working for me. ๐Ÿ™‚

Oasis in hospital grounds was a beautiful spot to come down to and contemplate….

Before I finally persuaded them to let me check out (and after ALL the tests on MRI, Ultrasound, CT, and a nasty horrible liver biopsy I never want to experience again), the resident Dr still hinted that “it is better if it IS alcohol related – as much easier to treat” – as if this was a choice I could make. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ The ‘other option’ they referred to was a v mild case of Crohn’s disease (small blip on my small intestine) – which on research, I saw that a plant-based diet was the way to work with that disease – so maybe (if this was the case) I had been self-managing that all along, with my vegan diet? Or Hepatitis – of which they gave me the shot, but no information about that. Actually: they did ask some awkward questions on sexual partners, monogamy, needle use, tattoos, etc., earlier, but nothing about any of that since. So I left with inconclusive, and it still is… The biopsy came back with no scary stuff (that call was hard to wait for, as transplant had been mentioned as a possibility) – so I assume we are saying inflamed liver, anemia and possible alcohol caused. Damn the only non-healthy thing I chose! ๐Ÿ˜‰

So there you go – my personal journey into scary hospitalization out of the blue.

I have been out around 3 weeks now – and I was SO desperate to get home. The terrible food (there were vegan options, which was a blessing, but they were truly awful – tinned fruit options, etc.). I smuggled in berries and more fruit and water – as you had to ask a very busy nurse every time you wanted water, and we were going through a heatwave at the time too… I felt I was letting my body down and not giving it a chance at recuperation if I treated it so badly without suitable nutrition… and with all that time to myself, I had plenty to research on what fuel can help in any of these cases – and most being plant-based.

Another thing I did not realize, and that made sense to me, considering allergies, sinus issues I had over the last year or so was that I was also anemic. Something that vegans often check on, as I had in my younger days, but had not occurred to me in recent years, as I showed no sign of being any paler than normal, and any tiredness I had put down to age! But I as anemic – and it turns out NOT due to diet (I do have plenty of dark leafy greens and beans, etc.) – but that my body was not absorbing the iron I was eating…. So I ended up having heaps of iron placed back in my body – and I have to say – the sinus issues (blocked nose, tinnitus, swimmers ear, back of headache, etc.) almost evaporated straight away! One positive I noticed was that I had been photosensitive for yrs – sunglasses on ALL the time – and now I could sit out and look at the blue sky with open eyes – a miracle!

So get your iron checked, peeps, if you have any symptoms I mention!

So what is this post about – and why am I sharing something so personal? Well, I think it is to remind myself and maybe you (dear reader!) that even when we think we are healthy and doing a great job (and I am thinking we ARE!) – that none of us are invincible. Unexpected things DO happen. Doctors try their best, some listen and are more open to their patients than others, I miss the holistic whole-body approach that sadly lacked in the hospital (nurses, on the other hand, could be much more receptive), and maybe, even when we think we are being healthy – we are not always fully- aware of the reality in our lives – I DO think my stress level was out of control this last year – and I did not handle it well at all. I DO think that had a huge impact on my life now. I have some new/old things I am moving back towards now – more holistic, but will tell you more of that in a future post.

This horrible experience (and it was truly awful for me at the time) has actually been a blessing. What? You might think: Well, not for my family at first (husband ate, drank and slept with cell in his hand, constantly researching and worrying, daughter was very scared and almost dropped her math course, which resulted in her having a very hard time trying to catch up later, stopped seeing her friends, etc.), not for me- with the guilt, the fear of the unknown, the hate of being ‘institutionalized’ (yes, I am a drama Queen about that!)… All of that was truly very painful. But it has shaken me – awakened me. It has kicked my royal but, and gotten me out of a life where I was existing and putting up with and struggling with stress.

Plenty of research with all that time to consider what was happening to me….

It has made me appreciate and face death. Of no longer having a life here on this planet, of leaving my family behind. It has made me appreciate my health – my lifestyle, my choices. it has made me realize what I have been holding off or hiding from. It has made me face NOW and to do the things I want to do and to stop making excuses.

I am a changed person since this experience. Or maybe I am the real me now. And this is impacting on my family too – in a good way. My husband is feeling more positive – well, at times (he is a natural pessimist!), and my daughter has told me she appreciates my new look on life (I have always been an optimist anyway, but this is something more – this is belief in the flow of life – trust – not fighting what is happening anymore).

Now those things at work – that stressed the pants off me, do not matter. I no longer feel resentment for things that happened or actions from people. I see it was not personal. People make their own choices and usually for themselves.

Nutrition/diet-wise: I am still eating my lovely vegan diet, but am healthier than before in choices: I crave blueberries and make sure I have iron (on iron supplements too, at mo, due to body absorption issue – vegan of course!), and I noticed I have less of a taste for stodgy comfort foods too – again: another good thing that has come out of this experience! ๐Ÿ™‚ No alcohol at night is meaning I am even more in tune with my body and its natural rhythms too… I guess I am respecting my body more now.

I had been reading a few books – The Power of Now – Eckhart Tolle was one I started to read again, and I like the simplicity of (misquoting):”If you cannot change a situation you do not like, than either accept it, or walk away from it. All else is madness”. Change, accept or leave/move on. I like that. Worry is from our own minds. Upset is from ourselves. Stress is brought on ourselves. If we do not want/like a situation and cannot change it, we need to leave it or accept it.

Should I stay or should I go is now ringing in my ears – and on that note, I shall go!

Thank you for reading. This has been cathartic. I will be doing another post shortly, about the amazing nurses and staff at the hospital, and getting around the diet/nutrition issue when staying in hospital, but for now – thank you for reading. I might keep peeps updated – but if you are interested – I am feeling good 3 weeks later, and bilirubin is slowly going down, as are the other flags I had on bloodwork… I personally feel stress, my age (getting old now!), the heatwave and other factors had a huge impact on what happened to me – maybe it was the perfect storm, who knows? But I am now very aware of any stress in myself and immediately deal with it if any emerges/creeps in. And I am living in the moment and feeling very optimistic and even excited about now and the future nows!

So live, laugh and love, my friends – Keep healthy… and keep smiling. ๐Ÿ™‚

With love

xx

3 comments

  1. Thank you for sharing this very personal excerpt from your life. I’m sorry you went through that but glad you’re feeling better now. And it seems inconclusive does it? The reason this happened? It must be hard, if you don’t know what caused it, to know how to move on from here. What to leave out. What to add to your diet/life. Or are you confident that it was caused by the combination of stress and alcohol?

    Like

    • Hi Violet – nope not confident at all – but I do feel I need a more holistic approach from now on – I am going to see a Naturopath – who can look at the whole system – emotional and physical and environment… Rather than the traditional hospital response to looking at things in isolation. But for now, everything is improving – and I am taking care of myself… thanks for your comment. I used to be an holistic therapist… and now I feel the need to go back into that work – it always used to benefit myself as well as my clients, I found… So less stress – not taking things so personally and letting them upset me, is certainly a help. I don’t miss the wine at night really, but I would like to find out what triggered all of this, really. I guess it is an ongoing journey… Thanks again for asking – take care!

      Liked by 1 person

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